Clare Convey

Disseminating information about inclusive business and the Business Innovation Facility

How to use customer centricity to meet data collection needs

Sub-Saharan Africa
9. Nov 2017

Too often, businesses serving base of the pyramid populations see the collection of social-impact data as a burden - something they are obliged to gather to satisfy the reporting requirements of their funders. Changing the perception of measurement from obligation to opportunity is a key focus of the Impact Programme, an initiative funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID) which aims to catalyse the market for impact investment in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

While setting up a series of ‘Deep Dive’ studies to understand outcomes in one of the Programme’s investment vehicles - the Impact Fund, managed by the CDC Group - we aimed to develop an approach to data collection that could drive the double bottom line of social impact and business value. As a result, we worked to ensure that the research would be:

  • Participatory. Making a data offer to businesses (what would be decision-useful) rather than a data ask (metrics the Impact Programme requires for reporting)
  • Value-added. Helping business access data that provides real insights into their customers, suppliers and business operations.
  • Right-sized. Exerting a level of effort that is proportionate to the likely depth and breadth of (anticipated) impact, and using research methods that a good fit to current company culture and operations.

Together with Acumen’s Lean Data team, we applied these principles in a pilot study for Agricare, a Ghana-based animal feed mill in the Impact Fund portfolio. By listening to customers to hear about their pain points, practices and productivity gains, Agricare was able to refine its distribution strategy and explore changes to packaging sizes. By spending time with suppliers, we found out what was really driving social value for the farmers selling maize to Agricare (turned out it was access to inputs on credit) – a critical success factor for the business as it scales up the out-grower scheme, and will have to acquire and retain many hundreds more smallholders.

This initial work has continued to strengthen our conviction that for commercially successful, impact-creating companies, investors and enterprises alike overstate the dichotomy between impact and business data. We can learn much about social performance by simply unpacking consumer and supplier behaviour, and listening for useful feedback. By focusing on uncovering the “why” of what customers do and do not value, this approach improves companies’ ability to glean insights it can turn into action.

A short case study on the Agricare experience shares practical guidance on how to use customer centricity to meet data collection needs for both business and social performance measurement. It sets out a three-step process:

  • Understand interests: What data does the company need to be able to drive better commercial and social performance?
  • Collect information: Which questions shed light on customer-perceived value?
  • Generate insights: How can findings be turned into concrete business actions?

Notions of burden begin to recede if the data conversation is reframed to be about customer centricity. And as we embark on new studies – in different sectors and geographies – we are excited to keep exploring how companies can be best supported to collect data at the intersection of business and impact value. 

This blog is a part of the November 2017 series on data for inclusive business.

Read the full series for insights on how the data revolution could affect inclusive business. Will it bring an end to the uncertainty of business in Base of Pyramid markets? Can it straddle the development-business divide? Will the data drive spurred by the Sustainable Development Goals be useful to inclusive business?