Know thy rates?

  • Malaysian mobile consumers do not empower themselves about the packages the are paying for
  • Marketing campaigns of large telcos 'brainwash' consumers, says Tune Talk CEO

Know thy rates?WHAT does Jason Lo, CEO of Tune Talk, a mobile virtual network operator or MVNO, have in common with my “pasembur” seller in Taman Tun Dr Ismail [in Kuala Lumpur]?
 
Nothing actually. Although my “pasembur” seller may actually be the typical Malaysian consumer Lo refers to who does not empower themselves with knowledge. But more on him later.
 
Why is this empowerment important? Lo believes that once consumers do the math, though he conceded one almost has to be a prodigy to understand complicated telco plans, they will quickly realize that Tune is the only telco worth dancing to.
 
As Lo told me (this was while I was with my previous employer), any telco customer who makes the switch to Tune Talk will immediately see their bill slashed by 50%.
 
Now, I have not done my math to test his claim but any savings of 50% is no small change. I know. When I switched mobile operators last year, after 12 years with my incumbent, my monthly bill came down by RM70 to RM80 a month. That’s almost RM1,000 (US$317) a year.
 
At first I thought it was a special deal for the first month or two but when it persisted I was trying to figure out how my behavior had changed so much as to drive this substantial, and most welcomed, savings.
 
The only thing I could think of was my increasing reliance on a software application called WhatsApp to send text messages over instead of using SMS. But then I realized that the simple truth of the matter was that, I was simply paying less per call and per data.
 
I had not realized the difference could be that much. Of course, it could be that the current operator just gave my previous company a great deal as we are a huge media organization [as opposed to a small media startup like DNA]. But that does not excuse the fact that I did not know what I was actually paying for with my previous operator. Worse, I cover the telco sector as a journalist!
 
I can only console myself with the fact that Lo’s boss, Tan Sri Tony Fernandes, is worse than me. He owns Tune Talk yet only last month did he switch away from his incumbent telco operator to Tune!
 
But Tony, being Tony, had to do it in a loud manner, shooting off a number of tweets to his over 220,000 followers that he had had enough of being ripped off by the expensive roaming rates of his incumbent.
 
His incumbent mobile operator, perhaps wisely, chose to maintain an elegant silence on the issue.
 
Lo attributes this too casual attitude by users over how much they are paying down to the fact that we are comfortable dealing with our existing mobile operators as we know how to reach them, dial which number for which service etc. It is hard to get users to break a habit.
 
But Lo also credits his competitors for that. “Hats off to DiGi and Maxis. They have successfully brainwashed Malaysian society to believe they are paying cheap rates.” Lo does not touch Celcom here as he rides on Celcom’s network to deliver his services to customers.
 
Know thy rates?I guess having a combined RM500 million (US$158 million) marketing budget (Lo’s estimate for Maxis and DiGi) helps get one’s message over loud and clear. Lo, meanwhile only has RM10 million to play with.
 
That’s not enough to convince my “pasembur” seller (pic). Noticing him on his mobile throughout the period I was eating my poor “pasembur”, I asked him if he realized mobile phone calls were expensive. I suggested he try Tune Talk.
 
He reassured me he had a good deal. He only has to top up a minimum of RM5 (US$1.58) a week to enjoy a great deal. “My operator offers free calls,” he said. “Eh, where got one!?” I asked.
 
He clarified that the free calls were from midnight to 6am. “But nobody calls each other after midnight,” I said, sensing I could open his eyes and save him a lot of money. “No anna (Tamil for elder brother), I only talk to my girlfriend after midnight.”
 
Lo must be gnashing his teeth.
 
This article previously appeared in The Malaysian Insider
 

 
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