2007 was an eventful year for Safaricom Limited. It was the year M-Pesa was launched, the first 3G license was awarded to Safaricom by the Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), the year Kenyans were introduced to the Kabambe and the first BlackBerry phone from Safaricom. The year Safaricom exhausted the 072 prefix after hitting 6,000,000 subscribers and moved to 071, and the year when the Bonga Points program was launched, setting pace for other mobile service providers to copy and also start awarding their subscribers for their loyalty.
Launched in 23 January 2007, the Bonga Points program was unveiled as a customer retention initiative open to all PrePay and PostPay subscribers. Unlike other customer loyalty programs at that time, such as Nakumatt Cyber Cash, Safaricom was more generous, giving its subscribers an opportunity to earn one point for every KES 10 spent on voice calls and SMS.
During the initial introduction phase, those who enrolled for Bonga Points earned double points with promises that there will be a robust and exciting reward program once customers accrue enough points. Doubling of Bonga Points has been a one and off thing over the past five years.
As reported in Safaricom’s Financial Year 2008 Results Presentation, there was a wide acceptance and enrolment of Safaricom subscribers into the Bonga Points program by 2008.
During the initial phase of the Bonga Points program, subscribers could redeem their points for a specified number of free talk time minutes and a specified number of free SMS that one could get if they redeemed a specified points matrix.
Redeeming Bonga Points
On 17 August 2010, Safaricom introduced a new Bonga Points reward scheme that allowed Bonga Points subscribers to redeem their points for free airtime. In that redemption campaign dubbed: It’s Bonga Points Time: Exciting New Rewards, free airtime was rewarded were as follows:
- KES 20 Airtime for 100 Points
- KES 40 Airtime for 200 Points
- KES 60 Airtime for 300 Points
- KES 80 Airtime for 400 Points
- KES 100 Airtime for 500 Points
- KES 140 Airtime for 700 Points
- KES 200 Airtime for 1,000 Points
- KES 300 Airtime for 1,500 Points
- KES 400 Airtime for 2,000 Points
This matrix is still in use to date, with a few touch ups here and there. For instance, one can get KES 2 airtime for 10 points or KES 5 or even KES 10 for 25 and 50 points respectively.
In December 2010, Safaricom unveiled yet another Bonga Points Campaign dubbed: Baskets of GIFTS na Safaricom. This might not be the first Bonga Points redeeming campaign where subscribers got free phones, this rewarding scheme was as follows:
- 10,000 Bonga Points got you an Alcatel OT305
- 15,000 Bonga Points got you a Huawei U3100
- 20,000 Bonga Points got you a Samsung Squash
- 20,000 Bonga Points also got you an Alcatel OT 800
- 50,000 Bonga Points got you a Huawei VF 845
- 120,000 Bonga Points got you a BlackBerry 9700 Bold 2
By this time the Bonga Point program was about 3 years old. Most subscribers expressed dissatisfaction with the Baskets of GIFTS na Safaricom campaign. To raise 120,000 Bonga Points, for instance, one had to have spent KES 1.2 million worth of airtime. Based on the fact that majority of Kenyans survive on less than a dollar a day, spending KES 1.2 million on airtime alone within 3 years is next to impossible.
Yet Even More Redeeming Campaigns
In June 2011 Safaricom introduced a new feature that made it possible for users to transfer bonga points to other users. It was well received but in some cases it facilitated unwarranted and unauthorized transfer of Bonga Points from certain subscribers’ accounts, prompting Safaricom to go back to the drawing board and introduce PIN to protect Bonga Points. One has to key in their Bonga Points PIN before they can transfers points to other users.
In late 2011 Safaricom raised the bar for Bonga Points rewarding. Under the then new matrix, a subscriber was for instance required to have 50,000 Bonga Points to redeem a Samsung Galaxy Mini phone from 25,000 points. Safaricom attributed the increase to rise in handset prices.
Five years down the line, more amendments have been made to the Bonga Points program. In addition to redeeming your points for phones, you can redeem add some cash and get a phone. The latest campaign, aimed at giving Safaricom subscribers an opportunity to own smart phones, has lowered the Bonga Points matrix required to for one to get a free phone,as compared to previous ones, plus allowed subscribers to add KES 3,999 to a specified number of points to get smart phones. To get a Samsung Galaxy Pocket, for instance, one had to have 12,000 Bonga Points plus KES 3,999 to get the phone.
Over time there have complains for Safaricom subscribers that generating required Bonga Points to get a phone can be difficult for most. To raise 12,000 points one has to have spent KES 120,000 of airtime. This can be a bit of a hustle for most. With the ‘Changa na Bonga Points feature, users with excess points can share there points with others, widing the scope of those who can redeem points for fantastic rewards.
But, Why Does Safaricom Do It?
According to Inc., it costs a business about 5-10 times more to acquire a new customer than it does to sell to an existing one. On average, you as the current customer will spend 67 percent more on the marketers’ product than a new customer would. Loyalty programs are there to keep you, the customer, returning back to the marketer, boosting their business. In this case you will spend more on airtime to accumulate required points to get that smart phone.