Understanding Customers for Financial Innovation in Ghana

In the last year we’ve shared our work on applied product innovation (API) in Mexico, Brazil and Uganda. We’ve just embarked on our second round of projects, hoping to answer some remaining learning questions and eager to work with engaged partners that have a keen interest in using client-centric methodologies to improve financial services for the poor. In April, we returned to Africa to conduct a challenging and insightful project with Tigo Cash, a mobile money service in Ghana.

The branchless banking market in Ghana is promising but has not gained traction as expected. Even though the main providers have actively brought services to market, mobile money usage is low. Our partner, Tigo Cash, is dynamic and full of new ideas. Yet they are struggling with high numbers of inactive customers just as other operators are. CGAP and Tigo Cash decided to work together in order to better understand what’s preventing Ghanaian customers from actively using mobile money and to develop more compelling offerings that customers in this market would actively use.

For this project, we created a customer experience blueprint to help Tigo understand the critical touch points and the best way to engage with customers at each point. The product itself? Less important – we were open to adapting the basic mobile wallet product but only if interactions with customers revealed gaps in the product offering.

In past projects, we’ve focused on learning from customers by sitting down in people’s living rooms or shops and talking to them for several hours. This time around, we did that, but we also added some interesting interview techniques. For example, some team members had shorter conversations in market places to ask focused questions on just a few topics. We talked to shop owners about how they give credit to customers and we talked to people about how it feels to send money or gifts to loved ones. These side conversations allowed us to really understand the average Ghanaian’s relationship with money.


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Here are two different interview tools we used on the ground in Ghana:

In Context Immersion: The team sent the Tigo and CGAP team into the field and tasked us with the job of being “beginners.” We were asked to locate a Tigo Cash agent in a neighborhood we did not know, sign up for the service and figure out how to send money. calls this kind of exercise an ‘empathy’ exercise. This put us in the shoes of a first time Tigo Cash user and allowed us to understand what it takes to use the service for the first time and the possible barriers to adoption.

What we learned: Signing up for a mobile money service can be scary. As a user, you give your mobile phone away to the agent and wait for him to play around with it while he serves other customers. You see him handle up to 3 phones at the same time and worry whether your phone is safe! If the agent doesn’t have the patience to walk you through a mobile money menu, figuring out a USSD menu for the first time on your own can be quite perplexing.

Use Cases: The team created cards with examples of different instances when a financial transaction was needed (emergencies, bills, school fees) and prompted interviewees to express how they would physically deliver money to a recipient. This got interviewees thinking about specific situations and it instigated rich conversations on different payment channels and why a person chooses one channel over another.

What we learned: An insight that arose from this exercise was how the value of what a person delivers (cash, goods, etc) appreciates or depreciates according to who is delivering it and/or what method is used. In many cases, people were willing to wait more time and spend more money in order to either send a gift to a family member with someone they knew, or they were even willing to do it themselves. Usually, personal gifts such as dresses, fabrics, even food were more valued than just sending cash. In one case, a young man we interviewed spent 5 hours on a bus, and then 2 hours on a motorcycle in order to deliver gifts and cash himself to his mother.

We learned a lot from the 30 plus interviews and conversations with Ghanaians. The conversations and observations helped us to develop eight concepts, eventually narrowed down to four, to prototype and test. The team has done a great job documenting this part of the project through a series of blogs. In “Iterating on the Fly," you can read about the challenge of testing 4 unique prototypes with different moving parts simultaneously (usually just 1 or 2 ideas are tested). John Won, the project manager, describes in “Some Assembly Required” how the team designed a kiosk to deliver a high quality customer service experience in just one day. Every day after that the team iterated on the script and methods used in order to test a different hypothesis. It’s a great example of how rough prototypes in combination with a customer feedback loop can help hone in on a final concept quickly. Finally, in “Wanted: Messy Prototypes”, you can read about what happens when the prototype is “too good” and there isn’t a lot of room for the clients to build on and improve it.

As you’ll read in the IDEO blog post, the Tigo Cash team is enthusiastic about the final concepts and is already deploying some of them at scale. Only one of the four concepts is directly product related and this has proven to us what we’ve seen in other projects: human centered design has deep relevance to all aspects of the customer experience, not just product development.


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