By Daisy Nandeche Okoti
Published September 17, 2015
Do you ever ask yourself why businesses are fond of adding ‘Terms and Conditions Apply’ at the end of their advertisements? Or why insurance companies, after selling you a basic policy, introduce to you a separate service they refer to as a ‘Rider’ and that they say will provide additional benefits at additional cost?
Believe it or not, this is another way of saying that the service provider, not the customer, is always right and in control. How so?
Today’s service providers are not only rude and hostile but also prefer using a threatening language when communicating with the customer. Not so?
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Before discontinuing the practice of sending monthly electricity bills to consumers, Kenya Power’s bills read: “This electricity bill is payable before 30.03.13…if this bill is not paid within fourteen days from 30.03.13, i.e. on 13.04.13, your supply shall be liable to disconnection without any further notice to you. Should the supply be disconnected, in addition to settling the…”
It is not uncommon for you to receive a service provision bill from your water and sewerage service providers reading: “Unless payment is received by me of the total amount outstanding on your account Sh650 by not later than September 20, 2015, the water will be cut off without further notice and proceedings taken for recovery of the amount. A charge of Sh600 is payable for turning on the water supply.”
How about this from a mobile service-provider: “If the total payment for the above invoice is not received by the due date indicated, the line(s) will be suspended without any further notice. A late payment fee equivalent to 2.5% per month of the amount on this invoice will be reflected on your following invoice”?
Or a caveat emptor (or is it disclaimer?) from Nairobi City County, local shopkeeper, traditional medicineman (mganga wa kienyeji) or public service vehicle (PSV) saying, respectively, “Vehicles are parked at owner’s risk”, “Goods once sold aren’t returnable”, “Chendacho kwa mganga hakirudi” and “Goods accepted at owner’s risk and subject to the Company’s Conditions of carriage.”
In case you are wondering what this is about, it is an illustration of the growing customer-care crisis in Kenya. Both public and private sectors are guilty of this sin. They receive payment but do not, really, want to provide the service they charge for. Or do they?
A public commuter vehicle known as a matatu in Kenya charges fare for ferrying passengers to and from work. In such a setup the passenger/customer/client is expected to be treated with respect, care and courtesy. You, the customer, are king because you are the reason for the matatu operator being in business. Right?
Wrong. To many matatu operators, the customer is just a means to an end rather than the precious jewel that they once were.
“Ungepanda gari lingine” (You should have boarded another vehicle), a matatu conductor tells a passenger who requests for the volume of the blaring music in the vehicle be turned down so she may receive call. The matatu crew feel that there are so many passengers they can ferry on their vehicles so do not care that there is one who is inconvenienced by this loud music. Indeed, many commuters would not mind a quieter matatu but since the operator, not the commuter or the customer is the king, nothing can be done about this loud music.
The side-lining of customers and treating them with the “I-can-get-others-if-you-go” attitude is increasing at alarming speeds especially in Nairobi and it cuts across all sectors.
“I once went to a shoe-shop and after five minutes of walking around, no attendant bothered to assist me. That has happened several other times in different shops,” says a Christine Okwach, a Nairobi resident.
“I have gone to various shops which I leave after just two minutes because the attendants behave as if you are disturbing them by going to that shop. Sometimes they remain on phone chatting about personal matters and talk to you (the customer) using sign language,” narrates Njoki Gikonyo, another Nairobi resident who says that she never accepts services from such shops because as a customer, she believes she deserves respect.
But one can only be too careful because the truth is that we cannot completely shield ourselves from poor customer service.
Mobile service provider, Safaricom, has automated its service to ensure customer calls are attended to by machines. Questions that require attention from human being can take days before they are answered because the customer care numbers hardly ever go through. It can take days before one is able to speak to a customer care officer.
It is possible to argue that Safaricom has an overwhelmingly huge number of customers to respond to but the truth is that if these customers matter to Safaricom, then it is Safaricom’s responsibility to expand its service provision centres to carter for all of them satisfactorily.
So, at what point did the customer start being wrong or becoming a bother? For most service providers, a customer is just as good as the money they are worth for a service that they (purport) to provide. But beyond that, they are uninterested in the well-being of their customer. Why has it suddenly become acceptable that the service provider can be a dictator?
What can the government (it isn’t immune to the growing crisis!) do to ensure consumers are protected? Do consumer rights organizations exist in Kenya? Is the Consumers Federation of Kenya (COFEK) that says it is committed to consumer protection, education, anti-counterfeit campaigns in the market place aware of the deteriorating levels of service provision in the country? Since COFEK is a federation, which organizations are affiliated to COFEK? Where are they? What do they do?
A study conducted by Institute of Customer Service (instituteofcustomerservice.com) on what the customer really wants says “customer experience will overtake product and price as a key brand differentiator by 2020” in this our “ever changing and fast paced world where alternatives are rife, customer experience is rapidly becoming one of the most important elements of a business’ success.”
The Institute of Customer Service contends that “the driving factor that will determine decisions going forward will be the level of a customer’s intellectual and emotional engagement with the purchase.
Fatima Sullivan, Vice President of Customer Services for DHL Express for sub-Saharan Africa, says, “If the customer is not the key focus in all activities, whether it is improvements in delivery times or query resolution processes, efforts are wasted. Customers know what they want, and how they want it. You just need to listen to them.”
“The voice of the customer is therefore an important element to consider when planning your strategies. Customers want to engage with companies who can not only provide a service, but are able to tailor-make solutions and respond quickly to changing demands,” Sullivan says. “It’s not just about problem resolution, but more importantly, about determining the root-cause, and to ensure that the problem does not occur again.”
Saying customers should easily access various escalation channels, “there’s nothing worse than situations where frustration levels are high and you cannot track down the right person to assist you. In DHL’s case, we introduced a best-in-class feature to our website which we refer to as Straight to the Top (STTT). This allows customers to have access to the DHL Express Senior management team, including the Africa Management Board. It’s all about accessibility and speed of query resolutions.”
However you choose to look at it, there is a customer care crisis in Kenya and space would fail if all the customer complaints were listed here. It is important for the government of Kenya, by virtue of the provisions of the constitution through its various established bodies to step up the regulations and ensure the protection of consumers. And all humans are consumers of one service or another. We all need protection from one another.