As part of CGAP’s research on customer empowerment, we interviewed a diverse range of 60 women and men, literate and illiterate, rural and urban, low-income people in Côte d'Ivoire to understand customers’ own perspectives on “empowerment”. Regardless of customers’ individual profiles, what is striking is the high degree of influence societal values and human relationships have when it comes to choosing financial service providers. In particular, we gained three insights from the interviews in Côte d’Ivoire.
1. Respect and trust count for customers in Côte d'Ivoire.
Customers in Côte d'Ivoire value their relationship with a financial service provider more than the reliability or quality of services. A decision to continue using a service is therefore based on aspects of this relationship, such as mutual respect and trust.
If customers have grown to trust a provider, certain customers expect the provider to reciprocate that sentiment; for example, customers who receive and pay off various loans believe they have proven their trustworthiness. In return, they expect more favorable terms for subsequent loans. If the provider continues to extend the same terms and conditions as before, the mutual respect and trust could be broken in the eyes of the customer, which may lead to departures.
2. Customers tend to have a passive attitude about financial services, and often do not compare offerings even if they have choices.
In the vast majority of cases, regardless of customer profile, we saw that initial choice of provider is based on one of two things: the advice of friends or relatives or active promotion by the provider. Customers who are more at ease using financial services say that if they receive information on various other services and providers, they will make a comparison and choose a service that best meets their needs. However, they will not seek the information on their own, because they do not have time or see a good reason to do so. This lack of knowledge leads to a preconceived idea that financial services providers and services are uniform.
3. Low expectations create risks for customers who are not informed of their rights and providers’ duties.
Customers tend to be tolerant and understanding when problems arise, so far as there is no risk of losing money. This is particularly the case with mobile money services, which are growing fast in Côte d'Ivoire.
For many customers, opening a mobile money account on their cell phone is their first contact with a formal provider. The provider delivers services at proximity, even if liquidity problems are frequent, so the general attitude is positive: “We are happy enough that the service is available to the village or the neighborhood district, and we understand that this agent does not always have adequate liquidity. So either we wait or go to the nearest alternative agent.”
Such low expectations could lead to situations where customers are liable for penalty payments that they do not understand. The lack of understanding and confidence, combined with a reluctance to make complaints, leads to a situation where there is limited dialogue between Ivoirian customers and their financial service providers. However, customers highly appreciate it when a provider does consult with them.
Much of what we saw in our research may be in part attributed to the early experience of new users of formal financial services. Even though we saw evidence of customers learning by doing, becoming more informed, and making better comparisons, the unequal power dynamic between the provider and customer remains. Customers continue to view the terms and conditions and product features as fixed and non-negotiable.
These insights from Côte d’Ivoire show the importance of the customer-provider relationship in strengthening customers’ knowledge of their rights and creating an effective channel for feedback and complaints. There is also opportunity for better segmentation and tailoring of products and services to customers’ needs.