Fellows

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Keep the Customer Satisfied

Yousef (right) with a WHI customer

WaterHealth International grew in size over the past few years, and in spite of moving to a bigger office building, finding a quiet meeting area is still a challenge. As a result, many meetings end up taking place in the company’s guesthouse, where I’m staying. Outside my room there’s a dinner table that is often used for meetings, and one morning as I walked out of my room on my way to the bathroom, I passed by my boss with a group of executives discussing sales forecasts. It gives the term “bringing work home” a whole new meaning.

Out of all of our teams, CART is the most frequent visitor to the guesthouse. CART stands for Customer Acquisition & Retention Team, the team responsible for understanding customers and catering to their needs. They spend hours reviewing performance, planning and debating action. CART meets at 7:00 in the morning just minutes after sunrise. They meet midday. After work hours, staying until 9:00 pm. They meet on weekends too. CART actually had a meeting on Saturday, December 24th – Christmas Eve.

WaterHealth is a social enterprise, which means that even though it works to provide access to clean water in rural India, it has to work day and night to “acquire” and “retain” “customers.” As a social enterprise, our survival depends on customer satisfaction. And therefore, we have to listen to the customers and improve the product to suit their needs. The way the company has evolved over a relatively short period of time proves that we listen. NGOs and other aid organizations also try to design interventions in a participatory way, but the conversation is different when the community is a “beneficiary” instead of a “customer.” Even if the feedback is clear, the sense of urgency to act on it is not the same.

In the past few weeks, I saw first hand the power of markets. People were comfortable coming to us with feedback, speaking their mind and sharing their needs. We follow people in the villages, going door to door, hoping they will buy our product. A beautiful shift in power happens when the poor are no longer a beneficiary, but instead a customer that we strive to satisfy.

Yousef is an Acumen Fund Global Fellow, Class of 2012. He works in Hyderabad, India with WaterHealth International, which incorporates technology and social marketing to increase access to safe, affordable water. Yousef is from Saudi Arabia, and worked as a Program Officer at the King Khalid Foundation. He received a B.S. degree in Accounting from King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals and an MBA from Clark University in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter @yoosiph

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