Monday, February 28, 2011

Challenges of Customer Care

Hi my name is Tasira Nkhata; I am the lady behind the Customer care line. I have been working for Mobile Transactions since May 2010.

My role at Mobile Transactions is an interesting one; I am the lady who makes sure I put a smile on everyone’s face. Especially the agents and Customers, this is not always easy. So I take Graham’s advice (Graham is the Agent Manager) which is speak to a customer with a smile on your face and they will know you are smiling when talking to them and I think it has helped a lot.

I can’t say that I always make my customers happy because I always can’t do everything they ask of me. A practical example is when they ask me to give them the four digit PIN code which is meant to be a secret between the Sender and the Receiver. I in turn request that they get the PIN from the Sender and if the sender has forgotten the PIN they need to get back to the Agent. This makes the Sender very unhappy because they think I can see everything. What the customers do not understand is that the PIN code is a security PIN number which secures their money and therefore I have no way to view it.

The other challenge is that of the ‘Send to Bank’, a feature that allows Agents and customers to send money to any bank of their choice directly from their Zoona Kwacha Account. Agents want to come here and kill me when their Send to Bank is processed a minute or a second late. I believe the Accounts department gets sick and tired of my emails!

I believe I have the best job in the company reason being I speak to so many people that I have never met and they relate to me quite well. It was not like this in the beginning, the Agents were very unfriendly to me. This was one of the biggest challenges I faced as the new customer Care lady, it was requested of me to memorise every Agent’s name and numbers.

Customers overlook the importance of the 4 digit pin that they enter when doing a transaction I believe that all the Agents should educate the Customers on PIN security. The Marketing department has had posters made on the importance of the PIN.

The Agent network I believe has improved greatly from the time I came to date, Agents are now sending SMS to order the branding and Books, they also use SMS to give us feedback on our service.

With the fast growing rate of the agent network it is a sure bet we will be doing more transactions in weeks to come!

My last words are I would love to see everyone take time and walk to the customer care table and answer one or two calls or make a call to an Agent. We all need to show our Agents love!

Monday, February 14, 2011

A Historic Moment for Mobile Transactions

On February 2, 2011, at 18:41pm ,a Mobile Transactions agent made an order AND paid for 200 bags of roller meal for a total value of K6,000,000 (USD$1250) using their mobile phone. This might very well be the first time anyone in Zambia has done anything like this. In two years time, when every retailer in Zambia is using their mobile phone to order from their suppliers and we are rolling this product out in new countries, this will be a historic event to look back on.

Starting in December, Mobile Transactions has been quietly developing a potentially transformational product. It's an online ordering and payments system that can be accessed on mobile phones. The idea is that retailers can log on to the system on their phones, search for the products they want - anything from cooking oil to bars of soap to fertilizers - and instantly make orders and payments using their Mobile Transactions account. Suppliers can add new products, update their pricing, and offer delivery/collection options to the retailers.

It's an online, cashless marketplace where everyone wins. Retailers save the hassle (and danger) of running around town with cash in hand, searching for the right price, making orders, and paying for transport to get the goods back to their shop. Suppliers get access to new retailers, have the opportunity to increase sales, and save on the huge risks involved with handling cash. Smaller retailers and suppliers, in particular, stand to gain a lot, as the system opens up the market and makes prices more transparent.

The vision for this product is a grand one, but the process of getting there will likely be more subtle. Our job is to build a complete solution for retailers and suppliers that is so good that they propagate it themselves. It's a bit like Facebook in that way - we want to create a product that initial clients gain more value from by bringing their current business contacts on board. Going viral, creating network effects, whatever you want to call, that's what we're aiming for.

We're at the early stages now, starting with a product that is ubiquitous in Zambia's urban economy - mealie meal, the country's staple food. From there, we hope to bring on basic household goods and agricultural inputs and eventually any product that can be bought and sold. The possibilities are endless but the challenge immense. Can this technology disrupt a cash-based economy? I think it can, if we get the product right, so that's the goal for right now.

Thulasy Balasubramaniam
Ordering and Supplier Payments System Manager

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Getting Back Into Management

As a company we went away on a strategic breakaway a few months back and near the end there was a moment of absolute celebration from Mike our CEO when he declared:

“Yes, I finally have Brad in the Organigram”.

I had just been appointed Mobile Transactions Zambia Chief Sales Officer, reporting to Mike as CEO, and with four Sales Vice Presidents reporting to me.

So that has got me to put pen to paper and do my second blog.

I had managed for as long as possible, the last two hugely enjoyable years, to be the business lone ranger: Heading off to new markets and developing new products and channels. While at times effective, equally at times disruptive, times were a changing and my wheeler dealer days in Mobile Transactions were fading fast.

The business has evolved and more than ever what we needed was: focus, discipline and most important: implementation and performance results, basically good management of people and process.

The brief was clear: One market (Zambia), four products (Money Transfers, Vouchers, Micro Finance payments and our new Mobi Ordering and Supplier Payments module (now this is a cool product)) and make it sing.

Going Back to my Roots

It was time to shake off the cob webs and think back to the days when I was a Commercial Director of an MNO and the Managing Director for Zambia of an International Paint brand.

The stresses of a startup are such that Keith our COO who joined us four months ago from an International bank Skyped the following to me the other day when we were reminiscing about corporate days:

[1/20/2011 5:38:02 PM] Keith Davies: It seems like such a long time ago that I've almost forgotten, but that is how good businesses are run. The budget is a function of the strategy and then the people are managed to the budget which in turn should ensure that the strategy is executed. So it is absolutely key that we actually operationalize this budget.

Managing People

One of the biggest challenges in a role like this is managing people.

I hope this comes out right but growing up in Africa and going to boarding school in South Africa from 7 years old I have been bought up in a hierarchical structure with pecking orders and when it is your turn at the top of the pile, well make hey while the sun shines. Given this background and a fair whack of confidence I have never been shy stepping forward in almost any situation. Being in charge and being both accountable and driving things forward is probably something I would embrace rather than pass over.

In most of my past management experience it was on the whole relatively autocratic – both in terms of how I was managed and how I managed my teams. Ten years ago that is how businesses where run here, middle management development was only just starting to be taken seriously, building strategic input from the ground up unheard of, jobs were extremely scarce and if you were a middle manager and were lucky enough to have one you settled in, did not rock the boat and mostly did what you were tasked with. It was a very confining management environment and one of the main reasons I went off to start my own business with my brother.

Fast forward to 1st January this year and a quick assessment of the VP’s I was being tasked with managing. While no one individual is the same there were certainly some common traits:

· Super bright and capable

· Bullet proof in their inexperience

· Great qualifications

· Very worldly, well travelled and well versed in life

· Humble, good stock

· Really focused on learning and personal development

In addition, lots of opportunity, be it jobs in China, offers of acceptance for MBA’s from the very best International Business Schools etc, certainly attractive options on the table for them, and rightfully so given their caliber and attitudes.

Certainly the take it or leave it, or I am in charge approach would have ensured a quick mutiny and departure of absolutely critical skills.

This had to be countered by the reality that the business was not just strategic but also implementation. The implementation part takes rolling down your sleeves and putting your nose deep into the muck, dive further and just do stuff.

The Bigger Picture

Under Mike’s leadership the Chief Officers were tasked with creating a disciplined and structured business, hell even learning how to say no to all the opportunities and distractions out there.

In addition a lot of work went into aligning strategic focus and getting buy-in and then building budgets and process and plans.

From a sales perspective the key drivers were to generate revenues above budget, establish an effective sales pipeline, create manageable KPI’s and do not lose our skilled resources.

The Approach Taken

Our plan to retain key skilled staff has been to focus on how inspirational Mobile Transactions is

· We are not selling paint, we are a sexy industry

· We aim to be an inspirational African success story. We are tired of stories of Africa being Hollywood’s Blood Diamonds, Last King of Scotland and Hotel Rwanda. African entrepreneurs need role models and Mobile Transactions aspires to be.

Creates an environment where their work inspires them.

· Each VP has ownership and management of their department, products and channel at a Profit and Loss basis

Surround the team with quality people

· As a peer group they are working as a talented group

· They have direct access to Senior Officers who have a wide variety of Corporate and Self Made experience and skills

· Access to advisory Board Members to ensure they are exposed to best practice

· Tasked with up skilling or recruiting top staff reporting to them

Personal growth and development

· Opportunity to manage at a P & L basis

· Monthly reports for Board Submission

· Structured and professional reporting to CSO

· Management of a Key Strategic Project for each resource

· Use MTZ to grow personal network, we encourage open and transparent networking, and this space attracts interest

Open and transparent remuneration

· Everyone works for below market rates, not a great starting point

· We are all geared to closing an investment

· Incentives are only on the table with profitability above budget

· Share options are on the table with a proven track record

What the business needs

· Stuff just needs to get done

· Focus, discipline, implementation

· Best lessons are getting hand dirty and walking the floor

· But, at the same time some of the best and critical successes have come from direct strategic intervention from the VP’s. The introduction of internal Service Level Agreements and also the Effective, Efficient and then Expand model have all come and been driven to working policy by the group

Delegation is great but with clarity and accountability

· Whether ignorance is bliss or not, the worst thing young managers should face is delegation without very clear strategic direction and total clarity of what is expected and required. With focus and feedback, empowerment with zeal is a winner

So how are we doing?

You can never count your chickens before they hatch but the team is making good progress.

· Following on from 1,000% growth last year and budgeted growth of400% this year, measured against this we are 30% above budget on a GP basis YTD

· Sales strategies have been aligned with implementation plans by product

· KPI’s have been agreed and signed off

· Sales dashboard has been actioned

· Sales Pipeline is a breathing work in progress

· Sales Service Level agreements for all internal departments have been signed off

· Weekly sales meeting by VP with IT, accounts, customer care have been institutionalized

· Structured weekly sales meetings are in place

· VP’s are ensuring they walk the floor

· VP’s are managing P&L

What Next

Certainly it has been a productive start to the year and we look forward to proving this team has the ability to quote the mantra: Become effective, then efficient and then expand, and most of all, all the original team remains on board for now.