The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: Something for Something

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I have been frequenting a restaurant somewhere in Kigali for a number of weeks, and other than knowing the waiters' names, I don't know why I am a loyal customer.

In short, I don't feel 'appreciated' for giving this guy business all the time!

Customer loyalty can be said to hinge on a balance of give and take -- the business gives the customers what they seek, in turn customers pay money for the privilege. There are numerous ways to do this: employee satisfaction, good communication, customer service, and something that is lacking here in Rwanda: incentives to retain loyal customers and bring in new ones.

Basically, how can a merchant recruit more clients and keep the frequenters happy? Added incentives to go to a restaurant or shop can make all the difference, especially for a small business. The simplest avenue to establish long-term relationships with customers is through technology. Technology has redefined how retail business works and Rwanda must play catch-up. It is a good thing consumers have developed a taste for incorporating technology in all aspects of their lives.

There are a number of ways to go about it. The most obvious method is to use social media to offer daily specials and to create a web footprint. Social media could also act as a market intelligence tool where online commentary creates dialogue between merchant and client (In line with this, it is disappointing that so many establishments in Kigali don't have websites!)

I am, however, especially thinking along the lines of loyalty programmes. For example, tracking customer purchases and awarding points based on amount spent, number of times the business is visited and even giving away rewards to clients for promoting their favourite businesses through social media. Essentially, the client earns cash back rewards after hitting target points that are decided by the merchant. In fact, this could extend to customer recruitment programmes that offer discounts to customers who recommend services to a friend and also offer discounts to first-time visitors. Loyalty programmes eliminate the work required to foster customer retention and help track sales trends and customer spending.

The next question is 'how'... For one, the mobile phone is the most prevalent communication device in Rwanda. This means there is an open market to deliver coupons and points-based reward systems through mobile phones. For example, clients could submit phone numbers and receive text messages that announce regular offers.

Location based services could also be useful in determining location of the customer (using triangulation, for example) and providing offers in real time. The fact is there are so many ways to go about this that I haven't explored in this piece but I wanted to spark merchants' interest in making us feel appreciated (look up QR codes in your free time).

The biggest challenge in incorporating technology will lie in educating customers on how to take advantage of these tools. One way could be by tethering the drive for customer care ('Na yombi') with the promotion of technology in customer reward/recruitment programs. Truth be told, we will never be able to tout ourselves as a true hub until we feel the impact of technology in every single aspect of our lives - this is just one example. Happy week folks!

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