Building customer-centric cultures

Every day, more than 5 million new cellphones are sold. That’s more than 10 times the number of babies born each day. We are barrelling towards a world where a cellphone will be in every pocket by 2020, and a smartphone in every pocket soon after that.

This revolution is making the previously unimaginable real— in the near future, we will have the opportunity to start a dialogue with literally every person on the planet. This new two-way conversation, where everyone participates, will pull billions of people into the mainstream by connecting them with one another.

Through our Lean Data initiative, we are taking advantage of the spread of cellphones to talk to previously excluded segments of society. The focus of Lean Data is to equip startup social enterprises in the developing world with the tools and techniques to start a dialogue with their customers.

Since starting this work in 2014, one of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that a cellphone in every pocket is just a starting point.

For companies to fully take advantage of this revolution, they must view data collection as a chance to build a conversation, engage customers, and most importantly, to listen.

According to a recent series by Harvard Business Review, “the new source of competitive advantage is customer centricity: deeply understanding your customers’ needs and fulfilling them better than anyone else.” For social enterprises, the importance of customer centricity and understanding customer wants and needs is especially critical.

On the Lean Data team, our focus is on helping social enterprises build more impactful businesses by providing them with data on social performance, customer or supplier feedback, and behaviour. Lean Data uses low-cost technology and methods to gather
high-quality data quickly and efficiently.

In order to ensure the sustainability of data collection, we’ve also started helping companies think about their customer touchpoints along their customer journey. By viewing these touchpoints as opportunities to engage in conversation with customers, customer-centric cultures are born.

For example, we’ve seen how Lean Data has helped to build a culture of data at SolarNow, a company in Uganda that sells solar home systems. Over the past two years, SolarNow has been one of our strongest partners: we’ve done a total of five Lean Data projects with them, helping them collect data across impact, customer profile, and more. According to Willem Nolens, the CEO of SolarNow, “the client insights the [Lean Data] report provides are the most essential tool that we have to come to good decisions.”

SolarNow is now working on embedding the customer voice into how they make strategic decisions. According to Javier Olaguibel, Marketing Manager at SolarNow:

“We have recently leveraged the Net Promoter Score process in 3 different moments of our customer journey on a quarterly basis. This allows our customers to highlight which part of their journey can be improved (whether it is a product or a process issue) and suggest improvements. Once we’ve received the feedback from our clients, through our Customer Insight Engine, we conduct further research of issues mentioned through both quantitative and qualitative data. We then generate an insights reports that is shared throughout the organization. In this report, some pilot recommendations are made and then a potential solution is implemented. This helps us ensure that we’re not only listening to customers but also responding to their crucial feedback.”

Our final measure of success is how customers experience the surveys and data collection. We strive to put the customer first in all we do, which means surveys should never take up too much of a customer’s time. In a sector where Monitoring & Evaluation has created an extractive culture of data collection where customers spend hours answering questions and never see how that fed into a decision, we recognize that has to change.

While we still have work to do in terms of closing the feedback loop and reporting back to customers on how their feedback directly informed decision-making, we’re starting to see that customers do value being asked their opinion.

At the end of one of our surveys, one happy customer expressed her satisfaction with the service she received at a health clinic and then added, “I really enjoyed being interviewed.” These are the kinds of customers whose voices we aim to help our companies hear.

Our Lean Data work is focused squarely on helping the startup social enterprises we invest in to listen more actively to the low-income customers they serve. For them, Lean Data is a chance to talk to their often remote and dispersed customer base in a way that doesn’t break the bank.

While Lean Data is, today, being used mostly by startup social enterprises, our work in learning to ask the right questions using the right method across the customer journey is universal.

The low-income customer of today is the low middle-income customer of tomorrow. Hundreds of millions of people in the developing world are poised to improve their well-being, but this depends on how well companies and societies listen to them and adjust efforts to meet their needs.

Interested in learning more about Lean Data? Sign-up here for our Lean Data Lowdown and sign-up for our Lean Data +Acumen course.

This blog is a part of the February 2017 series on Customer intelligence revolutionising business at the Base of the Pyramid in partnership with Acumen Lean Data.  Access the series for interviews with social enterprises Dr.Consulta and D.light, as well as blogs from Business Call to Action, Social Value International and many more.

Ashley Speyer
Ashley Speyer
Ashley Speyer is a Senior Impact Associate at Acumen, responsible for leading Acumen's Lean Data work in East and West Africa.

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