The first female CEO of an Omani telecom company has much to talk about the brand’s fruitful decade-long run and how a major strategic switch is paving the way for their future. Coffee with Y meets FRiENDi mobile’s Salma Nasser al Maawali.
Renowned among Oman’s expat community as the provider of one of the most affordable cellular services in the country, FRiENDi mobile has long been touted as a windfall in the telecom sector.
With class-leading perks up their sleeve, such as discounted call rates to selected Asian countries and internet services bordering in on the affordable in the cellular industry, it’s little wonder then that the reseller continues its stronghold over the segment in the nation – as it has over the last 10 years.
It’s something Salma Nasser al Maawali, the CEO of the company – who is also the first woman in Oman to hold this position in the telecom industry – takes much pride in disclosing to us in an interview.
A far-sighted team player and leader, Salma leaves all the success and praise to her colleagues while also maintaining transparency over the challenges the company faces.
She says: “10 years of success – that’s the collective hard work of all the team members of FRiENDi mobile. The journey has been a long and a fruitful one, but it’s been one filled with trials too.”
It’s trials that she’s successfully overcome with her team since joining the company five years ago. She initially joined the team as the Finance Director for the brand, where she managed financial planning, engaged in driving the company’s strategy, and contributed towards strengthening their positioning.
Armed with a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and a master’s degree in accounting, Salma has gained the reputation of taking cautious steps, but with the company’s greater future in her sights.
For instance, FRiENDi mobile has shifted from its long-term network partner, OmanTel, to Ooredoo and is in the final stages of completing the transposition.
Talking about the shift, she says: “For us as a re-seller, it’s very important to have the best strategic partner and partner who focuses on wholesale business – which is what we found in Ooredoo.
“The terms of the commercial agreement we could negotiate were another great factor for this shift. Since this is a long-term contract that we have signed with Ooredoo, we’ll be in partnership for five to seven years.”
All of this, she says, is in a bid to tackle the challenges that lay ahead together with one of the greatest players in the market – a tie-up similar to what you’d see in the automotive industry (eg: BMW and Toyota, or Nissan and Mitsubishi).
While the former allows manufacturers to share existing technology, FRiENDi mobile’s tie-up with Ooredoo will bear similar outcomes, as customers can now experience state-of-the-art internet and cellular networks.
As per Salma, it also allows them to offer competitive packages while enabling them to generate profits for the company.
“The challenges are huge,” she tells us, before adding, “But, it’s like what any other reseller faces around the world.
“The telecom industry is a competitive market – and that’s where the need comes for us to find a strong partner. So, how we compete in the market and the strategies we adopt all relay to the future of the company.
“Most reseller also have to find a niche crowd to sustain themselves in the market. For us it’s the expat segment – and that’s why we focus heavily on the audience and scripting the right offers and packages for the people to benefit out of.
Having studied how mobile data has become the main means of communication, FRiENDi now comes up with unlimited validity data options, along with international packages – a standout feature in this segment.
Salma then goes on to explain how it’s not just the lucrative packages that determine a happy customer, but rather how it must be achieved with a complete portfolio of value-added services.
Today, FRiENDi mobile boasts of one of the highest customer service and efficiency rankings in the region, and it’s hard to imagine how a small team could achieve such a great feat. Yet, all odds aside, this Omani company has achieved the impossible.
“Our service satisfaction rate is between 93 to 95 per cent, which speaks for itself,” she proudly claims. “But, in terms of number of staff we’re small – but we’re highly efficient. If you compare calls-per-agent against any reseller, we’re the leaders.
“And that’s how we must operate as a re-seller. We must be very efficient – and only then can we can be profitable.”
Only time will tell what the future has in store for the company, and as one more service provider is slated to enter the market, Salma and her team is already working towards taking steps to further ascertain their position.
“The entrance [of new service providers] will definitely change the dynamics. But there is space for competition.
“For us, we don’t necessarily think of reseller to be in direct competition with new service providers, but we must act quickly and work harder. In the end, we need to capitalise on our greatest strength: our experience in the market.
“It’s probably because of all these calculated steps that we find the response from the customers to been great,” she tells us. “This shift itself imbibes a lot of positive vibes and it livens up the brand more so than ever before.
“We’ve been studying the market for a long time. This was not a decision we took overnight. You can see how the telecom department in the country is evolving – it’s very rapid and competitive.
“Our next goal would be to grow the customer base. And now that we’re shifting, being able to offer the same level of customer satisfaction through our outstanding services would be the key. Once we do that, it’ll help us become the unprecedented market leaders in the reseller segment.”