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Marketing Interviews

N K Mangla

Director (C&M) | 07 Apr 2004

"For now I can say that we would want to take our customer base from 5 million to 25 million by year 2005. Five million to 25 million would indeed be our slogan.”

Brand building is largely perceived to be the preserve of private players because competition hasn’t quite marked its presence in the precincts of most public sector organisations. But telecom megalith Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL) was not the one to shackle itself to the vestiges of the past. The organisation took cognisance of the emerging business realities and positioned itself as the foremost telecom player in the country with strong business interests in a wide spectrum of telecom and Internet services. The image makeover, nevertheless, was not an easy task for the organisation was saddled with several social responsibilities that government organisations are expected to shoulder. But BSNL converted its social commitments into fine business opportunities. So, its strong presence in rural telephony became a platform for the organisation to rollout out its services to a large customer base across the country, even as rest of the players jostled for space in the urban markets.

Yet, brand building was not meant to be an easy task for any government player. Sample this. Last year, when BSNL was stepping up its advertising campaigns by associating with various private agencies, the government came out with a decision that government organisations could engage private agencies only for creatives and that their media buying decisions would necessarily have to be routed through the DAVP.

The fetters notwithstanding, BSNL has worked hard to enhance its brand presence across the country with the typical gusto of a young, robust company. N K Mangla, Director (C&M), BSNL, who gave direction to the company’s onward journey, provides a perspective on the organisation’s marketing outlook in conversation with Rajiv Raghunath of exchange4media.com. Following are excerpts:

Q. In building BSNL’s brand presence, how do you walk the tightrope between commercial interests and social responsibilities?

Over time, our role pertaining to socio-economic development has reduced in comparison with our commercial interests. In the past, BSNL has had to play a catalytic role in the rural areas but today our strong presence in rural telephony itself is contributing in a major way towards the growth of our services.

The fact that we have a strong infrastructure in place in both the urban and rural areas is helping in the growth of BSNL brand and services. This is evident in the manner in which we grew in the cellular services segment. We entered most of the circles as the third or fourth operator, but we are already commanding the first or second slot in all these circles.

Of course, we would carry on with our social responsibilities. And, we wouldn’t increase our tariffs.

Q. With competition hotting up in the telecom segment, did you feel the need to reposition BSNL’s service delivery system?

BSNL commands huge infrastructure and this has made it easy for us to roll out services. In addition, we have a large base of trained manpower that ensures good delivery of services. In terms of brand presence, we are there across the country from J&K to the North East.

Infrastructure-wise, we have some 37,000 exchanges across the country and we are connected with optical fibre cables. We don’t need to add infrastructure, we just have to upgrade them whenever required.

That’s how we command a five-million customer base.

Q. Has the focus on infrastructure reduced the need to hardsell your services?

Well, infrastructure aids in seamless rollout of services. But to reach out to a wider customer base, we do keep our tariff rates competitive. It’s common knowledge that BSNL drives the tariffs across the telecom segment. To answer your question, we do find innovative ways to enhance customer experience.

Q. Would you say that BSNL has stepped out of its government-led, monolithic image?

We are changing. As a government organisation, we have had to contend with a certain degree of inertia and the like. But we have engaged in retraining our people to make it easier for them to cope with the competitive environment.

The change within is reflected in the positive perception that customers have regarding BSNL’s services.

Q. What’s the key message that you would want to communicate to your customers at all times?

The message is that we value our customers, and we give value for money. Let me add that people’s faith in our services has vastly improved in recent times. This is reflected in the decline in customer complaints regarding BSNL services. People come to us because they know that we have a transparent system. After all, we don’t have any problems with our billing systems and the like.

Q. What’s the next big step that BSNL would take in the coming years?

For now I can say that we would want to take our customer base from 5 million to 25 million by year 2005. Five million to 25 million would indeed be our slogan.

Q. To make this happen, you would have to look at untapped segments. Any plans in the making in this regard?

We would be very focused on the youth segment. They make up half the market. But we would also be looking at potential customers like housewives and retired people. And, of course, we would look at the rural areas with renewed vigour.

Q. It’s fashionable to be talking about rural marketing. Would you also bring in this element in your campaigns?

While we have no competition in the rural segment, we wouldn’t be talking about it. As for our marketing campaigns, we would move away from the images of the past that showed middle-aged persons, tractors, etc. Instead, we want to be seen as a player that is looking at the urban segment.

Q. Any fresh plans on the global plane?

Not quite. We entered into a tie-up for broadband services with Korean Telecom sometime ago. And we enjoy roaming services across most countries. But in terms of building a global presence, no major initiative is on the anvil.

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