The Future of Customer Experience in Africa

Consumers in Africa are facing unique challenges on a daily basis. Here's how.

The Future of Customer Experience in Africa

Consumers in Africa are facing unique challenges on a daily basis. Here's how.

What does CX mean to the average African consumer?

In the West, multi-sensory experiences interwoven with augmented reality, AI and a myriad of other tech-centric features continue to redefine the customer experience. But in Africa the picture is different: it’s about attempting to overcome everyday challenges that stem from a lack of infrastructure, poorly regulated services and corruption. These challenges have long shaped the expectations of African consumers, and have long kept brands operating in Africa nipping at the heels of their global counterparts.

Just consider: 15% of annual sales in Tanzania are lost due to power outages (World Bank, June 2017).

But what about globalization? How is that affecting African consumers?

The Expectation Economy has created a yearning for new kinds of brand-driven experiences. But many consumers realize they will not become a reality for the masses in Africa any time soon.

Furthermore, both online and offline, Africans are used to adapting to less relevant content, experiences and even customer touch point models, which tend to be copied and pasted from abroad. Indeed, only eight countries in Africa have a majority of content that is locally produced (Annals of the American Association of Geographers, May 2017).

The Global Picture

In a hyper-competitive Experience Economy where consumers are digitally-empowered, yet feel forever time-starved, there’s a fundamental choice to make with your Customer Experience strategy. At any particular moment, you must decide if your brand’s offering is a steppingstone on the way to experiences or if you are providing the experience itself.

To frame it another way: you must ask whether you are SAVING the customer’s attention or SEIZING it. In Africa, the dichotomy is more nuanced and at times in contradiction to the global CX model.

Read on to find out more…

Attention Saving

CX in Africa is often still defined in its most simplistic form: painless and without the frills. For example, ads that communicate a clear, positive and relevant message, products and experiences that simply 'just work', and services that are delivered 'in one piece'. Ultimately, this kind of CX is about mitigating the need for consumers to hack their own solutions from sub-par experiences.

Globally, it's imperative for brands to find seamless ways to save customers' attention during various points of interaction with their product, service or offering. In Africa, it’s even more crucial to do so.

Africa's wealthy are able to bypass large chunks of the customer journey, since they tend to have access to cheap labor and human resources to fulfill their consumption needs. Therefore, saving time, or shortcutting processes is less of a pressing issue. Successful attention-saving brands (and solutions) do often tackle more frivolous or novel issues.

Startup creates drink to prevent hangover symptoms  

South Africa-based startup Lohocla has created a beverage preventing hangovers. The beverage is designed to be drunk before consuming alcohol, or with the last alcoholic beverage of the evening to help reduce hangover symptoms. The name 'Lohocla' is 'alcohol' spelled backwards to emphasize that the product reverses the effects of alcohol. Unveiled in March 2017, the beverage costs USD 19.99 for a 750ml bottle.

App offers fresh meat on demand

BraaiTime, an app that lets users order and pay for fresh lamb and mutton meat on demand, launched in Namibia in March 2017. The app is available for iOS and Android mobile devices, and the company delivers free-range meat directly from local farms. Customers wanting to 'braai' (BBQ) can also purchase meat through Facebook Messenger. Prices range from approximately USD 73 to USD 84 for about 20 kg of lamb and mutton, respectively.

… And for the less affluent?

The majority of these consumers are forced to interact directly with brands and are thus closer to the negative effects of an inefficient CX or an ineffective service. So, brands must equally find shortcuts and clever solutions that address these shortcomings too.

Mobile app enables customers to borrow airtime

Available to download from March 2017, SuperTopup is an app allowing people to purchase and borrow mobile airtime. The free mobile app enables Nigerians to simply top up cellphones for themselves or others with any bankcard. Users can also borrow airtime, with a credit limit determining how much airtime can be borrowed. How much users pay back is set by when they pay – with a charge of 1% per day. SuperTopup can also be accessed via a Facebook Messenger bot.

Attention-saving CX solutions aren't only relevant to the poor...

Across the board, African consumers are constantly faced with a plethora of issues, all detracting from the task at hand. As these distractions increase and expectations from work and family life continue to escalate, so does the need to more conveniently sidestep these issues – sometimes using technology to manage or simplify the process.

Etailer allows customers to outsource their shopping



Launched in Nigeria during Q4 2016, Bamira is a personal shopping platform allowing people to find locally available products such as groceries, apparel and consumer electronics. Shoppers place an order via the site, describing what they’d like to purchase, their budget and the quantity – plus possible places to find the item. Users then add address details and when they’d like the item delivering, with Bamira’s team confirming that they can process the order in under three hours.

But how does a brand know when to push attention-saving strategies? 

Many city-dwelling, upwardly-mobile consumers are looking for brands that eliminate stressful interactions, automate otherwise arduous processes and facilitate more invisible CXs. The success of ‘on-demand’ transportation apps, mobile money and other leapfrogging technologies are proof of this, and they will continue to infiltrate other emerging industries. Yet, Africans will only appreciate ‘invisible’ solutions and seamless business models that reflect their typical ways of transacting, or take into account the localized needs of the community.

Goats and sheep used to pay for school fees

From April 2017, parents in Zimbabwe can use livestock to pay for their children's school tuition fees, According to Dr Lazarus Dokora, the country's education minister, schools can be flexible in terms of tuition payments. Schools across Zimbabwe can accept services and skills (such as building or plumbing, for example) as well as livestock such as goats or sheep

Social chat app recreates informal market experience

In October 2016, Nigeria-based Balogun Market launched an app that allows people to buy products and services via chat. The online marketplace was developed to make the goods sold at Balogun Market in Lagos more accessible by allowing customers to avoid travel and high temperatures in the city. BuyChat enhances service by recreating a market experience as users can browse, interact with sellers, haggle, and complete sales through the app.



Mobile platform facilitates cashless fuel payments

In April 2017, Nambia-based financial service provider Bank Windhoek launched a mobile fuel payment system. GoPay matches customers to the nearest fuel seller via a unique USSD fuel merchant code. Remote payments can also be made, preventing drivers from being stranded without fuel.



What obstacles might there be for a brand attempting to implement an attention-saving CX strategy in Africa?

We’ve already discussed how the affluent classes are making use of cheap labor to mitigate many issues surrounding service inefficiency. But in many parts of the continent, inefficiency pays – literally. Brands must be considerate when devising new ‘invisible’ CX initiatives and acknowledge how these new solutions might impact existing jobs, especially more informal ones. See how P-TEE’s fitness trainer finder app ensured that those who might be displaced by the service were empowered with new opportunities to make money.

Trainers available on-demand via fitness website

Launched in Lagos during February 2017, P-TEE enables people to locate their own personal fitness trainer. Created by Nigerian business entrepreneur Abayomi Oladinni, the website is a partnership with the Institute of Registered Exercise Professionals.

Attention Seizing

Viva conspicuous consumption!

Traditionally – and still for many Africans today – optimal CX is directly correlated to how much Western-influenced, ultra-luxe ‘pizzazz’ can be drummed up around a brand’s marketing campaign, product or service.

Luxury hotel hosts diamond safari package

In July 2016, Ellerman House partnered with Benguela Diamonds on a USD 15,000 diamond safari package. The Cape Town hotel’s package includes private jet flights, transporting guests to a location well-known for its diamonds, where guests can join Benguela Diamond dive masters in searching for diamonds. Participants can then have any rough diamonds found made into personalized jewels.



'Sell the sizzle not the steak'

Elmer Wheeler’s 1920s phrase seems apt when considering sure-fire ways to seize the attention of (most) African consumers. But is this approach still true, and if not, how is it diversifying?

For many, experiences are indeed enhanced when they’re bigger, better, louder and shinier… And yet, masses of young, educated, cosmopolitan, cash-strapped-yet-aspirational, interconnected Africans who don’t typically have access to these kinds of experiences are getting creative and looking inwards to their own cultures and traditions. They’re responding positively to brands that are gung-ho enough to break the rules.

75% of Nigerian graduates earn less than NGN 50,000 (USD 125) per month, whilst more than 80% of these graduates cannot afford to buy a car from their first job’s salary (Stutern, May 2017).

What is bringing about this diversification of CX?

The lack of excess funds amongst the ever-increasing educated class of African consumers, who also enjoy the bourgeoning dominance of African culture, means that attention will be captured by brands who dare to celebrate Africa, and its people via (almost) affordable, accessible and engaging means. The ‘Africanization’ of CX offerings has only just begun!

Retailer’s capsule collection showcases local talent

In March 2017, Woolworths launched #StyleBySA: a capsule collection showcasing eight local fashion designers. Unveiled during South African Fashion Week, all items in the collection were available to purchase online immediately after the runway show, and stocked in selected Woolworths stores across the country.



Even if fashion has led the way, what role has technology played in the advancement of a truly African CX?

Of course, most of Africa’s connectivity and tech-infrastructure is still behind the RoW. But the golden age of entrepreneurship and increasing wealth across the continent has catalyzed a flurry of new innovations affecting CX – producing richer, and in some cases, more multi-sensory, tech-driven experiences, marketing/PR and ad campaigns, and even products. In tow, brands, governments and institutions have responded too by utilizing new technologies to be bolder, more transparent and interactive with their citizens.

Finance minister broadcasts on Facebook Live

During April 2017, Kemi Adeosun, Nigeria’s Minister of Finance hosted a Facebook Live session to discuss the country’s economy – a first for any minister. During the broadcast, Adeosun gave an overview of the government’s plans and took questions from over 130,000 viewers.



Consumer goods production process revealed via Facebook 360

In May 2017, Huffington Post South Africa launched Stop the Cycle, an immersive campaign aiming to raise awareness about the socio-economic and environmental impact of consumerism. The campaign utilizes Facebook’s 360 feature to highlight exploitation of humans and the environment in the industries.

So like HuffPost SA’s recent campaign above, can we expect to see an exponential rise in futuristic tech-reliant CX that seize African consumers’ attention, or is this wishful thinking?

The much spoken about ‘emerging middle classes’, who are already becoming more mature in Africa’s consumer landscape are now demanding more. These upwardly mobile citizens have new past times, are curious-minded, hungry to learn and want to challenge brands to push the bar further. Finding novel moments to dispel useful/entertaining information, boldly speaking out against the powers that be, championing the taboo or celebrating the uncelebrated are all up for grabs.

Internet refugee camp opened in response to government shutdown

During January 2017, Cameroon’s government imposed an internet shutdown on two Anglophone regions. In response, ActivSpaces and Njorku created an ‘internet refugee camp’, located in Bonako. The one-room ‘camp’ is powered by generators and is connected via portable modems, with six startups making use of the space.



Educational radio shows broadcast at Cairo’s subway stations

October 2016 saw the launch of Kemet: a radio station transmitted via the Cairo Metro’s public address system. Broadcasting every day, Kemet transmits short, six-minute programs on subjects such as culture, history and economic development.

What other CX ‘virtues’ are held dear to African consumers?

Culturally, it’s worth noting that there are many departure points – from the West – for African consumers, when it comes to identifying valued ways of seizing one’s attention. For example, in moments where global brands might want to ‘save’ time, African brands would arguably ‘seize’ or even (seemingly) ‘waste’ time – especially when information, entertainment or social interaction is at stake.

“Being online is so important to people that many are willing to make sacrifices to maintain their connectivity. In fact, 20% of connected Africans say they’d give up the convenience of public transportation and 27% would stop eating out to remain connected.” (Facebook, November 2016)

Nollywood films available data-free from Lagos kiosks

In an effort to combat the prohibitive cost of downloading movies using data, iRokoTV has installed kiosks in Lagos, where subscribers can download data-free content. The highly-visible pink kiosks went live from February 2017, whilst the Nollywood on-demand web platform’s mobile app helps movie lovers locate the kiosks.



So is it time for savvy brands to say goodbye to the ‘selling the sizzle’ and hello to ‘serving the steak’, as far as attention seizing products, services, marketing campaigns and experiences go?

CX is all about sizzle, senses and emotions - so no! But for brands to survive amongst Africa’s next generation of consumers, a greater emphasis on actual product quality, honest brand messaging and real campaigns, will need to be at the forefront of any CX strategist’s mind. Being more human and frank about your offerings, is bound to annoy your customers less, appeal to their deeper emotions and dare I say it: inspire them enough to make that purchase!

Condom brand’s emojis promote safer sex in Africa

In January 2017, Durex unveiled a campaign in Nigeria promoting safe sex. The contraceptive brand launched a series of emojis, allowing users to chat about sex without embarrassment. At launch, the Durex BBM included an eggplant, cherries, maize, cucumber and a donut.



Does the future of CX in Africa mean total convergence between classes and the democratization of experiences, or will the hierarchy remain between the rich and poor and the experiences they have access to?

It for the brand to make the choice. Experiential marketing, and crowd-sourced experiences are great channels to bring together traditionally disparate consumers with similar tastes, around a shared interest. Yet, those who were always privy to experiencing best-in-class global CX are now hoping that other brands offer them more inventive ways to shine above those lower down the ranks and hot on their heels. Now that increasing disposable income has all but ‘levelled the pyramid’, as seen in Woolworth’s local style collection above, the question remains for more premium brands, like Kenzo below: how will you also cater to your customers’ needs in a way that continues to distinguish them (and their tastes) from others?

Traditional South African artwork transforms luxury sportscar

In September 2016, South African artist Esther Mahlangu transformed a BMW 7 Series vehicle by adding traditional Ndebele art to the interior trims. A collaboration with BMW Individual Manufaktur, the bright ornamental shapes were painted onto special white-colored fine-wood trims within the vehicles.



Luxury fashion label celebrates Nigerian youth

April 2017 saw Kenzo unveil a short fashion film for its Spring/Summer 2017 collection. Working with industry creatives, the luxury fashion label has created GIDI GIDI BỤ UGWU EZE: a movie celebrating Nigerian youth. The clip was shot in Nsukka and centers on one of Nigeria’s Igbo communities, with local people featuring – all wearing Kenzo apparel while telling their stories.



And don’t forget?

When speaking about the African market, of course, there are many differences and diversities, so take your time to understand the idiosyncrasies of whoever’s attention your brand plans to seize. For example, informal market shoppers will more than likely appreciate the seemingly haphazard and organized chaotic nature of those settings, using their time ‘shopping’ to interact, negotiate and engage with the greater community. Wiping this facet out or mimicking other cultures that successfully engage shoppers with augmented reality 3D projections of competitive deals online might – in this case – be the fastest way to lose your customers’ attention… and maybe for good!

About The Author:

Lola Pedro

Lola Pedro is Africa Regional Director at TrendWatching. Based in Lagos, Nigeria she oversees all sub-Sahara Africa regional content and speaking engagements. She holds an BSc in Multimedia Technology and Management Systems and a MSc in Technology Entrepreneurship from University College London.

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