LEVERAGING DIGITAL PRESENCE FOR CONSUMER RELATIONSHIPS

By Isabelle Smith and Laura Caron — In June 2018, co-founding investors and endorsers became signatories to the 10 Guidelines for “Investing in Responsible Digital Financial Services”. These Investor Guidelines directly respond to the increased opportunities and evolving risks emerging in digital financial services, and they range from fostering a proportionate legal and regulatory framework to preventing over-indebtedness, as well as managing risks.

The two organizations highlighted below embody, in particular, Guideline 8: Enhance Customer Services for Problem Resolution and Product Innovation. This Guideline calls for signatories to take steps towards enhancing mechanisms for feedback to improve the delivery of services. Musoni, a microfinance institution in Kenya and a signatory to the Investor Guidelines, uses technology and market research to enhance client engagement. Additionally, Wave Money, a fintech startup in Myanmar, uses social media to respond to clients’ needs.

Musoni: a signatory combines technology with traditional methods

Musoni embodies an innovative approach to maintaining client engagement by incorporating traditional methods of market research alongside uses of technology. Since its beginning in 2010, Musoni has grown to over 25 locations in 12 Kenyan counties and served over 260,000 business and agribusiness loans.

Musoni began by conducting extensive market research through focus groups and conversations with potential local clients in Kenya. The market research revealed some of its clients’ core values: convenience, transparency, and additional financial literacy. To meet these needs, the company uses its digital platform for both its and the clients’ benefit by allowing repayments at any time and from anywhere. This feature is popular: 42% of its repayments are made outside of normal banking hours. Ease of access has also increased client safety, as borrowers no longer face the dangers of carrying large sums of money when traveling to repayment locations.

When Musoni sought to expand client outreach beyond urban and semi-urban markets, they worked with the Grameen Foundation to meet the needs of smallholder farmers. A human-centered design process led to a borrowing product with features like individually-specific flexible repayment periods and timing adapted to agricultural cycles. Through listening to and incorporating client needs and feedback, Musoni has improved the repayment system, and thus decreased default rates.

Musoni has also used simple technologies, such as USSD and SMS interfaces to promote connection between clients and providers.[1] Borrowers are regularly sent feedback surveys on their mobile devices where they can provide opinions on Musoni’s practices. Originally running on an entirely SMS-based platform, Musoni has upgraded to a USSD interface and continues to regularly collect borrower SMS satisfaction surveys and market research.

As CGAP reports, the use of SMS and USSD as modes of communication with clients are key: although many DFS providers offer terms and conditions or other important information in web link format, many borrowers have feature phones that cannot access these. Musoni uses its digital foundations both to increase its effectiveness for consumers and to gather information about how to continue evolving its technological presence in the future. This demonstrates that the use of technology does not necessitate a shift away from client engagement and can even increase it, when used strategically.

Wave Money: social media and customer engagement

Wave Money is a mobile money provider in Myanmar that was given the country’s first mobile financial license. Myanmar’s banking system was ripe for change: in 2013 around 90% of the population shunned the banking system. Wave has addressed this dilemma by utilizing technology to better connect with consumers. In less than a year Wave enrolled over 400,000 users and prides itself on providing “accessible, safe and convenient mobile financial service”.

Like Musoni, Wave Money began with customer research, which revealed that customers who interacted with company representatives were more likely to use Wave services. To capitalize on this information, Wave invested in a Facebook presence. This use of basic technology took off: Wave Money’s Facebook page gained over 1.65 million followers and borrowers found that commenting on the Facebook posts was an easy way to contact support staff. However, Wave eventually found that social media channels were inadequate to meet up with the requests for information since a single post could garner thousands of comments.

As a result, Wave Money expanded its call center to answer customers’ questions and to reach out to old customers to encourage them to re-join. To measure the success of this new approach, Wave conducted a pilot program. The call center contacted 600 inactive users, talked with 169 customers, and trained 44 of them on how to transfer money. This training utilized Wave Money’s digital platform to engage users in a simple, interactive learning experience where the  call center representatives would send less than $1 and then ask inactive customers to send the money back.

This pilot program was successful: “roughly 78 percent of the customers who engaged in a walk-through went on to conduct an additional transaction within a week, and 15 percent completed two more transactions.” Additionally, conversations with inactive customers provided insight on how to improve the quality of Wave Money products and client responses. Wave Money demonstrates that even basic technology such as social media and call centers can inform and improve the consumer experience for DFS institutions.

Aligning with Investor Guidelines

Musoni and Wave Money both demonstrate that listening to and responding to the needs of consumers aids in business’ success. Musoni maintained a client-centered focus with extensive market research that then integrated uses for technology. Similarly, Wave expanded its social media presence and call center capabilities to better respond to customer needs.

Other financial providers could follow their example in aligning operations and practices with the Investor Guidelines, by balancing the efficiency of technology with the essentials of consumer services. Traditional market research methods that seek to understand the local community’s needs cannot be replaced and can be used to inform the best practices and uses for technology.  These approaches complement each other to benefit both clients and providers, with higher repayment rates, higher customer satisfaction, and better matches between borrowers and the loan products or other financial services available to them.  Financial service providers can support efforts to use technology to put clients at the center of product design. They can do this by:

  • Using regular SMS surveys like Musoni’s to receive frequent feedback from active users.
  • Establishing various forums to assist clients, such as Facebook help pages or call centers like Wave Money.
  • Adopting further mechanisms for feedback loops that listen to the voice of the consumer.

About the Authors

Isabelle Smith and Laura Caron are both Scholars in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University.  Isabelle is studying International Politics, with a concentration in Development. Laura Caron is studying International Political Economy, with a particular interest in development.

This post is part of a series to broaden investor-partner collaboration and harness ongoing experiences from co-founding, current and prospective Signatories of the Investor Guidelines.

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[1] USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) is a mobile phone system which uses SMS to communicate between a user and an application such as Musoni’s borrowing and lending interface.