Airtel to add 17,000 rural outlets by March.

Can you detail Bharti’s rural drive? Will the new rural service centres have employees on Airtel payroll?

When it comes to rural India, there are several limitations with our call centres. Villagers are usually not comfortable speaking with call centre executives or to a machine. Rural users prefer to be served in the local dialect by a local person. The rural space is very important to us as two-third of the new additions (of mobile phones) are expected to come from this segment from next year onwards. We tried a pilot to set up Rural Airtel Service Centres in Rajasthan. We are following the ‘four As’ model — availability, awareagent. They are not on the rolls of Bharti Airtel. These agents sell and exchange SIMs, (subscriber identification module cards in phones), they are empowered to activate, reactiness, accountability and affordability. The rural centres help us address these aspects. In all villages, we have identified an entrepreneur, who runs a multi-brand outlet, or a general store or any outlet, and have trained him to be an Airtel vate and recharge mobile connections and sell valueadded services amongst other things.

How has the experience been so far?

Post the pilot project in Rajasthan, we have established 3,000 such centres in the past couple of months. This will be expanded to 20,000 by March, with an aim to have one such centre in every village. We have noticed that the project acts as a big differentiator for our services. For instance, SIM replacement is a major concern in rural areas as they often get damaged.

Customers have to go to the nearest city to replace the SIM cards.
And how does the rural vendor who runs the Airtel centre benefit?

The vendor can increase his revenues by selling a host of services — from hello tunes, to music-on-demand and ring tones — and help customers activate and stop services on their mobiles. This would serve as an add-on revenue opportunity for him, already running another business.

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