Tucked in the bustling streets of Umoja, a Nairobi suburb that never sleeps, lies Michael Otema’s shop that specializes in selling fitted mosquito nets.
At a first glance, one may be surprised by the sheer amount of orders that he produces despite the size of his shop. Michael, a director of YouNet Mosquito Nets, wears many hats in his business, from running operations, pushing sales and sourcing for materials to running marketing campaigns.
Although he currently runs a team of 2, his aspirations as a Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owner are anything but small.
Businesses like Michael’s make up for up to 90% of businesses in Africa, making SMEs vital powerhouses for Africa’s economy.
Unfortunately, although African SMEs generate about 80% of new jobs, they also account for most lost jobs.
As businesses across the globe celebrated Customer Service Month in October, Ajua ran a study to understand how Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) owners were working on their customer retention especially during these difficult times.
It emerged that more SMEs in Kenya are aware that delivering exceptional customer experience is crucial to their bottom lines.
These businesses are increasingly making use of mobile platforms to make their services more convenient for their customers in order to improve their competitiveness in the market.
However, over 60% of Kenyan SMEs have reported that lack of funding has prevented them from providing better customer experience.
“Sometimes we had to get assistance from shylocks and other lenders. Most banks usually don’t consider MSMEs because they require a significant amount of security.” Shared Michael.
However, 71% of Kenyan SMEs are using mobile platforms to counter this challenge by choosing to focus on making their services more convenient for their customers.
Another SME owner whom we spoke to who had challenges accessing funding was Sarah Wanjiku Irungu, a clinician who started a community-based pharmacy in Lavington at the start of the pandemic.
Speaking on the challenge of securing inventory and how this affected her customer relationships, Sarah shared, “If we don’t get credit facilities, we have to buy new inventory with cash. We don’t always have enough cash so this would result in inadequate stock. This can damage our image and result in lost sales as customers would prefer to go to a chemist which is stocked better.”
SMEs like Sarah’s business are heavily making use of social media to compensate for some of these challenges by interacting with their customers and growing their brands.
According to the study done by Ajua, up to 60% of SMEs in Kenya prefer to engage with their customers through social media which makes it possible for them to increase their reach and serve larger communities.
Some SMEs have gone ahead to look for other mobile business apps to complement their services. Michael for instance recently began using SME Connect, Ajua’s one-stop-shop mobile app for SMEs. Before he found the app, he used to send messages to customers directly to follow up on their experience with his products and services, we also spent too much time going through our whole contact list. This app has now offered us a platform to engage our clients more professionally” He shared.
Michael added, “SME Connect has helped us get more visibility, market our products and update our customers on our prices. Yesterday got two new customers from the offers we sent on the app. About a third of our customers feel like they’re saving more money when we send them offers through the app.”
Even as SMEs continue to find unique ways to adapt mobile technology to fulfill their customer needs, it’s clear that SMEs are even keener on regularly engaging with their customers. In conclusion, mobile apps have become increasingly crucial in enabling Kenyan SMEs to support their day to day operations.
According to our study, these business owners could mainly benefit from using apps that enable them to advertise their businesses, track their payments and engage with their customers on social media, primarily through Facebook and Whatsapp. This being said, these mobile platforms offer a new promise of growth to Africa’s businesses and the economy at large.