Innovations in Platform-Led Upskilling: Copia
Copia uses locally-based agents—trained by a network of ‘business advisors’— as both ordering points and delivery points in order to get goods to last-mile clients in rural and peri-urban areas of Kenya. A ‘mobile commerce platform’, Copia serves the middle- to low-income African consumers that formal e-commerce typically doesn’t reach.
Copia agents are usually business people operating small retail outlets, such as hair salons, tailor shops, and kiosk stores in the communities in which they work. Copia’s model caters to agents with feature phones allowing ordering through SMS and calls, as well as—for those with smart phones—an app. An agent earns a commission on every order placed through Copia, whether the agent’s own business sells the products or not.
Age: Between 30 and 45
Gender: 70% are female
Technology: 30% have smartphones (the rest have feature phones)
Copia trains its agents in a number of different ways. Firstly, every agent receives face-to-face training during onboarding. This in-person training is later complemented through phone-based training and support. Finally, business advisors offer on-the-job training, business advice, and basic financial literacy training when they visit their agents in the field.
To learn more about how Copia trains and upskills its agents, we spoke to Nikki Germany, Copia’s Chief Growth Officer.
Once recruited, each agent is taken through the basics of how Copia works and how they can sell their products through Copia—either via the USSD channel or, for agents with smartphones, the app. This face-to-face training is then supplemented by telephone conversations and the training offered during field visits by business advisors.
The Copia business advisors also offer financial advice to the agents, especially on the extra commission they earn for selling products through Copia. On average, Copia says their agents report a 37% increase in income after signing up. This commission is paid to the agents in a monthly lump sum (as opposed to the smaller daily payments they’re used to).
As their income increases, the agents realize the need to plan better for this extra cash—whether to spend it on school fees or rent or invest in the growth of their businesses. The Copia business advisors assist agents in making these new decisions.
“For example, our agents will use their commission to pay rent, school fees, livestock or buy more inventory for their business or expand their existing business. Our business advisors talk with them about their goals, what they want to do with their commission and how much they need to make to reach their goals.”
Business advisors also dispense advice about how agents can increase their commissions:
“Our business advisors talk to the agents a lot about the commission and how they can increase their commission, and we know that when the commission is going up, that’s a good thing for them and that means our revenue is going up. And how much they sell is dependent on how many customers they get into the business. So we also really focus a lot on making sure they bring customers into the business.”
For the 30% of agents with smartphones, Copia offers training in how to use the app, and those who sell more get tablets. Tablets enable agents to show customers photos and videos of the available products and get instant pricing information from Copia.
“We provide tablets to our very best agents and then train them on using the app. We also try to get them on WhatsApp and Facebook. I am sure that some of them then use that for other things.”
Copia is looking at ways of helping more of its agents access affordable smartphones to enable more digital skills training.
Copia is interested in partnerships that can help their Agents become more effective and savvy business people. Copia understands that when their agents can run their businesses more effectively not only will the agent earn a larger commission, but Copia as a business will also benefit.
With more resources, Copia wants to add other training methods such as group training meetings between agents, innovative training via SMS, gaming and even quizzes.
“We've always been interested in doing those kinds of things but never had the resources to put into it.”
Copia is already experimenting with using deliveries as another training avenue and plans to expand this training method in the near future. Business advisors aboard delivery trucks could be a further physical touchpoint for training.
We see training in generalizable skills—such as financial planning, digital literacy, and vocation-specific activities—as potentially transformational because they result in portable skills. In other words, the type of training Copia offers imparts skills that agents can use, both on and off the platform, for the rest of their lives.
We’re particularly interested in how platforms like Copia are increasingly involved in the overall education landscape in the markets in which they operate, the opportunities and challenges this presents, and the implications this has for livelihoods in a digital Africa.
“A lot of the training that we do (for the agents) is around how to get more customers—how to upsell and cross-sell to those customers. That training has a generic benefit. We haven’t measured this but we assume that the fact that they are taught about how to do this, they would then be able to use that in their existing businesses.” —Nikki Germany