By Michael Kawesa Sekadde, MTN GM HR. 

It is overwhelming how much sad news is flying over different social media platforms, once a home of laughter and comedic memes. The second wave of the virus has taken a toll on everyone forcing the country back to lockdown in a bid to mitigate spread of the virus.

Whereas lockdown might block out the virus, it has affected people mentally. A report by Uganda Bureau of Statistics indicates that 5 per cent of the respondents were clinically depressed. The incidence was found majorly in elderly respondents around 65 years of age and above. A significant number of respondents between the age of 44 and 54 years were also found to be clinically depressed on account of their employment status and negative changes in business incomes.

Centers for disease control and prevention(CDC) has also said that public health measures such as social distancing and lockdown, while necessary to reduce the spread of the virus, have led to isolation and loneliness which cause stress and anxiety.

The pandemic is generally affecting people’s emotional wellbeing, which is described as the ability to successfully handle life’s stresses and adapt to change and difficult times. Experience has taught me that staff emotional well-being should be of great concern to organisations. It is important to understand the challenges staff are facing. Overwhelming challenges limit the ability of staff to focus and handle their responsibilities and tasks while at the job whether they are working from home or office. Consequently, staff will fail to deliver on their duties or even those who do deliver will submit substandard work which affects productivity of the company or business.

However, working from home puts emotional wellbeing of staff at more risk of being ignored especially if the HR professional is strictly work oriented.

At MTN, the first thing we did to ensure good staff mental health was assure them of their job security. This curb the fear and uncertainty of the staff especially during such a time when economic conditions were harsh and loss of jobs was skyrocketing.

You can also create a mental wellbeing program to insulate staff from covid-19 related mental health conditions. Ensure that the program is personalized to individuals as each person could be facing different challenges of their own. Avoid piling all of them together. It is high time companies realize mental health conditions are a real challenge and create mental health policy, which will house the business’ direction towards mental wealth at the workplace.

At MTN, we opted to include counselling services as part of the medical insurance scheme, which enables staff to get expert advice.

When in apprehension to speak to a professional, we also encourage open communication with family and friends.

Frequent communication between HR and staff is also important in supporting staff mental health and well-being. Make it a point to make a phone call and check in on the state of your staff.  During online work meetings, you can take some few minutes to have personal banter to eliminate the feeling of loneliness.

During the second wave, staff are more afraid of contracting the virus, which also causes stress and anxiety.HR professionals need to guarantee a healthy and safe working environment for those staff that continue working from office during lockdown to limit worries of contracting the virus.

Strive to have staff buy into the measures and changes in work environment as it plays a key role in unification as a company in the fight against the virus. Owing to the buy-in, MTN instituted an emergency fund with monies contributed by staff to cater for needs or daily stipend to any employee affected by covid-19. This eliminates fear of hefty bills in case of contraction of the virus.

While undertaking these measures, it is important to carry out a post-mortem and evaluate their effectiveness. This can be done through quick and periodic surveys with the staff. HR professionals ought to engage the staff on a periodic basis to ascertain their mental health. Share your experience with the staff which will make you more relatable and they will be more willing to openly reveal their state of mind.

By Dorcas Muhwezi, MTN General Manager Customer Experience

We are back to lockdown and just like we saw in the first wave, businesses are now operating online.  One thing covid has taught us, is that the internet is no longer a nice to have or a luxury. The Internet is a necessity. The internet is the place where customers window shop, purchase and air out views on products and services offered by companies. Make sure you have online presence.

Unlike the earlier days where customers sneakily wrote their views on paper and dropped them into suggestion boxes hoping that no one would recognize their handwriting, today, customers take to social media to publicly appreciate and also vent their frustration.

Emergence of technology and social media has made the role of customer experience, even more profound today. Customer experience is the perception that customers have based on their interaction with your business or product. Today, customers are more empowered. They know what they want and will not compromise. In part, it is because they have a plethora of options to choose from when it comes to product and service providers.

To keep your head above water in the sea of businesses, entrepreneurs must embrace strategies such as enhancing customer experience especially via social media as the country strives to mitigate the spread of the virus during lockdown.

Easy accessibility of services is a good place to start. Despite limitation of movement, you need to ensure that there is uninterrupted service delivery especially if you are among the businesses allowed to operate during this period.

Aware of the vitality of easy accessibility of services to customers, using digital tools, MTN created the MyMTN app which among other things houses the telecom’s different services under one roof.  One can buy all MTN Products, get access to Mobile Money statements and even get help or log a complaint using the MyMTN App. This reduces the amount of time a customer spends while trying to use MTN’s services.

In addition, understanding how to use the new innovations or products is very critical to improving a customer’s experience. I advise that you create short videos that you can run on social media, showing customers how to use a new product or service. This helps to guide customers to understand and acquaint themselves with the workings of the new product, which will smoothen their experience when they get to use it.

In light of the harsh economic times occasioned by covid-19, I am alive to the fact that many businesses are financially constrained and might not be able to do the above. But there are also ways of enhancing customers’ experience at a cheap cost to your business.

Personalizing customers’ experience is one of them. Wishing your seasoned customers a happy birthday is a sign that you value them. Make their milestones your milestones, recognize and celebrate with them even if virtually.

I am sure you all have received a birthday message from MTN once. This is a way of showing our customers that we care. This is a very key customer experience enhancement tool especially during this period; awash with sad news dampening moods of many.

Once only a chatting vessel, social media has morphed over time to become an official communication channel for businesses which breeds loyalty and efficiency.

It is important to engage with customers online by curating content specific to particular audiences. This can draw increased loyalty from them towards your product. This keeps you relevant. For instance, at MTN, a post about MTN Pulse or ayoba, the MTN version of WhatsApp, will be written in the lingo used by the youth because they are predominantly youth targeted services.

Engaging with customers through liking or commenting on their post is also another way of enhancing customer experience as it strengthens the relationship and builds a strong attachment to the brand.

Arguably the most important aspect of social media is customer feedback. Whether positive or negative, feedback provides an understanding of the customers’ thoughts on the business’ products and services, “the good, the bad and the ugly”. Negative feedback is a contentious subject but at MTN, we believe a complaining customer is an alive customer. Work with them! Make the best out of bad reviews by addressing them while capitalizing and strengthening your preferred qualities.

The world today is fast paced so there is an expectation from customers for an immediate response and handling complaints in under 24 hours. At MTN, we have a team dedicated to social media to provide quick responses to customers and escalate concerns to responsible parties in the company.

It also goes without saying that as a business, ensure you have trained your staff who interface with customers via social media. The way a business responds to customers via social media speaks to the value it attaches to them. Plus, when on social media, assume all eyes are on you because with only a click of a button, a conversation can become an issue of national interest. Avoid flaring of tempers and strive for professionalism.

Remember, customer experience management will save your business money in reduced marketing costs. Make your customers your marketers.