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The Solaris Rafikis: ensuring saTisfied (repaying) cusTomers

PAYG businesses are about more than just selling a product and then leaving the customer to use it; they require the building of a long-term relationship between customer and provider (a topic we covered in more detail in a recent article for the Alliance for Rural Electrification).

For the customer, having a Solar Home System (SHS) installed is often their first experience of such a piece of technology, and is a significant financial commitment. They will want to know that any problems will be dealt with in a timely manner. For the provider itself, they will be receiving payments over the course of a lease, and will need to meet customer expectations to retain them for this lease, and keep the payments on track. Satisfied customers are also more likely to refer their friends and family, creating a valuable sales channel (we explored this topic in a previous article: Field Studies - Customers referring Customers).

It is for these reasons that Solaris Tanzania has developed the 'Solaris Rafiki’ department. A Solaris Rafiki is a trained technician who serves as the front line of both technical support and customer service. Each Solaris Rafiki is given charge of an area with a few hundred clients, where they take care of topics including installations, technical issues, upgrades, etc.

A Solaris Rafiki reporting on the Solaris PAYG Platform during an aftersales visit

The name (Rafiki means ‘friend’ in Swahili) comes from the fact that the job is not simply one of an installer or a technician. The greatest responsibility of a Solaris Rafiki is to ensure that customers understand how to use the system, and are happy with it. This can be impacted by high illiteracy rates, something that won’t be readily disclosed to anyone viewed as an outsider. The Solaris Rafiki must, therefore, act as a friend to be accepted and trusted with all problems faced, not just technical ones.

This process starts with the installers, who will train the family (a few members, not just the head of the family) about how the system works and how they can use it effectively. Solaris Rafikis will then run follow up training sessions when needed and will be responsible for really understanding any issues, technical or otherwise, that are faced and working to overcome them.

A Solaris Rafiki proceeding to an installation

Reaching this goal on a small scale can be achieved by having Solaris Rafikis who spend lots of time in the field, speaking at length to their customer base. But making it work at scale brings up new challenges. Prioritising the visits to be made is key, and to do this we have Solaris Rafiki coordinators. Often these are staff who began as Solaris Rafikis, where they developed first-hand experience, and have shown the ability to make plans and meet targets. A Solaris Rafiki coordinator uses the Solaris PAYG Platform (see the illustration below) to monitor outstanding issues, visits reports and plans interactions for the upcoming days, weeks and months. They will also spend some time in the field themselves, to ensure they stay well connected with the customer base.

Meet some of the team

Martin is one of the most recent joiners of our Solaris Rafiki team. Having previously worked doing maintenance for larger industrial systems, he enjoys the opportunity to go out and meet the customers, to experience how they use the systems and then to find a solution to any problems. One of the highlights of his work is that he will often be invited to join the family for food when he is visiting to fix an issue – his particular favourite is cassava from the many customers who farm it!

Pius has worked at Solaris Tanzania for almost a year and specialises in installations. He takes particular care in designing the installation to make sure that it is neat but also that it meets the needs of the customer. Outside of work he is a keen football fan!

Hemed is a Solaris Rafiki coordinator who has been with Solaris Tanzania for just under 2 years. He enjoys the strategic element of his work; making plans for the month and then seeing them carried out and the targets being reached. A personal highlight from his time with Solaris Tanzania was his promotion to his current post. Hemed joined as a Solaris Rafiki where he was told that a career path up the company would be possible. After receiving consistently positive feedback he moved to the role of coordinator.

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