Voice of the Customers: a Two-Way Dialogue in Digital Finance

The relationship between digital financial providers and their customers is broken. The inactivity rate of mobile money accounts remains above 60% according to the GSMA, and there is a sense that the digital finance field needs to facilitate a more interactive dialogue to revive the relationship. A new CGAP customer centricity research project explores how the voice of customers can be better listened to and integrated into digital finance providers’ business models. In examining over 100 resources and conducting interviews with 20 industry leaders, the initial phase of this research revealed that establishing a more interactive dialogue with customers should be a priority for both providers and customers.

A worker at a shipyard stands between propellers
A worker at a shipyard stands between propellers. Photo by Prashanta Hridoy.

The disconnect between digital finance customers and their providers is increasingly becoming apparent in the voices of customers. CGAP research in Colombia captured one dissatisfied digital finance user who stated: “I got mad at the agent since he made me wait, and was chatting with other people. I just left. I would not complain”. Without adequate customer care models in place, the provider can instill feelings of mistrust and even harm its clients, as was articulated by a user in Bangladesh: “They [mobile money company] do not care about us anymore. If I call the territory manager for any help, the reply is that we have to be careful about transactions ourselves.” To bridge this gap, financial service providers, especially those with digital services, are looking for solutions to better support and listen to their customers.

Our research found many promising opportunities and emerging leaders who are driving forward the dialogue. In particular, we encountered a wide range of digital channels increasingly being utilized including apps, social media, live chats, SMS and interactive voice responses (IVR) that offer opportunities to foster a dialogue at scale. These new channels can complement traditional tools (such as ad hoc surveys and call center protocols) and align with customer experience metrics which are not yet used widely among digital finance providers (for example Net Promote Score, Customer Effort Score, and Customer Satisfaction Score). This type of integrated “omni-channel” model offers both a chance for customers to communicate on their own terms as well as providers to build on their existing efforts.

But the “where do I start the dialogue”, is a question that keeps coming back to us from financial service providers. Even with an omni-channel model, our research suggests the need to prioritize platforms based on customer segmentation, and continuing to adapt messaging to find the most appropriate communication among low-income demographics. This is particularly acute among “oral communities” where illiterate populations struggle with even basic financial information and text. In the Philippines, EngageSpark worked with BanKO to facilitate a dialogue with low-income customers through delivering a financial education soap opera as a voice message on mobile phones after having limited impact with SMS messaging. The voice-based engagement reportedly increased usage of savings products by 106%. The reach of these types of contextual communications is often amplified by word of mouth. For example, research by McKinsey & Company found that more than 80% of North Africans consult with family and friends before making consumer goods purchasing decisions.

The sustainability of these efforts will ultimately require their integration with providers’ business models. In our research, we found that immersion programs, in which staff are able to see firsthand customers’ experience and interactions, were powerful across organizations in building a culture to bolster business models. According to Anil Kumar, founder of KGFS, “it is important to keep a learners’ mind”. As the former CEO of KGFS, he required his staff to have a three-week immersion with customers. Furthermore, empowering and training agents, who are often the first point of contact and deeply immersed in the community, can have cascading impacts. This important link in the dialogue is sometimes the weakest. And although many times underutilized, customer care centers are constantly in dialogue with customers. The research suggests that customer care centers can become strong anchors to integrate a two-way dialogue into other parts of the organization.

The sustainability of the dialogue also requires added value for the providers. Because of the continuous and often longer-term nature of creating a fully interactive dialogue, aligning the organizations’ expectations and capacity towards longer horizons when it comes to quantifiable metrics will be crucial. In our research, we found only a few examples of return on investment calculations. However, based on the GSMA’s broader measures that show the high costs of mobile money customer acquisition and growing lifetime value of regular users, the most compelling business case might very well come from these efforts’ ability to keep customer engaged who would otherwise would have fallen dormant.

In our next phase of the research we will be testing new approaches to improve this two-way dialogue with selected digital finance providers and customers in order to distinguish the key ingredients for a more connected and sustainable relationship.

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