Insights from Orange Sierra Leone: Approaches for implementing a successful agent-based digital skills training programme 

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According to GSMA data, in 2022, only 21.5% of the population in Sierra Leone was using mobile internet. GSMA data highlights that across low- and middle-income countries (LMICs) among mobile users aware of mobile internet, a lack of literacy and digital skills; affordability, particularly of internet-enabled handsets; as well as concerns about safety and security are top reasons why a large percentage of the population are not using mobile internet.

In 2020, Orange Sierra Leone (‘Orange’) set out to drive uptake of digital skills and enhance financial inclusion by implementing a mobile digital skills campaign, leveraging the GSMA’s Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT). The MISTT is a set of free resources, for teaching people the basic digital skills they need to access mobile internet. It has proven results for successfully driving increased digital inclusion. To date, the toolkit has been used to train more than 65 million people across 27 countries. To support operators to implement digital skills campaigns, the GSMA provides guidance, training and insights.

Orange’s Mobile Digital Skills Campaign 

Orange’s campaign to advance basic mobile digital skills aimed to bring more women, persons with disabilities, youth and rural communities online. The campaign targeted three different customer segments: new customers, existing non-data users and low data users.  

Orange Sierra Leone used two channels – digital and in-person to reach customers through its campaign. They sent out SMS blasts to customers who could be upgraded to 3G and 4G inviting them to visit an agent to learn more. These customers then visited a point of sale (POS) agent to receive face-to-face training. Orange also positioned agents in busy locations, where they engaged customers by highlighting relevant mobile internet use cases. This blog will outline some of the approaches taken by Orange Sierra Leone to implement an impactful agent-based, basic mobile digital skills campaign. 

The campaign showed clear returns with Orange Sierra Leone surpassing its targets for onboarding new Orange Money and Data customers. Orange’s trained customers’ average data use increased by 217% in comparison to non-trained customers and they also saw a return on investment for trained users of 113% after the campaign. 

Approach to implementing an agent-based mobile digital skills campaign 

The following outlines the key insights from Orange Sierra Leone on their approaches to support their agent network to provide quality mobile digital skills training:

1. Campaign monitoring paired with agent incentives can strengthen digital skills campaign results  

Orange employed a tailored approach to monitor campaign results and incentivise quality training by agents. Following each customer training, agents would dial a unique USSD code, set up specifically for the campaign, and input the customer’s mobile number. On Orange’s back-end system, this identified the customer as ‘trained’ and linked the agent to that customer. Orange could then track and monitor the number of customers trained per day and by each agent, as well as analyse trained customers’ use of mobile data.  

For each customer trained, agents received an inflated base payment (67% more than the standard customer activation payment) in proportion with the additional time and effort required by the agent to provide quality training and customer engagement, thereby making it worth their while to do so. The agent received a further incentive payment (an additional 67% more than the standard customer activation payment) if the customers they trained increased their data usage above a certain threshold. This meant that an agent could earn up to twice their standard pay from one customer, if they provided a high-quality skills training to them.  

Orange trained agents to use the MISTT mobile money module to raise awareness about the benefits of mobile money and recruit new subscribers to their mobile money service – Orange Money. By incentivising agents to offer quality training using the mobile money module and setting clear targets to drive data subscriptions and mobile money subscriptions, Orange was able to exceed their targets for Orange Money subscribers by 3.6x over the course of their 3-month digital skills campaign.  

This financial incentive is compelling for agents and could enhance agent participation, training quality and the overall impact of the campaign on both customers and the business. Equipping customers with enhanced digital skills also drove sufficient business returns for Orange, making it financially worthwhile to pay significantly more than the standard activation fee. Getting the agent incentives right is essential to building their enthusiasm for driving the campaign. 

The use of the USSD code with the agent payment structure also likely reduced the potential for fraud (false claims of training customers by agents), as agents were incentivised to conduct quality trainings to unlock the additional incentive payout.

2. Training agents to highlight relevant mobile internet use cases can improve customer awareness and perception of the relevance of mobile internet to them.

Orange supported their agents to adapt their training to each customer by using different use cases for different types of customers. This helps ensure that customers understand the value and relevance of the mobile internet to them which is important for driving use. 

In Sierra Leone, agents provided training outside the cinema after a movie ended inquiring whether movie-goers knew that they could watch thousands of shows on YouTube, including music videos and film trailers. Similarly, agents in marketplaces asked sellers if they knew that mobile money could simplify receiving payments and agents outside football stadiums asked if sports fans knew they could get more info on their favourite footballers online. Agents who visited fishing communities engaged them around use cases relating to understanding weather patterns and learning improved fishing practices online.

3. WhatsApp groups can provide valuable support to agents, including facilitating peer-to-peer learning and friendly competition.

Orange Sierra Leone established WhatsApp groups to connect the agents to one another, management and their IT team to support knowledge exchange. Using WhatsApp, Orange was better able to track and monitor issues, understand how agents were progressing, as well as stumbling, and connect agents to one another for peer-to-peer learning and motivation.  

Through this channel, agents shared strategies around what worked when training customers and exchanged relevant use cases that specific customer segments related well to. They also motivated one another and shared that WhatsApp helped to, ‘lift their spirits’ and ‘to come alive again’ through encouragement from fellow agents. The WhatsApp group chats also sparked friendly competition amongst agents as they compared their approaches and who was succeeding most in providing digital skills training. 

This channel also provided agents with a direct line to the Orange IT team to troubleshoot customer activation issues or queries in real-time that agents were not equipped to resolve.

4. Engaging trusted ‘tech geeks’ to support digital skills campaigns can build trust within the community.  

Orange sought to engage, train and incentivise ‘tech geeks’ (community-based, phone repair service providers) to upskill customers during their mobile digital skills campaign. ‘Tech geeks’ are trusted and respected by local communities because of the role they play in charging and fixing phones and other technical challenges customers’ experience. Working with ‘tech geeks’ enabled Orange to extend the reach of their training into local communities. Tech geeks have a deep understanding of mobile and can be a valuable source of continued support for new mobile phone and mobile internet users as they progress and encounter challenges along their journey.  

‘Tech geeks’ also benefit from delivering digital skills training during the campaign as it provides them with an opportunity to strengthen relationships with and add value to existing customers, and also potentially attract new customers.

The Connected Society programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA)and is supported by the GSMA and its members.