Guest author

Using mobile-enabled technologies for collecting data and managing client relationships

Sub-Saharan Africa
19. Jan 2015

Knowing your customers and communicating with them in a timely, cost-effective way is crucial for any business. Because we maintain long-term relationships with our clients, communication is a top priority for Juhudi Kilimo. Our loan officers often travel long distances to reach rural farms, and information gathered from our farmer clients can get lost, if it is not captured quickly and correctly.

Juhudi Kilimo is an award-winning Kenyan social enterprise that provides asset financing and technical assistance to smallholder farmers and small-to-medium agribusinesses throughout Kenya. Juhudi operates exclusively in rural areas, giving smallholder farmers access to the tools they need to scale up and succeed.

Since 2009, Juhudi Kilimo has provided KES 2 Billion worth of financing to more than 40,000 Kenyan farmers. We currently have over 20,000 clients spread across 20 rural branches and served by our team of 140 employees. Through our services, we help our clients make their farms productive and sustainable, increasing their farming income and improving the well-being of their families.

Smallholder farmer Jackline gets a text message from Juhudi Kilimo (c) Juhudi Kilimo Ltd.

In 2010, we decided to improve our client communication and data collection using text messaging, a mode of communication that is well established and very popular amongst our rural clientele. To do this, we chose to support the development and deployment of Echo Mobile, a then early-stage platform for messaging and data collection via SMS.

We began by using Echo Mobile for informational question-and-answer campaigns with our farmers. We also started conducting SMS surveys to gather data about our farmers and their needs. Juhudi paid for sending text messages, but farmers could respond free of charge. Farmers also self-registered for the service and were able to communicate with us in their own language. The feedback and practical experience we gained from working with Echo Mobile have been used to make changes and improvements to the solution.

SMS communication has proven very popular, both amongst Juhudi staff and our clients. For our staff, it provides a fast and far-reaching channel for sharing news and information with current and prospective clients, as well as a tool for collecting client feedback and other data. The benefits of using Echo Mobile outweigh its costs, reducing the amount of money spent on logistics and customer acquisition, and increasing the speed with which data from the field becomes available for analysis and decision-making.

For farmers, who can subscribe easily to the service by sending a keyword to Juhudi’s private shortcode, SMS is both a free source of information and a convenient customer service channel, helping them feel more connected to Juhudi Kilimo and improving their customer experience.

In 2012, Juhudi Kilimo participated in a study using SMS questionnaires to calculate Progress out of Poverty Index (PPI) scores, which indicate poverty levels amongst repondents. The study also compared results obtained via SMS data collection to the traditional method of enumerators interviewing respondents. The study was conducted with three social enterprises, including Juhudi Kilimo, and reached a total of 900 respondents in three phases across the 3 businesses. The highest client SMS response rate was 92%, the lowest 8% across the companies. The stronger the client relationship with the company collecting the data, the higher the response rate. The SMS survey was also considerably cheaper to conduct than using interviews in person. Importantly, the difference in PPI scores obtained by the two methods was small (0-1.4% variation), showing that SMS data collection can result in relatively good data accuracy.

More recently, in 2014, we used SMS to gather data about the productivity of our dairy farmer clients, asking them to report by SMS their rates of milk production and consumption, as well as their milk sales, prices and market access. The survey confirmed the popularity of dairy farming amongst our clients, with 60% of Juhudi borrowers using their loans to finance the purchase of high-yield dairy cows. It also provided a detailed picture of the earning trends, market conditions and practical constraints our dairy farmer clients often deal with. We have used the insights gained through this relatively cost-effective data collection exercise for our own business and product development.

A Juhudi Kilimo dairy farmer measures his daily milk yield (c) Juhudi Kilimo Ltd.

In addition to using SMS for client communication and targeted surveys, we collect client data as part of our standard operations and customer relationship management (CRM) procedures. This data is captured in a core Salesforce management information system (MIS), which is cloud-based and can be accessed by our loan officers on their smartphones, tablets and laptops. The data ranges from basic demographic information about potential clients, used for lead management and sales tracking, to financial information used for credit appraisals, as well as details about the performance of active loans. The devices used for gathering core MIS data are also equipped with tools such as Open Data Kit (ODK) forms for ad hoc or targeted data collection, such as the collection of client data required from Kiva field partners.

Developed and tested to meet real business and customer needs, our mobile communication and data management tools have improved our business and social performance, as well as our ability to track and manage client relationships. Compared to traditional pen-and-paper methods of collecting data, using SMS means survey results can be obtained very quickly, practically in real-time. The ability to enter and review MIS data directly from a portable device using a mobile connection also gives us much better visibility into client numbers and the status of our portfolio. For Juhudi Kilimo the cost-benefit of mobile-enabled data collection and communication is clear, with stronger client relationships, cost savings, and efficiency gains giving good returns on the initial investments made in adopting the new technologies and processes.

Related links

Video interview about Juhudi Kilimo and inclusive business in Kenya

Echo Mobile