Future of telecoms sector in the Czech Republic

The Prime Minister Milos Zeman said recently that the state would not sell it's majority stake in the telephone company Cesky Telecom while he is still in power - which means for at least another six months. Cesky Telecom is to lose the monopoly it has enjoyed since it was established - and that will prove a major change for the organisation.

Mathew Coffey is a New Yorker who works for the company Telcordia - he has been in Prague for almost three years working as an adviser to Cesky Telecom on - among other things - improving customer service before it loses its monopoly. I put it to Mr. Coffey that given the incredible popularity of mobile phones in the Czech Republic, Cesky Telecom already has competition.45

"All of the telecoms in this part of the world face severe competition from mobile operators. The difference is in America and western Europe people had telephones and then cellular services came along - in this part of the world they came along at the same time. People would opt to get one or the other - hopefully both because Cesky Telecom owns a substantial part of (mobile operator) Eurotel."

But Mr Coffey does not think mobile phones mean that fixed-line phones are on the way out.

"There's always a need for wire line and traditional services, because of the need for data. Mobile telecommunications is still its infancy. It will happen that mobile telecommunications will grow in their services. At the same time wire services will also grow. It's a matter of making the pie bigger - not slicing it up into smaller and smaller pieces."

Has it been hard for Cesky Telecom to adapt the kind of service mentality it's going to need in the future?

"It's been difficult to make the leap but I think what I've seen over the last few years is more and more of a concern about customers as opposed to subscribers, and a readiness to move forward towards giving customers more information about products as well as the status of their request for installation or repair. It's a difficult thing to change."

Change can be hard everywhere - not just in the Czech Republic. And Mathew Coffey believes you simply have to change in order to keep the customer satisfied.

"It was difficult in the US to go from a monopolistic mentality to more of a customer focus but it was done. I think the Czech service ethic will get better. And customers will demand it. As service gets better the customers expect it to get even better. You can't just say 'I've gotten there and that's all I'm going to do'. Your customers won't let you do that. And the way they'll prove that they won't let you do that is they'll walk away."

Mr. Coffey says that while his business is telecommunications, 95 percent of any business is about communication with other people. How has he found the experience of coming from the very different environment of New York to work in the Czech Republic?

"I don't think anybody can work in a company in the Czech Republic unless you expect a few things and understand things. Number one is everybody isn't going to change their way of doing things because I've arrived. You have to understand that people have different ways of doing things that aren't necessarily your way of doing it. People need time to absorb things and adapt them as their own. For me to try and impose a solution on anything - or for any foreigner to do that - is counter-productive and quite honestly plain stupid."

In the past Mr. Coffey has worked in Gibraltar. He said the locals spoke Spanish at home but English at school and at work. In order to communicate better, he learnt some Spanish swear words - and it broke the ice. Has he picked up any Czech swear words?

"A few. I think the most challenging word was 'ctvrtek' - that took about three weeks."

That's not a swear word.

"I hope not!"

In case you don't speak Czech, ctvrtek means Thursday.