Whilst everyone (or most people) knows that Lebara exists as a mobile network, the services that they provide are not really well known to those that don’t know an awful lot about the telecom industry. Of course, we have our major network providers, O2, EE, T-mobile etc, but why is so little spoken of the smaller networks? Lebara have been operating for years yet if you asked anyone, they wouldn’t really be aware of what Lebara did and why. Lebara are in fact, highly visible. Dressed in bright blue, chances are you would have come across one of them trying to sell you a sim card as you rush breathless and flustered through an airport, train or bus station. You probably didn’t pay attention to what the salesman was saying, but Lebara insist that their hard selling methods are effective, and are, in fact, what got the company where they are today.
Aggressive sales or not, the company is still relatively little known. Lebara target tourists and migrants starting life in the UK, by selling them cheap airtime, the airtime is international and so guaranteed to work on their handsets. Their main aim (and hence the perhaps slightly OTT sales pitches) is to beat the big guys, rivals such as Vodafone and Three, so that people coming to live in the UK use Lebara as their network provider. The UK gets thousands of people each month coming from overseas to live, and so the audience to market towards is there, it is just the other networks that they are competing with, that stand in Lebara’s way. Lebara boss, Yoganathan Ratheesan says that every single employee has to go into Britain’s main transport hub at one time or another to sell the network to those arriving into the UK. Britain is notorious for its price wars between major mobile networks, so it could be that Lebara sees no other option but to employ their aggressive sales tactics, in order to win over their customers. When it comes down to it, there is often little difference between the deals that each rival phone company offers to its customers, but Lebara’s upper hand lies with the fact it operates not only in the UK but also overseas in Germany, Denmark, Poland as well as Holland. This means it racks up up to £430 million in sales. Although an impressive figure, Lebara is primarily London based and this year are looking to make some sort of profit, after a loss of £8.7m pre-tax in 2014, due to competition with other virtual mobile network operators such as GiffGaff and Tesco Mobile. However, by latching onto the migrant market, Lebara could well achieve their goal this year.
No strangers to competition, Lebara’s main rivals come from similar network Lycamobile, who also operate mainly from mobile users that are foreign born. The two companies have been involved in an intense stand off since Lebara reported Lycamobile to the police with accusations that they had been avoiding corporation tax, a claim which Lycamobile themselves, of course, deny. However, the fact that Lycamobile are yet to file their November tax returns does leave room for suspicion.
They might be good at spotting the mistakes of others, but a survey conducted by Which? earlier in the year revealed that Lebara, along with Vodafone and EE were quite simply, the worst mobile phone providers. Posing as a warning to consumers, Which? discovered that Lebara had a customer satisfaction score of just 46%, despite the fact they offer low-cost international calls. The survey asked over 400 UK residents to rate their mobile phone provider on things like value for money and customer service. Lebara had little to say on the matter, other than the fact that they will ‘continue’ to keep customers at the heart of their business, as well as not forgetting to mention that their company is ever expanding and that they will seek to make improvements.
Mr Ratheseen has been heard to say that he wants to ‘buck the reputation of telecoms’ by investing in customer service, and it seems it wouldn’t be a moment too soon. The international calls business, which is what Lebara specialises in, has been criticised in the past for things such as hidden charges, as well as misleading customers through advertising, and so lebara’s owner has called for more transparency and honesty. Migrant customers also suffer a worry of cost, due to not being able to understand the terms and conditions/small print because it is not in their native language. So with many more migrants relying on the virtual network operator, can Lebara turn around it’s recent customer service downfall, and once again be the best provider of international calls?