StarHub makes telco-hate a selling point for new data plans

starhub people hate telcos
Image credit: StarHub

StarHub’s new marketing campaign acknowledges that customers hate them, and vows to fix that, starting with simplified mobile data plans. It just might work.

There are many ways to pitch a new mobile data pricing scheme. Here is how Singaporean telco StarHub is doing it right now:

starhub people hate telcos
Image credit: StarHub

Which is pretty gutsy, when you think about it, because there’s truth to that first statement. Telcos as a rule don’t rate that highly in consumer surveys when it comes to great customer service. Some service providers are so bad at customer service that they’re practically famous for it.

Johan Buse, chief of StarHub’s Consumer Business Group, admitted as much in a press release: “We hate to admit it, but people do not rate telcos highly. This is a regrettable reality, and we are determined to earn back customers’ trust and be the telco that they deserve […]”

In case the point hasn’t been made clearly enough, StarHub has released a new marketing video on Facebook comprising a series of harsh (and presumably real) tweets (presumably from actual StarHub customers, or at least customers of Singaporean operators) declaring that telco customer service is terrible and telcos only care about profits, not people.

Disappointingly, StarHub’s marketing slogan for this isn’t “People Hate Telcos” (which would be awesome), but “Hello Change”.

And the first thing it’s changing, apparently, is its mobile pricing plan structure.

Essentially, StarHub is swapping its complex myriad of mobile broadband packages for three simple SIM-only plans with fat data bundles.

Existing customers can keep the plans they have, but new customers can now pay either S$25 (a little over $18), S$50 or S$80 for a SIM card that gets you a certain number of voice minutes and 13GB, 40GB or 70GB of data, respectively, as well as caller ID and international roaming (which used to require separate fees for non-contract subscribers).

What’s interesting here is the emphasis on simplicity. There’s no minimum contract lock-in, and no mysterious and seemingly arbitrary fees. StarHub has scrapped its one-time administrative, activation and SIM card fees, which it says typically adds up to about S$200 over 12 months for a typical customer.

For customers who want to buy extra data, roaming, voice minutes or SMS, they can use the new My StarHub app to add whatever they need for a flat price with no service fee. (Android users can use the app now; iPhone users will have to wait a couple of weeks.)

At first glance, the only snag seems to be that the data bundles include a bonus of 10GB that will be dropped after two years, which may confuse people (although I suppose not for another two years, by which time StarHub will probably readjust everything when it launches 5G). Otherwise, it’s a relatively streamlined and simplified mobile data offering.

Whether any of this will make StarHub customers happier (or make them hate telcos less) may depend on whether their biggest complaint has been confusing pricing plans. That said we frequently hear from the B/OSS sector that billing is one of the biggest pain points for customers, and telcos often seem completely incapable of fixing that (if only because their existing billing systems are so insanely complex that “fixing” them is harder and more expensive than it sounds).

Meanwhile, Buse noted that this is just the start of a broader plan to implement “positive changes across our entire range of products and services”. So if billing or complex plans aren’t your biggest beef with StarHub, chances are it’s working on that.

As for StarHub’s self-deprecatory “people hate telcos” line, that might seem counterintuitive, but it may not matter if StarHub can back that up with real, meaningful change – which of course it will have to do. StarHub is in the midst of a massive internal transformation push in a clear bid to get away from business as usual, so in theory its dedication to change is more than just talk.

Which is good, because the telco has essentially put its reputation on the line by calling attention to the faults of its old business models – which means the new model had better work, or the customer tweets for their next ad campaign may be even angrier.

1 Comment

  1. If digital commerce is teaching us anything, it’s that customers don’t value choice nearly as much as they value simplicity and convenience. ‘Building your own tariff’ is great, as long as it doesn’t take more than three or four clicks or swipes to do it.

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