Posts Tagged 'M&E'

What if NGOs had a customer care line?

I recently started working at Mobile Transactions, a company that does money transfers on mobile phones in Zambia, among other things.  I’ll write more about the company and my specific project on another post, but for now, I just wanted to write about something that pinged me at today’s management meeting.

We have a Customer Care director who sits at a phone and computer all day listening to feedback – in the form of phone calls, SMSs, emails, and even drop in visits – from the 75 agents around the country who process the money transfers and the 4000 customers who send and receive money.  He generates a daily report based on what he hears and the trends he sees, and it’s used by the management team to make day-to-day decisions.

This information is invaluable for the company;  we live or die based on how well we can respond to the demands and needs of our customers.  The Customer Care line is a direct conduit for feedback, and in many ways, it’s our life line.

The last NGO I worked at refused to call the farmers we worked with “beneficiaries” and was adamant that we call them “clients” or “customers” instead.  They did this to maintain a business-like culture and to instill a strong sense of accountability.  And it worked:  This NGO listened to farmers all the time.  Their field staff were constantly receiving feedback at farmer meetings, through phones calls, and when farmers would visit their offices.

But this incredibly valuable information – most of it tacit – was never compiled at a central point and used to inform decision making.  The only formal mechanism for feedback was the NGO’s annual M&E survey; it was an arduous task, taking weeks for enumerators to conduct interviews and months to enter the data, analyze it, and create reports.  Day-to-day decisions, even mission critical ones, weren’t effectively informed by information from the field.

If NGOs really want to be more business-like and treat the farmers they work with like customers, then I think they should open up a customer care line at the head office and dedicate one person to manage it.  The farmers they work with have mobile phones or can access one if they need to send an SMS.  Field staff can report the things they see in the field as they happen.

The information gathered may not be as statistically sound as a survey report, but I reckon its sheer expediency could improve the effectiveness of the NGO’s work many times over.


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Working to include smallholder farmers in agricultural markets, we know there are no easy answers. This blog is a place to ask "What does it take to make it work?" and to share what we're seeing and learning.
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