How Airtel Identified Customer Problems and Achieved 300% Monthly Growth With Just 30 Second Pitch

July 22, 2017

How understanding your customers properly can lead to enormous growth

It was 2012- Apr, when Airtel, the telecom giant woke up to the hues and cries of customers.  They were market leaders in many Indian telecom circles closely followed by Vodafone.

Vodafone, the foreign entrant was gathering pace in customer acquisition, and regional players were strong in their own segments like IDEA (Mumbai, Rest of MH & Goa) and Aircel – Winning in East of India and TN Kerala.

Airtel was leading, but for how long, was the question. Losing Indian market share after having worked hard for 15 years wasn’t the option. Indian market for telecom was becoming slower as 26 Cr people already have Airtel connections in 80 Cr subscribers were there in India.

The big question was: Where will we get the next big jump and how will be deal with customer complaints?


Airtel Marketing team ran 2 month long extensive market consumer research, asking key questions and understanding issues!

The results were astonishing:

Majority of people complained about –

  1. Unhappy with current plan
  2. Don’t understand bills
  3. Customer care takes 15 min time
  4. No where to complain or get suggestion

Well these were generic results but the marketing team went inside the generic answers and found some facts.

Research outcome :

  • 2012- The stage was every customer was given a pre-set plan for 199, 299, 399, 599, 699
    etc. It had fixed sms, fixed call for local and national.
    So people either over used their quota or under used it. Either ways customer wasn’t
    That’s why people preferred PREPAID more than postpaid.
  • Bills were truly complicated- not understood by even well read businessman and often
    people complained for over charging
  • Customer care was already over loaded, adding more representatives weren’t a
    solution- reducing number of calls was.
    34% of total calls were just to understand bills. Another 29% were for customer
    complains. Reducing the calls would have helped.
  • Complaints were to go viral with Internet users getting doubled every 6 months. So
    Airtel had to think a way to put a lead to it.
  • How to tap Internet Data as the next growth engine

Answer came as – ‘A New Plan’ which can give power to consumers, and revenues to company.


MYPLAN was born in complete secrecy! Media wasn’t given any hint of this.

MyPlan is a plan which gives customers to choose what they use.

The Big Idea:

Every customer is different and that’s why everyone will use it differently.

For example a College boy chooses  2000 SMS for his 300 Rs. and no calls as his girlfriend chats only on SMS.

A College Students taking 2GB data for 400 Rs. And no call packs.

While a small business owner just takes the national call packs and no internet and no SMS.

The Idea was great but it had it’s own issues:

  • How will we convert Pre Paid customers to Post Paid
  • It meant, 26 crore subscribers may just have 2 Cr Permutation combination with just 10 value plans
  • This meant huge training of Customer Care executives to read the data correctly
  • Selling would have been much more difficult
  • How will we sell this unique value perspective in 30 seconds calls

In 2011-12, Airtel used to sell 35% of new customers of Post Paid from Call centres, 20% of them came from Airtel Franchisee outlets and rest from Airtel Distributor shops.

Airtel came with 3 level strategy:

  1. Launch My Plan:Objective more people switching from Prepaid to Postpaid
  2. Launch Company Owner Stores of Airtel : For Better Service to Customers and more touch points
  3. Simplify Bills
  4. Training of Call Centre Employees to Convert in 30 second calls



Airtel had around 12000 executives as call centres selling about 10 lac new Connections every year.

For this Countries top managers were called before the My Plan ad was launched in 2013.

The country Marketing head, took the charge to explain it to COO by himself how this 30 second pitch will work!

There were 100 people in the room, and all eyes on Marketing head and COO sitting side by side, leaving one chair in the middle!

The managers were filled with curiosity as this has never happened before- COO being demonstrated by Marketing head himself.

COO : Good morning all, thanks for coming to Delhi on a short notice. Please understand our issues of call centre today. 136 calls are what we need to create one interest, and around 240 calls we need to convert one customer. Can we bring this down with MYPLAN?
Marketing Head: Yes we can!
COO : Please understand, that our call centre guys isn’t as experienced as you are so hope you will keep it basic! He earns 15-20000 Rs per month. And Customers don’t listen to more than 10 seconds if it’s not interesting!
Marketing Head: Yes, I understand this!
COO : Also, hope this sounds as simple in Hindi and all regional languages as well?
Marketing Head: Yes, we have tried in Hindi and Punjabi! Works fine. Hope all other languages will work too!
COO : Let’s start then!
Now COO and Marketing head were sitting facing each other across a table.

Marketing Head: (Addressing the whole team) Good morning Team Airtel, we will demonstrate how the conversations will happen over a call from call centre or face to face in our stores!
COO : Great go ahead! So what you want me to be!
Marketing Head: You be a customer!
COO : Roleplay! Good. I think this will clarify to all that if it really works?
Marketing Head: It will. Shall we start?
COO : Go ahead!

——- Role Play Started ——–

Marketing Head: Hello Sir, I am Siddharth from Airtel. Am I speaking with Mr. Krishnan?
COO : Yes. Speaking?
Marketing Head: Mr. Krishnan thanks for being Airtel prepaid customer. Sir how much are paying every month for your bills?
COO : It’s not fixed. Mostly 500-600 I guess.
Marketing Head: Sir, what If I tell you about a plan, I can get you all what you need in Less that what you paying now? Would you be interested?
COO : Ok. Yes. How?


Marketing Head: Guys in first 10 second – We have got customers YES- Now he can be with us for another 20 -30 Sec for Conviction!

—– Everyone clapped! ——-

COO : Hang on- I have not yet converted. Let’s listen to the rest of conversation.
Marketing Head: Sure. Shall we start from where we left?
COO : Yes


Marketing Head: Sir, for this I will ask you 3 simple questions. Please answer so that I can save your monthly billing amount.
COO : Go on!
Marketing Head: Sir, do you make calls mostly local or STD?
COO : Local.
Marketing Head: How much data you use for internet recharge separately?
COO : 1 GB for 250-300 Rs.
Marketing Head: Do you use SMS?
COO : Not really now, Whatsapp only.
Marketing Head: Great! I have a plan for you now! It’s a revolutionary plan! Pay for what you use. Exclusively made for your needs. We call it AIRTEL MY PLAN.
COO : OK. You have new plans every week. Nothing new in them.
Marketing Head:  Sir, for your current usage of 1 GB + Local Calls of 600 Min + 200 Min STD calls in just 599 Rs.
COO: Ok. Interesting!
Marketing Head: We also give you 200 SMS per month in same 599 offer.
COO : Wow! How?
Marketing Head: Sir, In Airtel MYPLAN we give you 20 packs for 599. 1 pack is equal to – 90min of Local and 80 Min STD calls, 200 SMS or 135mb of 3G data.
COO : Ok. So?
Marketing Head: So I made a plan for you within 20 packs for No Wastage. Pay what you use. Shall I activate the plan on your number?
COO : Yes! What if I want to change a little in between?
Marketing Head: Can be done once a month sir! Shall I activate the plan and send an executive to get your signatures?

Call ended!

The marketing head, Siddharth rose up from his seat, and tried explaining what he did.

“Often our call centre guys, finish whole plan in 1 breath. Often we don’t ask relevant questions to consumers. And sadly we didn’t have a product to customize as well. Now we have.”

“Indeed. I am impressed.” Said Mr. COO.

“AIRTEL MYPLAN will rock Indian market in next 3 days as the commertials will start. Let’s solve customers issues and let’s rock the sales Across India.”

Results of this multilevel strategy were immense!

The calls per lead were now 1 per 97 calls to prepaids came down by 28%. And every conversion was now with ever 184 calls came down by 23%.

Next 3 months, My Plan logged through Call Centres were more than 10 lacs in India which was around 6 times more what used to be there. Airtel saved got 22% higher returns through there call centres!

The results re-established Airtel’s no.1 position in India.

Idea’s I Plan and Vodafone’s plans followed soon. But first movers advantage was indeed there to stay.


Airtel followed what we generally say in cricket and marketing, work on basics. Simple techniques which can affect grass root for any business! In business, if you strategise thinking what your consumers would like, and appreciate – This will certainly give you results!

The results were proof till date for all Airtel Corporate strategies that plans work, if we are committed to make it work and try and cover all aspects of the issues.

Everything incurred cost- New Product Development, Software changes for accommodating 1 million different plans for 2 Cr Subscribers, Training of staff, a dedicated operations and marketing team,

opening new COCO stores on our own cost! But then at the end, the numbers proved that growth of 300% month on month till next 12 months was amazing.

On an average Postpaids done by Franchisee Retail stores were – 100 and with Myplan and new Call Centre Pitch, and Airtel COCO stores, just the retail stores were doing 300% more than Franchisee stores. Airtel opened 152 COCO stores in 2013-14 and another 200 in 2014-15 and 200+ in subsequent year.

Today Airtel has around 600 COCO Stores and closely competing much better equipped 2400 Franchisee store.

Every COCO store closes more than 250 Postpaids, and Franchisee store around 120, every month on an average till date. i.e. easily 50 Lac Postpaids every year through retail model only.  With these newly acquired customers through Retail Channel, ARPU is touching Rs. 550 which is basically the top 17% of total postpaids in the market.

This strategy was great even in the light of unseen competition of RELIANCE JIO which came in 2016.

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Sunil Saha

(Delhi Head Regional Manager- Ex-Airtel)

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