Tory Tevis ’17

Tory Tevis ’17

Student Diary: Enhancing the Customer Experience with Machine Learning

Trinidad and Tobago sits in the extreme south of the Caribbean, just off the coast of Venezuela. I, along with classmates Sonja Weaver-Madsen ’17, and Suraj Gupta ’17, hadn’t been before but had heard the food and pre-Carnivale celebrations would be epic despite the beleaguered state of the country’s oil-dependent economy. The three of us knew each other as friends but hadn’t previously worked on a school-related project together. In early January though, we teamed up to travel there and work with a client we were matched with by the student-run Pangea program. We have diverse backgrounds—international development, nonprofit consulting and banking—and a shared interest in promoting social change through the private sector, which seemed like a promising starting point for our work.

The company we worked with was mSurvey, a technology start-up based in Kenya, but with additional offices in the Caribbean and San Francisco. mSurvey uses a mobile phone platform to enable their client companies to gather immediate customer feedback with SMS-based surveys. Its target market is developing countries where mobile phone penetration is high, offering the opportunity to quickly gather customer input to improve the performance of fledgling businesses springing up. Their model is B2B2C (business to business to customer), meaning that they provide the tools for their client companies to better connect with individual end users. To complete the project, we synthesized research and client feedback to direct mSurvey’s next steps in new product development, and received academic input from enlisted faculty advisor, Professor Oded Netzer. As our final deliverable, we proposed a new product, including a wireframe design, pricing model options, and market analysis.

It actually took some time to establish where we would travel to complete the project although it was clear from the start we’d be working with mSurvey’s largest client in the Caribbean, a mobile service provider. Initially, it was assumed we would head to Jamaica to work with this client, but as we laid groundwork for the trip, it became clear that Trinidad would be better. This was both because it is a more advanced market and the client’s staff in Trinidad had greater availability to work with us. This kept us on our toes during the project’s planning phase, but also provided a preview of the fluid and fast-moving nature of the environment in which we would work.

mSurvey has an established relationship with the mobile service provider, which meant the company was able to provide us with well-informed feedback. On our first day in Port of Spain, Trinidad, we sat down with the members of the service provider’s staff as well as mSurvey’s director of business development for the Caribbean, Victoria. The service provider had experienced the strengths and weaknesses of mSurvey’s platform, and had clear ideas about how they broadly wanted to enhance interactions with their own customers. The business development director had a nuanced understanding of what the challenges of selling mSurvey’s products were to clients and what gaps should be filled to attract new ones. Both points of view were invaluable for arriving at a viable product idea.

While gathering information in Trinidad, we also conducted phone calls with the mSurvey CEO in Kenya, and sought academic input from Professor Netzer. We then presented the ideas we generated back to mSurvey stakeholders throughout the week, which allowed us to quickly shape our work into an end-product that met the needs of all parties.

Our proposed product will enable mSurvey’s clients to provide tailored, automated responses to virtually any customer feedback received in an SMS survey, based on the Net Promoter Score (NPS) and key word analysis. We created a wireframe and customer profiles to demonstrate for mSurvey how the product would look and function for all parties–for mSurvey on the back-end, for their clients and for their clients’ end users. We developed details including a product name and logo that are consistent with the company’s branding and aesthetic. Another step taken included pitching the product to mSurvey’s chief technology officer to verify the concept’s feasibility and to the mobile service provider to spark their enthusiasm and buy-in for the idea. To wrap up the trip, we held a final check-in and “pitch” with mSurvey’s CEO to gauge his satisfaction with our work and see if he’d require any final inputs. Clearly he was pleased with the end product, as last we heard it is in development and being pitched to investors for funding.

On the Saturday before our departure, we went on a hike and visited the Maracas Bay beach. Both were opportunities to enjoy the outdoors and reflect before returning to the icy New York winter. On the hike, we observed the natural beauty of the island’s forests and took pictures at the base of a waterfall. At the beach, we sampled a local specialty for lunch called Bake’n’Shark (a fish sandwich with lots of fixings on fried bread). That day rounded out the trip to be a pretty much perfect blend of being productive by supporting a scrappy start-up in an emerging market while also getting to have an adventure in a new and exciting place.

By Tory Tevis ’17