MTN launches ‘world first’ WhatsApp-based Airtime Top-up service

MTN says it will become the first mobile network in the world to let customers buy airtime and data bundles and check their balances directly on Facebook-owned messaging platform WhatsApp.

The service, MTN Chat, will help customers manage their accounts “off a secure and convenient platform they already know and love”, said Mapula Bodibe, MTN SA’s consumer business executive.

“It’s imperative that companies focus on improving self-service experiences to retain and grow customers and this is an important step for MTN,” Bodibe said.

Calling it a world first for the telco industry, MTN has launched a WhatsApp channel to let its customers buy airtime and data bundles through the messaging app.

The largest mobile operator in Africa has begun the service in its home country, South Africa, using the Facebook-owned app.

Gareth Murphy, MTN South Africa’s online channel GM, says it wants its services to be more convenient by providing a better customer experience. “It’s no secret that the telecommunications sector, around the world, has not excelled at this and we want to change that at MTN,” Murphy told me. “Simple solutions that are easy to use, and which fit neatly into our customer’s lives, will help be a great differentiator for us.”

Customers can also check their balances and store their credit or debit cards in the app for future purchases. The service is provided by another South African company that has a global reach, Clickatell, which is a WhatsApp Business Solution provider.

WhatsApp is extremely popular in South Africa. Just under half (49%) of South Africa’s 38 million mobile subscribers use it (out of a population of 58 million), according to the Digital in 2018 in Southern Africa report by Hootsuite and We Are Social, which compiles statistics from various sources.

WhatsApp now has 1.5 billion global users (as of January 2019), according to Statista, which also found 49% of South African smartphone owners use it (at the third quarter of 2017).

Carolyn Everson, a vice-president at Facebook, said recently that the group was in talks with financial institutions about possible mobile-payment collaborations in Africa.

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