When Jeremy Gordon went to his favourite café in Nairobi one day, he was dismayed to find out that the place had be turned into a Chinese restaurant.
This experience made the Stanford Engineering student identify a gap in the Kenyan retail industry; owners and managers of small businesses have few channels to engage, communicate, and understand the preferences of their customers.
Together with his friend, Bernard Owuor, who has done programming, he came up with an interactive platform where customers check in at their favourite restaurants, send feedback to the management on goods and services offered and earn rewards at the same time.
“We discovered that the customer-loyalty model proven successful in several other parts of the world, was not yet explored by small businesses in Kenya”, said Mr Owuor, chief executive officer of NikoHapa.com.
“We came up with NikoHapa.com to help businesses better communicate with and engage their existing customers, and turn new customers into loyal ones,” he said.
NikoHapa, a customer-loyalty card on the phone, is the new application in the Kenyan market.
The application is modelled around a similar concept as Foursquare, the location-based social networking website for mobile devices.
Foursquare is an application that allows users to “check-in” at specific venues using a mobile website, SMS or a device-specific application by selecting from a list of venues the application locates nearby.
The application determines the location using the GPS hardware in the mobile device or network location provided by the application. Every time the user checks in, he/she earns user points and sometimes “badges”.
“NikoHapa works more or less like Foursquare,” said Mr Owuor. “For example, a user checks in to his favourite coffee shop using SMS (at Sh1.00) or those with smart phones via the NikoHapa mobile app,” he said.
“Every time the user checks in the server keeps track of the number of check ins and this information is visible both to the user and the restaurant or café management. After four check-ins the user receives a free cup of coffee,” he said.
In addition to this, the application allows the user to let their friends know where they are thus the name.
“We are leveraging on location and allowing users in Kenya to check in to their favourite spots, but without requiring them to have a smartphone or data plan”, says Mr Owuor.
NikoHapa also asks users for optional feedback about the place they’re checking into.
This allows the developers build valuable local content about their clients like the dishes that many users prefer, the unique aspects and reviews from new customers etc.
This feedback is made available on the client’s place page on NikoHapa.com and allows new users to learn about a business in detail before they have a chance to visit it.
The application also maximises users’ presence in social media to create a buzz and generate traffic for the clients signed up on NikoHapa.
“The check-ins show on the NikoHapa feed at www.nikohapa.com/feed and on Facebook for users who have activated the settings to enable them show on their Facebook profiles”, said Mr Owuor.
“Take, for example, a business with about 100 customers and with 10 of them allowing their check-ins to show on Facebook. Given the fact that the average Kenyan on Facebook has between 300-400 friends, it means you have about 4,000 exposures.
It is also much effective than conventional advertising because it is word of mouth advertising by users to their friends hence more believable.
For the team of developers behind NikoHapa the greatest challenge has been communicating their new offering to businesses.
“Most people find our concept difficult to understand and what we are explaining to them is that we are simply offering an easy to manage loyalty programme to reward and retain their most loyal and profitable customers”, said Mr Owuor.
“In addition to this, since the loyalty-points are tied to the mobile phone number, users are freed from the cost and hassle of carrying, forgetting, losing and replacing loyalty cards.
They have all their cards in one phone, and thanks to our partners, are able to get rewarded by shops all over town,” he said.
Although, the innovators have just completed the pilot project last month, the response has been good.