Keeping Kiwis connected during COVID-19 and supporting customers
Ensuring essential phone and internet connectivity continues across alert levels
COVID-19 has caused disruptions to all aspects of our lives – with widespread and pronounced impacts to how we work, live and play.
We’ve seen New Zealanders turn to digital channels like never before, with phone and internet connectivity providing a lifeline to outside world – and correspondingly we’ve seen network demands increase by 20-60% in terms of more data used and calls made by customers, at a time of reduced revenues.
We know how important connectivity is, so on 19 March we announced a COVID-19 Care Plan that included a number of commitments across a range of areas to help assist Vodafone customers.
While these had considerable financial impacts on our business – and as an industry we have been engaging with government stakeholders to secure support that will enable us to continue assisting customers who need to remain connected but are struggling to meet the costs of doing so – we do want to support New Zealanders as best we can.
We’ve had some questions around how our COVID-19 Care Plan is being applied, so here is a recap of how we’re helping to keep Aotearoa connected:
1) Putting people first. We committed to protecting the health of our community first and foremost, which included early activation of our BCP (business continuity plan) and implementing remote working policies including a daily Vlife app check-in system. By learning lessons from international colleagues, we were well prepared to help our staff prepare for lockdown – and share these learnings with our customers and partners.
2) Customer connectivity at the core. Data caps were removed for urban fixed broadband customers; we encouraged mobile customers to move to Endless Data Pay Monthly plans to enable data certainty; and we offered capacity-constrained RBI customers unlimited free data overnight. We bolstered our digital service channels by redeploying retail staff into remote customer service roles to complement our call centre staff, many of whom needed to be supplied with laptops to work remotely from home.
3) Network performance is key. We know having a reliable network, with uninterrupted communications, has been essential to ensure customers can work and learn from home. While we had a few minor outages mainly due to factors outside our control, our technology teams have been working 24/7 to optimise our broadband and mobile services. With phone calls up 60%, and broadband and mobile data up 20-50% on pre-lockdown levels, this has placed considerable cost on our business at a time of reduced revenues due to removing data caps, and lack of international roaming or retail revenue – but we will not compromise on offering awesome digital connectivity solutions for our customers.
4) Supporting customers. Early on, we committed not to disconnect customers suffering from COVID-19 related financial hardship, so we implemented a new process linked to the government’s criteria. We moved fast and communicated this early, and it’s now a good time for us to summarise how the scheme is working – see below. Just like any business, we do expect our customers to pay their bills, to ensure Vodafone NZ’s ongoing financial health and our ability to continue to invest and deliver services for all our customers. This means we can ensure millions of Kiwis stay connected – including hundreds of thousands of business customers – throughout the alert levels, and long may that continue. Where customers show us there is genuine hardship, we will work with them under our COVID-19 Care Plan. But we can’t do this in a way that undermines the long term health of our business.
5) Technology assistance for Kiwis in need. Via the Vodafone Foundation, we released emergency funding and redeployed the DreamLab app to support COVID-19 research. We worked closely with the Ministry of Education to zero-rate key education sites, and via Farmside offered RBI modems to children in rural households without connectivity – as well as supported hospital workers with charging stations plus cell sites on wheels (COWs) to bolster mobile connections in busy locations.
We’ve also worked alongside other players in the telco industry in a bid to keep NZ connected, including with key suppliers and local fibre companies, to play our part in supporting Aotearoa during this challenging time.
Approach to disconnections and early termination fees
We want to help customers stay connected to essential internet and phone services – but we also have financial constraints that we’re working within to ensure our long-term sustainability.
This means we need to regularly review how our COVID-19 Care Plan is being used, and we may need to change it over time as conditions change and decisions are made that affect our business.
Currently, we have committed to supporting customers who are facing COVID-19 related hardship until 19 September 2020 (six months from when our COVID-19 Care Plan was first announced) – as long as the customer has shown us they meet Government’s own eligibility criteria for COVID-19 support programmes, and they have got in touch to ask for support.
Our general approach is that we will avoid disconnecting customers due to demonstrated COVID-19 related hardship, however, there are some exceptions to this – including where our services are being misused.
If anyone would like to delay paying their bills, we ask:
- Consumer customers (individuals) who meet the Government’s criteria of COVID-19 financial hardship (evidence of a successful application to the Ministry of Social Development for financial support), should get in touch with us via digital channels to discuss.
- Small to Medium sized businesses (SMEs) who meet the Government’s criteria of COVID-19 financial hardship via evidence of successful application for the Wage Subsidy Scheme, should get in touch with us to discuss.
- Enterprise customers (large businesses) who meet the Government’s criteria of COVID-19 financial hardship via evidence of successful application for the Wage Subsidy Scheme, should contact their Account Manager to discuss.
Because our COVID-19 Care Plan is linked to financial hardship that is caused by COVID-19, we have not made any commitment to any accounts overdue prior to 26 March
While we did not apply for the wage subsidy, because our business is experiencing negative longer-term financial impacts from COVID-19 are continuing engage with Government on the assistance that will be required to help us to keep New Zealanders connected.
For more information about Vodafone NZ’s response to COVID-19, please visit: http://www.vodafone.co.nz/covid19