Covering every base and keeping the customer satisfied – that’s the secret to Lebara’s success. In the wake of yet another good set of financial results, CEO Ratheesan Yoganathan talks exclusively to Michael House
Lebara’s glistening offices in the heart of London’s Square Mile is a testament to just how much the MVNO has grown since it was set up a decade ago.
Along with the modern furnishings and state-of-the-art facilities, the company has a set of results that are equally impressive.
Its revenue for the year ending December 31, 2010 stands at £500 million – an increase of 50 per cent compared to the same period in 2009. Its profit count is also impressive. Before-tax profit leapt by 139 per cent to £18.7 million for the period, while its worldwide staff-count more than doubled to reach 1,300 in its offices across the UK, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Denmark and Spain.
The results also revealed that customer churn has remained relatively stable, coming in at 35 per cent for 2010, a figure that goes against the theory that the longer a business operates in the mobile sector the more customers it loses.
What makes these latest results all the more impressive is the fact that the whole business has been grown organically without any bank loans or funding from external investors.
Seated in his office with a view of Moorgate, it’s hard to believe Lebara chief executive Ratheesan Yoganathan was a man struggling to acquire calling-card credit from companies when Lebara was set up as an airtime distributor in 2001.
He can’t help flashing a grin when Mobile News mentions the results, but he is quick to direct the success to the people who work day-in and day-out, ensuring the company remains at the top of its game.
“I am told that growth at this pace gets harder as the company gets bigger, but we have achieved significant growth again and done it profitably, which is the most important thing for us,” Yoganathan says.
“The people at Lebara have been with us for a long time. We take time to learn about our customers and our markets, meaning that our customers stay with us for longer.”
The basis of Lebara’s product in simple terms, is for people to ‘call home’. Yoganathan says the trick to understanding exactly what this means to customers comes directly from Lebara employees.
“Across the company, we employ over 60 different nationalities. In the London headquarters there are more than 40 nationalities.
“Each of them understands the importance and necessity of calling home. Our chief technical officer, for example, is from India and uses a Lebara phone. I have told him to keep using it so that we know if there is an issue – and so we know how our customers feel.”
The direct involvement that Lebara has with its customer base through its employees is a definite strength, but the focus on putting the customer first is something that has always driven Yoganathan.
Although the ‘focus on customer service’ spiel could be classed as an old cliché, Lebara would not be a common sight on the streets of London, wrapping the sides of buses and taxis, if it wasn’t for its chief executive’s foresight in spotting a gap in the mobile market where consumers were being ignored by mobile providers.
The opportunity first raised its head, Yoganathan says, during Lebara’s early days. The young company would see first-hand just how annoyed the customers to whom it was providing airtime got, when the service they had purchased failed to live up to the standard they expected.
The inability to assist these customers so infuriated Yoganathan and his fellow partners that he took the initiative to go solo – and launch a Lebara-branded calling card. It provided a high-quality service, with equally impressive customer service.
The move to mobile quickly followed and by 2004 Lebara was well and truly on the road to the success it is enjoying today.
It launched its first mobile service with Norwegian operator Telfort in May 2004, a move Yoganathan now reflects on as “defining” for the company.
Today the customer service Lebara prides itself on is still prevalent. Inside the London office 272 staff man the phones for all Lebara markets, apart from Australia.
Together, these CSAs speak 21 languages, meaning that, say, a Frenchman living in Spain can phone and speak to someone in his mother tongue about an issue with his Lebara service. Its this kind of customer focus that led Lebara to victory at the Mobile News Awards in the customer service category.
“Customer service is critical: our customers should not only know Lebara, but also see it as a preferred choice,” Yoganathan says.
Full article in Mobile News issue 489 (May 23, 2011).
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