Show or Tell? Improving Agent Decision Making in a Tanzanian Mobile Money Field Experiment

50 Pages Posted: 29 May 2018 Last revised: 4 Jun 2018

Jason Acimovic

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business

Chris Parker

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Supply Chain & Information Systems

David Drake

Harvard Business School - Technology & Operations Management

Karthik Balasubramanian

Harvard Business School

Date Written: May 27, 2018

Abstract

When workers make operational decisions, the firm's global knowledge and the worker's domain-specific knowledge complement each other. Oftentimes workers have the final decision-making power. Two key decisions a firm makes when designing systems to support these workers are: 1) what guidance to deliver, and 2) what kind of training (if any) to provide. We examine these choices in the context of mobile money platforms―systems that allow users in developing economies to deposit, transfer, and withdraw money using their mobile phones. Mobile money has grown quickly, but high stockout rates of currency persist due to sub-optimal inventory decisions made by contracted employees (called agents). In partnership with a Tanzanian mobile money operator, we perform a randomized controlled trial with 4,771 agents over eight weeks to examine how differing types of guidance and training impact the agents' inventory management. We find agents who are trained in person and receive an explicit, personalized, daily text message recommendation of how much electronic currency to stock are less likely to stock out. These agents are more likely to alter their electronic currency balance on a day (rebalance). In contrast, agents trained in person but who receive summary statistics of transaction volumes or agents who are notified about the program and not offered in-person training do not experience changes in stockouts or rebalances. We observe no evidence of learning or fatigue. Agent-level heterogeneity in the treatment effects shows that the agents who handle substantially more customer deposits than withdrawals benefit most from the intervention.

Suggested Citation

Acimovic, Jason and Parker, Chris and Drake, David and Balasubramanian, Karthik, Show or Tell? Improving Agent Decision Making in a Tanzanian Mobile Money Field Experiment (May 27, 2018). Harvard Business School Technology & Operations Mgt. Unit Working Paper No. 18-106. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3186575 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3186575

Jason Acimovic

Penn State University, Smeal College of Business ( email )

University Park
State College, PA 16802
United States

Chris Parker

Pennsylvania State University - Department of Supply Chain & Information Systems ( email )

Dept. of Supply Chain & Information Systems
University Park, PA 16802-3306
United States

HOME PAGE: http://sites.psu.edu/chrisparker/

David Drake (Contact Author)

Harvard Business School - Technology & Operations Management ( email )

Boston, MA 02163
United States

Karthik Balasubramanian

Harvard Business School ( email )

Soldiers Field Road
Morgan 270C
Boston, MA 02163
United States

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