It had to happen at some point. Our customers are finally getting on the digital bandwagon. Before you roll your eyes at these late adopters, note that these are lower-middle-class Mexicans making about US$500 per month and enjoying one of the most expensive and slowest broadband speeds in the world (can you say telecom monopoly?). In any case, all of the marketing for our consumer-lending start-up MiMoni has been online, though many of our sales, service and collections communications have until recently been offline via a call center.
Not ideal in terms of cost, but absolutely necessary if the goal was to serve our (very big) customer segment. Our clients were comfortable surfing Facebook and Google and clicking on ads, but not really ready to initiate or reply to specific transactions or communications online. We saw the start of 2014 with our customers being very reticent about online fulfillment, even if it was to receive money. In the last few months, the tides have started to turn, with many of our e-communications receiving good response rates. We’re now seeing about double the online fulfillment compared to at the beginning of last year.
To check our customers’ e-readiness, every couple of months we test an SMS to new customers, preemptively answering some of the specific questions we know they typically ask when they start their relationship with Mimoni. Last February, the test yielded no noticeable decrease in inbound service calls. Our latest test decreased some categories of calls by over 60%. Think about it. 60% of our customers have gone from ‘I do not respond to your e-communications’ to ‘your message answered my question and saved me having to call you’ within eight months. Huge deal. Instead of continuing to grow our call center team, we are now redeploying some of them exclusively as “Whatsapp operators.” All of this is a great boon for our company and our customers. Better, cheaper, faster communications with willing and able customers.
Our wait, however, was only possible because of the patience and willingness of our investors to push resources into developing a clear first-mover advantage in this new space. None of us doubted if this change to e-financial services would happen in our customer segment. It was the when that was unknown. And being too early can kill a start-up just as much as being too late. In the end we got to where we are by going for AND and not OR.
We developed the necessary infrastructure to serve our customers offline while building the tools and tech to catch them when they were ready to go online. Being there early and sticking it out bought us great brand name recognition, customer loyalty and reduced CAC via a solid referral network. In many respects, we have been the catalyst for their evolution since we keep pushing for that e-relationship, though making sure we always respect our customers’ levels of comfort with change. For us, it has been all about patience. We have seen potential competitors come and go, faltering because they simply did not have the time, resources or market knowledge to execute offline even while marketing online. They overestimated the customers’ e-transaction willingness and underinvested in offline infrastructure (Not really surprising. Hard to raise money for an ‘online’ business and then have budget line items for call center hardware and reps).
We now have the happy opposite problem, shifting our offline resources to online expertise. In a future blog, I will address the culture challenges around this shift.