Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Nairobi Traffic - Let's Do Our Bit To Make It Worse

We are currently in the middle of the rainy season. This automatically means that traffic has become a nightmare in Nairobi. The truth is, this need not be the case. It is all avoidable. But for now, I say: Good! Let the mayhem continue, in fact, let it get much worse. Let it get such that nobody can move anywhere.

Why? Well, here is the tragic truth. The bigwigs, the 'wakubwas', those who should be looking at this situation and doing something to ensure sanity prevails on the roads simply do not give a hoot about the situation. Because they use their flags, sirens and outriders to insulate them from the true magnitude of the insanity that our traffic has become.

So what we need is the president to get stuck in traffic; or the PM to get stuck in traffic, or a cabinet meeting to be called off because all the ministers were stuck in traffic. If this happens two or three times, we will quickly see a "presidential directive" or a "prime ministers directive" that sanity must prevail on our roads and police must take charge.

This is the sad truth. As long as a few outriders and a flag mean 'Mheshimiwa' can simply overlap and bypass the mayhem (in the process leaving the situation worse than s/he found it), Mheshimiwa will not give a damn about ensuring that we all get to our destination on time.

So we must all do our part. Every one of us must suspend logic, adopt insanity, overlap for all we are worth, block those junctions like doing so is a competitive sport, take our jalopies out and make sure they break down at key road points. Don't give way, don't be courteous. We need it to be a Mad Max movie out there people: Don your studded leather jackets, tie your ties round your heads, go forth and be cretins!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Thika Road Mess. Blame GoK not the Chinese.

I just read this story in today's Sunday Nation which highlights the fact that there is serious negligence in the traffic management and safety aspects of the Thika Highway construction project. The piece seems to point the finger of blame solely at the construction companies involved in the road building. I have a slightly different take:

I think the responsibility for this lies firmly with the Government of Kenya via the various government organs that are involved in design and implementation of this project (Ministry of Public Works, Kenya Highways Agency, Kenya Police etc).

It is the government's role to protect the interests of its citizens. As such I believe that as part of the Project Implementation contract:

- There should have been a very specific Project Implementation Plan that included a traffic management aspect complete with work dates, schedule of work, diversions needed to complete work, signage guidelines (number needed per occurrence, size, distance etc), police requirement (where traffic control is needed) etc
- There should be regular oversight to ensure that the contractor is complying with the guidelines spelled out in the plan.

Watching the progress of this project, it is evident that there is either no plan or there is no oversight (to ensure that the plan is being followed).

The planning and the oversight are both GoK responsibilities.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The "Meh" Motorshow

I have to admit I found the Total Motorshow largely disappointing.

I will start with the positive. The smaller exhibitors by and large brought their A-game. They came to interact with visitors. They took this very seriously. Kudos to them. Chase Bank, Cheki, Unifilters, Stoic etc all seemed to have made a real effort.

Where the show was let down for me was by the main car dealers. I went there expecting to see everything the dealers had to offer, expecting to interact with knowledgeable, patient and enthusiastic staff. I wanted to see cars that would make me dream, speak to sales people whose passion and belief in their brands would make me a convert. I expected to experience grand stands & displays, each more awe inspiring than the last. Instead, for the most part, the message that the main dealers sent to me was a big "Meh".

Of course when the dealers look at me, they see a peasant who is probably unlikely to buy any of their cars any time soon. But for me, the motorshow is not about immediate sales. It is not necessarily about the chap who will see your car and walk into your showroom with a briefcase full of money the next Monday to buy his car. For me, the motorshow is about selling dreams. It is about converting a Premio driver into a Mercedes fanatic, making a Vitz driver ache for an Impreza, making an X-Trail driver crave a Prado. It is about making that peasant university student see, feel and experience the wondrous majesty of the Mercedes S600 V12 with it's heads up display, night vision camera, auto parking and whatever other bells and whistles the car may have. The student will not buy that car today, nor tomorrow. But the goal should be to plant that seed in him. "I must be a Mercedes man. I must have a showroom Mercedes". One day, he will get a job, buy a Vitz, get a promotion, buy a Premio, do well, buy a second hand C-Class. But if you are successful, he sees all those cars as mere stepping stones to his ultimate dream: getting his showroom Mercedes/BMW/Range Rover/whatever.

Instead, what message did our main dealers send with their limited, short staffed displays? "We don't care about you poor people. We have no need to wow you, woo you or impress you. You are mere spectators and we shall only put in the bare minimum to show you what we have because you are little more than pests to us. We wont hire extra temp staff, train them, infuse them with our passion so that they in turn infuse you with the same passion because put simply, you are not worth it."

On Saturday morning, BMW had one salesman. He was pretty much overwhelmed because BMW garnered loads of interest. Jaguar/Land Rover had one sales lady who was bored, disinterested and unenthusiastic as any sales person could possibly be. GM had a good display but something like two sales people (I stood at their stand for about five minutes and left without speaking to anyone). It seemed like the higher end the brand, the more snobbish the dealers were. So Toyota Kenya and Nissan were okay but Jaguar, Mercedes and BMW were horrible.

In hindsight, I realize I probably had unrealistically high expectations. I went to the motorshow to be wowed. Instead the most apt description of my experience is merely "Meh"

Monday, June 13, 2011

Car Valuation

"What is the point of a valuation if it does not reflect the actual market value of the asset? I work with land and property; when we pay a valuer, we expect to get a fair reflection of the true market value of the property if it were to be sold on the open market. What do you mean this valuation is not the market value of my car? That is ridiculous! It is a scam! What is this value then? *pointing at valuation certificate* Who regulates this industry? What good is this piece of paper? It is worthless! It is toilet paper!"
This, almost verbatim, is what a client said to me when I told him that his AA Car Valuation was not really an accurate reflection of the market value of his car. I totally understood how he felt as it is exactly what I feel on the subject and I would struggle to state it better than he did.

Essentially, in Kenya, when you pay to have your car 'valued' (by the AA; Automobile Association of Kenya, Regent Valuers etc) what you get is a report that gives you a figure that is not in any way an indicator of the amount of money you would receive for your asset if it were to be disposed of on the open market.

Like my client, I find this ridiculous and scandalous. In my opinion, and I gather in many other people's opinions, a valuation is meaningless if it produces a value that is purely theoretical.

But this is not the only problem I have with our car valuations.

During a recent valuation, I asked whether factors like colour, OEM rims vs Aftermarket rims etc were factored in the valuation. I was told not really. I asked whether the full mechanical report included an assessment of whether the mileage indicated on the car's odometer seemed genuine.. "not really" the man responded "we take your word for it". As I have written in the past, faked mileage cars are the rule rather than the exception in Kenya.

I know that banks and insurance companies rely on valuations to decide on premiums payable and loan values. So I guess the whole industry is geared towards serving that function rather than to producing accurate reflections of market value of vehicles.

My advice to people who want to deduce the value of their car is: Do not bother with a valuation. It is a waste of time and money. You are better off doing a bit of amateur market research to see what the value of your car is.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Talking 'Bout A Revolution

Our society has reached a point where fewer and fewer people bother to follow laws and rules. Just spend a day in Nairobi and you will see what I mean. Overlapping reins on most roads with even a little bit of traffic (overlapping is the Kenyan name for the phenomenon of overtaking traffic queues and cutting in close to the junction), pirated CD's and DVD's are being sold on every street corner, watch news and you will hear politicians threatening and inciting. Do business and you will realize that corruption, nepotism, cronyism, dishonesty and theft are rampant.

The question now arises: How do we change this state of affairs? How do we arrest this slide into lawless anarchy and change our society into one where decency, honesty and respect for law are the norm rather than the exception?

I have had a couple of short twitter conversations with Information and Communication PS Bitange Ndemo (@bantigito) where he says we need a "moral revolution". I unfortunately disagree with this point of view. Strongly.

Infact, I have said before that we need to design, implement and enforce systems that are not only effective when applied to the best set of hardworking, devoutly religious and honest people, but we need to design systems that stay effective when applied to bone lazy, dishonest, thieving miscreants.

The systems/rules/laws we produce must be efficient, effective, easy to understand AND carry a very big stick when not adhered to. This in my opinion is the only way that our society can change. Moral imperatives alone cannot and will not work. 

The reason impunity has flourished is not because we are lacking or have ever lacked sufficient moral guidance, it is simply because we have lacked efficient and effective systems/laws. And mainly it is because even where laws and rules exist, we have lacked effective policing and enforcement. 
- If the penalty for overlapping was one year in jail, and if this penalty was seen to be enforced with no exceptions, would there be any overlapping on our roads?
- If the penalty for overloading was taking the vehicle off the road for 3 months and suspending the driver's license for 3 months, would there be any overloading?

I firmly believe that effective and efficient systems, coupled with strong penalties and real enforcement would transform this society very quickly. 

I therefore put forth that what we need first is not a moral revolution at all but rather an enforcement revolution.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Who Is To Blame?

Problem Arises....

Person 1: It's your fault
Person 2: No! It's not my fault, it's your fault
Person 1: (tentatively) It's everybody's fault?
Person 2: Yes. Everybody is to blame.
Both: Everybody is to blame. So nobody is to blame. It's everybody's fault. It's nobody's fault. Yes. It just happened. Let's form a committee to oversee a taskforce to investigate this problem and identify exactly what went wrong.... 

No, I have not taken to writing satirical plays now. This is the impression that the recent fuel crisis gave me (Read Coldtusker's blog for detailed commentary of factors that caused the fuel crisis). I know CYOA (cover your own ...) is prevalent everywhere but we seem to have taken it to new extremes in this country. Problem management by those in positions of responsibility has become a game of "blame me, blame you, forget". I blame you, you blame me, we eventually figure out it was everybody's fault, hence it was nobody's fault and institute a long winded process to "get to the bottom of the matter". Nobody is ever responsible for anything that happens. Ever. 

Think this phenomenon only manifests in the public/political sphere? Wrong. It is in our private sector too. Big time. Small example; I once gave instructions to someone at my bank. A few days later, I asked for a confirmation, I was then told that the instructions had not been carried out. The lady who'd served me the first time told me that apparently another lady (who I had never seen, spoken to, dealt with or even heard of up to this point) was the one who is in charge of executing the instruction and she had not done so. The first lady did not so much as apologize for not following up with her anonymous (to me) colleague. I guess she felt everybody was to blame, so nobody was to blame. 

I hope this post doesn't cause any offense to anybody. But if it does, may I say in my defense that my friend....errr...Bob, yes Bob suggested I write it so he bears the most responsibility for it's publication. Actually we are both equally culpable. Infact, come to think of it neither of us can really be held personally responsible, he is a product of his environment & I of mine thus we just have to say our environments are to blame for causing any offense. We must conduct a thorough examination of our environments to deduce exactly what made him suggest that I write this post and what made me follow his suggestion. This may take some time but I will be sure to communicate results as soon as they are ready. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Swagger Jacking 101.

The Urban dictionary defines swagger jacking as "stealing somebody else's ways, copying their swagger".

Look at the picture below.

Swagger Jacking?
The biscuit packet at the top of the 3 is McVitie's made by United Biscuits. The two below it are Manji and Britania, both made by FI Holdings House of Dawda.

Now I do not know whether the two entitites (United Biscuits and Dawda) are affiliated but either way I think that it is sad that Dawda have basically copied McVitie's brand identity. Is it really more beneficial for Dawda to market themselves as a McVitie's rip-off as opposed to create their own unique, tailor-made brand identity?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Motor Vehicle Transfer - KRA's Flawed Process

I needed a vehicle transfer done recently. The KRA's Service Delivery Charter (here) states that it is my right as a customer to have KRA process and dispatch my motor vehicle transfer within 3 days. (see page 11 of the Charter)

So, my transfer was lodged on Friday 4th February 2011 at 4pm. Based on the guidelines spelt out in the charter, my registration document should have been dispatched by the 11th February.

The new registration document (in the name of the new owner..me) was printed on the 23rd February

Immediately after printing, the registration document was sent to the "mkubwa's" office for signing. (Every registration document must be signed by a senior officer in the Road Transport Department). Once the document is signed it is sent straight to dispatch - a step in the process that is not captured by the KRA system (thus it is not possible to establish the exact date that signing takes place).

28 days later, on the 22nd March 2011 the registration document was dispatched (i.e. posted) and spent a further two days in the Posta system before being received on the 25th March.

It took 42 days for transfer to be processed by KRA (if we start counting from 7th February, which was the working day after the application was lodged, and excluding the day of dispatch from KRA). 14 times longer than spelled out in the charter.

Alarmingly, 66.6% (28/42 days) of the time KRA took to process the logbook is spent between signing and dispatch. I assume (generously) that dispatch takes 2 days maximum. So I estimate that about 62% of the time KRA took to process the transfer was spent waiting for a signature.

Sadly, I know from experience that this sort of waiting period is not the exception but is the norm with vehicle transfers. There is always a long delay waiting for mkubwa to sign the logbook.

Some background: In 2008, KRA changed the registration documents that it issues for cars. The old registration document was a hand written piece of card with 3 columns (lots of writing on it including vehicle make, model, engine numbers, names and addresses of all previous owners, name and address of current owner etc...all hand written). The new registration document is a much simpler single sheet of computer printed paper. It captures all vehicle details and only lists current owners details but not those of previous owners. I assume, part of the reason for this change was to increase security (the new document has some security features) as well as to increase speed and efficiency.

I am sure logbook production (printing) is now a lot faster but the increase in efficiency achieved by having computer printed logbooks is undone by retaining the "must be signed by mkubwa" bottleneck. Surely the new logbook system should have been designed to incorporate an oversight system that does not require the big man to physically sign every single logbook?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Driving "Test"..

Last night, Julie Gichuru had a piece on Citizen TV news about road accident blackspots that included an interview with the Kenya Police Traffic Commandant. Link here.

One of her first questions to the commandant was something along the lines of "Mr Commandant, what can we do to improve the situation on our roads?...should all drivers just get retested since many got their licenses in somewhat dubious circumstances?"

The commandant's answer went something like "Julie let me tell you...I appeal to all Kenyans who did not get their licenses in the correct manner to voluntarily step forward and take the test again"

It is a shame Julie did not push that point further because that statement right there really outraged me. Here's why: According to the Kenya Police website, the Traffic Police Department (of which the commandant is the head) is charged with the responsibility (among many others) of: "Testing of Drivers and Issuances of certificates of competence".

What that means is once a person has done driving school, they go to the police for their driving test. Specifically they go to the traffic police. The traffic police headed by none other than...

Now let me recount what my testing experience was (albeit many many long years ago).

A huge group arrived at the police station at 8am. At about 8.30am the tests started. The test consists of two parts; theory and practical. Theory is where you enter a room (individually) and get asked about road signs before being told to move a toy car on a model street.  Practical is where you would go out with a policeman and drive the car under his watch so he could judge your competence.

My theory was fairly straightforward. The policeman with a pointer would point to a sign on a board and I had to explain what the sign he had pointed to meant. Then he'd point to another sign etc etc..about five times. I think I got them all but he was moving so fast, I don't think he even listened for any answers. Then he asked me to move the toy car from point A to point B before turning away to talk to his colleague for most of the exercise. He only really saw the parking at the end bit of the exercise. Obviously as the only real witness of the event, I will say I was spot on with that part as well.

For the practical bit, a policeman would head out with groups of about 6-7 people, in a Datsun pickup, and test them individually. The test consisted of mainly starting the vehicle, moving forward a couple of metres, stopping the vehicle and pulling up the handbrake. In my group, one person was asked to do a hill start and a couple were asked to reverse the vehicle. All tests were done with all the other students sat in the back of the pickup as the driver was tested. No individual was in the driver's seat for longer than five minutes.

Now in my group, two people failed to even move the vehicle. They stalled again and again before being told to get out of the driver's seat by the policeman (a lot of dramatic shouting involved here.."Toka gari..toka kabisa..kumbafu!!" sort of thing). A couple managed to move the vehicle with lots of jerking after initially stalling. Only two of us were able to move the vehicle without any huge drama.

We then headed back to the police station and were told to come back for results in the afternoon.

Every single person who did the test in my group passed and therefore got a license.

So back to the traffic commandant...what annoyed me about his response is that he did not in any way take any sort of responsibility for the fact that a large proportion of drivers who "pass" driving tests and who have "passed" tests in the past can barely drive at all, nor did he indicate what has changed in the testing regime to ensure that nobody who is not fully competent to drive is ever given a license. Yes, fingers can be pointed at driving schools that do not seem to teach any driving whatsoever, but ultimately the fact is that if every single student who was not fit to drive failed his/her test, the driving schools would be forced to raise their standards. Thus in my view, the commandant needs to first and foremost restore the reputation of his testing service then he can ask us tosubmit ourselves for retesting.

A lax teaching and testing system is a big contributing factor to the problems we have on our roads and this aspect of road safety while not as glamorous for the media as alco-blows and grisly accidents needs to be highlighted much more.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Tamper Tantrum - The Imported Car

In October 2010, I went to the auto bazaar at Jamhuri Park. I saw the car below being sold for Kshs. 2.4 million.

It is a 2003 Toyota Harrier MCU35. The vehicle was very clean. The mileage on the odometer was just under 40,000 km.

I then did what I think any person about to invest in a car should do: I noted the chassis number and JEVIC sticker number and went to check on the details of the car. Imagine my surprise to find that the car, as clean as it looked, was not a 40,000 km car at all but was actually a 176,000km car (as at the time it was shipped from Japan). The car had arrived here and it's odometer had been tampered with. (The check can be done on the JEVIC website if you have the vehicle VIN/chassis number and inspection sticker number, both of which should be displayed on the JEVIC sticker which is normally on the left hand side of the windscreen for all ex-UK and ex-Japan cars - see example of sticker from a different vehicle below; you can put in the details and see a copy of the JEVIC certificate for the vehicle).

Now I say "imagine my surprise" but the truth is, I was not surprised at all. I expected the car mileage to be doctored. This is because the vast majority of newly imported cars sold in this market are doctored. If I were to guess I would say something like 80-90%.

As a vehicle importer (who for the record has never and will never change a mileage on any car I import), this phenomenon greatly disturbs and angers me. It distorts the market and it gives all vehicle importers a bad name (including the few who do not engage in this practice). However today, I am focused more on the car buyer point of view.

As a car buyer (or a buyer of any item at all), it would offend me to feel that somebody was trying to cheat me. However most car buyers in Kenya are very blase about this form of getting conned that occurs everyday. We have now reached a situation where many car buyers automatically go looking for cars expecting that the mileage has been "adjusted" (Yes! That is the euphemism I have heard used most...so innocent and nice sounding) - yet confusingly insist on buying cars that are "low mileage".

It is usually very simple to do due diligence on any car from UK or Japan. You can simply ask to see a copy of the JEVIC certificate. As most cars are tampered with locally, the JEVIC certificate should have the actual mileage at the time of export. You can also take the chassis/VIN number and the JEVIC sticker number and check online. Usually when mileage is tampered, the mileage section on the sticker is rubbed out and sometimes it fades with time. But the sticker number (typed) never fades. Thus even if the mileage part has faded/been rubbed off, it is fairly simple to check sticker number, check VIN number and do the online check.

Taking, the example of the Harrier above, I estimate the car came in for about 1.7  - 1.9 million. It is being sold for 2.4 million. A genuine 40,000 km Harrier in the same colour, at the same time would probably be here for 2 - 2.1 million. You do the math.

Now as a customer, having the information about the genuine mileage of the car could be useful in one of two ways:
 - I could be totally outraged, pass on buying the car and tell all my friends that the seller is not honest OR
 - I may be a pragmatic deal-maker (which I believe most of us fancy ourselves as) and use that information as a bargaining chip to get a better deal.

Either way, I see no downside to having the true car information.

Do you?

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Week That Was..

Technically this will cover two weeks as I didn't manage to do one last week.

The Tailor
I decided to get some shirts altered to fit my slim frame (there is a terrible shortage of slim fit shirts available in Kenya). I had gotten a recommendation for a tailor who does this well. I took my shirts to the guy..he is in a small room, shared with about 4-5 other tailors in an old building along Moi Avenue. The guy did a splendid job and offered to pick/drop my shirts in future if I was anywhere in town. I like this sort of service!

It occurs to me that many of our very small operators offer very good customer service (if you find the right people obviously). But, I think that it is easy for the one-man show to offer good service. The challenge arises when word gets out about your good service, your clientele increases and your business starts to grow. Then you start employing people; people who in many cases may not share your philosophy or vision. I find it a true mark of successful management when I do not need to know the owner/manager/supervisor to get great service. When I do not have to name drop in order to be taken seriously. When I do not have to be pushed to the head of a queue because I 'know someone' (and because efficiency is built in to the organization).

I had a conversation once with a very successful mogul. He was persuading me to try a service that one of his companies was offering at the time. I told him I would call him on Monday to arrange a test. He told me "Please call sales through the main switchboard then report to me what the experience is like". No wonder this fellow was a multi-millionaire! If the service experience is the excellent irrespective of whether 'mkubwa' asked the customer to call or whether the customer called through the trunk line, then isn't that one definition of successful management. In my opinion, managing is not about being able to offer every aspect of the perfect service yourself, managing is more about being able to design a system that functions perfectly and allows you to focus on growing/strategy etc.Which leads me to..

The Top Cop
I was arranging the sale of a car to somebody. One of the conditions for this deal to go ahead was that I had to have the car checked by CID to ensure it wasn't stolen. I was thus sent to an OC (Officer commanding..) of a certain division.

When I finally got to see the person in question, he was very friendly and very helpful and the inspection was done within 20 or so minutes (not by him personally obviously..he got a subordinate to do it). Add about 45 minutes waiting time and by police/GoK standards, it was fairly straightforward. However the whole while I was there, I could not help but wonder.. "Why do I need to see such a high ranking official for something so trivial?".

Simple answer as far as I can tell..the system is broken. Too often in Kenya..both in public and private sector, we have to talk to managers, supervisors etc for the most trivial matters. I think that if you are a manager/supervisor and you feel you are too often disturbed by people coming to you for trivial matters (which is the impression many give when you take your triviality to them), then you need to look in the mirror because you are the cause of the problem. Your job is to design a system that ensures your customer is served without ever feeling the need to refer to you.

(It turns out this (CID inspection) is not a service open to the general public but it was the only experience I had over the week that was convenient to make a point I feel is often missed in our go-to-the-big-man society)

The Coffee Houses
I am a fairly frequent patron of our various coffee houses. One thing that always occurs to me (oft-commented upon in quite a few blogs) is the tendency for service standards to slowly decrease the longer the coffee house is open.

This (in my opinion) is a clear management failing. I have heard the case some make about the standard of potential employees but I think that is a cop-out. If serious about service, coffee houses need to be very stringent on training and monitoring of staff. I wonder how many of them have training centres (or have entered into partnerships with catering schools) to train staff before they begin work. I know restaurant serving is looked at as very menial (and hence not much investment needs to go into it) but I think it is necessary to have at least 2-3 days of training/appraisal (off site) before a server ever even faces a customer.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

New CRSP List January 2011

KRA have released a new CRSP list this month. Find the link here.

This is the list that KRA use to calculate duty payable on vehicle imports so if you have any intention of importing a vehicle, be sure you check your duty payable BEFORE you start the process so as to avoid nasty surprises. There is a valuation template to use in conjunction with this list here. I always still advise that duty be confirmed with your clearing agent especially in cases where there are many entries for seemingly the same car.

You also need to be aware that the duty you pay does not depend solely upon the year of manufacture/registration of your vehicle but the month as well. This is very important and you can read a comprehensive write-up on this on the Motogari website.

Happy hunting.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Week That Was

The plan is for this to be a weekly post where I speak on experiences over the course of the week from a customer service and service delivery standpoint.

This week, I contacted Safaricom via twitter (@safaricomltd). I had a fairly simple, straightforward query. A couple of hours later, they phoned me with a response to my query. This has become the norm rather than the exception and after many months of complaints about Safaricom's use of twitter (they used to be aloof, impersonal and erratic with responses), they have really stepped their game up and are doing a great job of using twitter to engage with customers. I guess this stems from their CEO (@bobcollymore) leading from the front and also being quite active and responsive on twitter as well.

The Financial Services Provider (FSP)
This week, I have been in continued contact with a small FSP (who shall remain unnamed) with regards to a service that I was seeking. Now I officially engaged with this FSP on 21st December 2010. Formalities took long to complete due to the fact they closed from 24th December - 3rd January but we were done with all formalities by 4th January. Throughout the process, all communication from the FSP was that they were able to deliver within 48 hours (1-2 days) of completion of formalities. Sure enough on 4th January at 2pm, I was told that "this could be done as soon as this afternoon but will definitely be done by tomorrow". On the morning of 5th January,  I call for progress and I get the told, "call us back in the afternoon" I call back in the afternoon and get told "please check with us tomorrow morning". 6th January, 7th January..same thing. Please note: all this time I was asking for honest estimates of when they would deliver but kept being told "by tomorrow". On 10th January, when I called, I was suddenly (and out of the blue) referred to a whole new party who would be handling my matter. 11th January, I was finally given a straight answer and told the process would take a further week. I decided to withdraw and seek alternative solutions.

I have to admit, this is one phenomenon that perplexes me. If it takes two weeks to deliver, why in heaven's name would you promise 2 days? What does this do for a company's chances of retaining the customer? I find that this is not really the exception but that this manner of conducting business seems fairly common place. Some seem to have this don't care attitude to deadlines/promised delivery dates; almost as if to say "it doesn't matter when we deliver as long as we do deliver eventually". As paying customers, why do we stand for this sort of nonsense?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Do you....

1. Tell a client to come see you "at 2pm", only to be found "out at lunch" when s/he arrives at exactly 2pm?

2. Tell your client to "drop in anytime tomorrow" only to be told that you are "away on leave for the next two weeks"? 

3. Also make no effort to handover the clients case to a colleague or to brief anyone as to progress made with particular client before you depart for leave?

4. Promise to deliver by a certain day/time, then fail to do so. Keep promising to deliver; "by noon tomorrow" when your client calls to follow up late in the day, then "by close of business" when s/he calls at noon, then "by noon tomorrow" when s/he calls late in the day...etc for the 5/7/10/12 days it takes you to actually deliver.

5. Suddenly introduce new names in conversations with the client that you were dealing with when YOUR client gets annoyed that things didn't go right? (eg "I know I am the one who took your TT order but Bob is the one who actually sends the TT's and he seems to have forgotten to do so in this case....Let me follow up with Bob and get back to you". Do you do this knowing full well that YOUR client has never heard of this Bob before, has never met him or dealt with him in any way prior to that moment?)

If your answer to any/all of these questions is "Yes", please share with me why you do so. 
- Were you never trained otherwise? 
- Was this part of your customer relationship training? 
- Is this your attitude to all your customers or just the 'unimportant' ones?
- Do your bosses know that this is the practice within their organizations? 
- Do they accept this as "normal"? 
- Do you accept this as "normal" by your own personal standards?

Customers... Do these practices annoy/irritate/frustrate you too? Any others that I have overlooked? 

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Customer Service or Disservice?

I have been trying to obtain a service from a certain service provider. I should add that the service is not free, no, I will be expected to be making payment for this service. I seem to be getting nowhere and just have to VENT!

Trying to get a hold of this company on phone has proved to be rocket science, what’s worse is that majority of the time, when you do get through you are on hold for so long that the line actually gets disconnected. While you are on hold you discover that the company is likely to be receiving numerous calls from other customers/consumers because the advise you get from the recorded message is to hold on because all the agents/customer service representatives are busy.

Ok so contacting them on phone is proving too complicated, so what is the next best option, an e-mail right? Wrong! E-mails go unresponded to 99% of the time.

The irony is that I have contacted several ‘individuals’ and all seem to be just as incapable of providing information or responding to queries. How is that? How can 100% of the people I have contacted be just as unhelpful as the first? Does the problem lie then with the people employed or the systems?

If companies have performance reviews of their staff, then the sales and customer service should be obliged to respond to queries and offer assistance to potential customers in timely and effective manner. That really is the main duty they were employed to provide. An alarmingly high number of employees I have encountered in Kenyan companies seem content to do the absolute, bare minimum and do not seem too bothered about ensuring that the customer gets the best possible experience from the company. In an ideal world (also known as a company with good Human Resource polices and strategies) the employees have a sense of belonging to the company so that they can actually effectively represent the company.

I hear there is a reality show known as ‘Undercover Boss’ where the owner or senior executive of a company works undercover within the same company to see how it is ran and of course identify the good employees and expose the ones causing more harm then good. I would prescribe this for a number of companies. Some customers have found a way of ensuring senior managers are aware of the workings of junior staff....by Cc'ing senior managers in e-mail correspondence. This often does the trick but it is a sign of poor management when the customer is forced to take it upon his/herself to ensure the manager is clued in to what is going on.

If management can't go ‘undercover’ to determine the rotten apple(s), then they may consider investing in their staff as they truly are ‘human RESOURCE’ and taking them for customer service classes with the aim of changing their attitude and inculcate in them customer oriented culture. Management should also put in place proper checks and balances to ensure that their staff is effective. This includes; performance appraisals, service delivery standards and benchmarks; customer service monitoring systems with the overall aim of providing great, timely and efficient customer service.

Customer service is a key determinant of one’s choice of company, service provider or product in a competitive market, so companies should urgently start giving this aspect of their businesses the attention it deserves.

Friday, September 17, 2010

New CRSP List released September 2010

There is a new CRSP list (Current Retail Selling Price list) that has been released by KRA.

It can be found here.

This list is the starting point for calculating duty payable for vehicle imports into Kenya. Use it in association with this Duty Valuation Template to calculate the approximate duty payable on vehicle imports. It is always advisable to still confirm duty payable on your proposed import from KRA either directly or through your clearing agent before you proceed to buy your vehicle.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Weighbridge Bust..

Was just watching an NTV story about a Kenya Anti Corruption Commission bust on some corrupt officers at the Mombasa weighbridge (video here). Same old fare..corrupt officers manning the weighbridge taking bribes to let overloaded trucks through.

Once again this got me thinking about something that has become a recurring theme in my thoughts. The individuals taking part in corrupt activities have been arrested and will be replaced by more individuals. And I am willing to bet whatever is in my wallet today (about two thousand bob I believe) that the exact same corruption will resume almost immediately. Why? The system is broken...or rather.. the system that is in place relies upon the diligence, honesty and integrity of the individuals operating it.

Now what we need at the weighbridge (and numerous other public institutions systems) is a system that does not rely on individuals' qualities. I am not talking about robots and fairies or something that would cost a ga-zillion shillings to create. It is something that is relatively simple to do in many cases.

Take the weighbridge: First, you could make the road such that all trucks (vehicles over a certain width) are funneled to the weighbridge. Next ensure that all vehicles that drive on this path actually go over the weighbridge. Then have a camera system that activates everytime a vehicle drives over the weighbridge. This system can take a photo(s) of the truck (including number plate). Have the system print out two copies of the truck photo as well as weight or whatever details are required. One copy can remain with the truck (and be prominently displayed) while the other stays for records. You can even incorporate a system that sends the truck details to an offsite control centre or to forward points for verification. You can make it such that the system is never off or logs its on/off times or even needs supervisor input to be turned off (in case some cheeky scallywag decides to just switch it off for certain trucks). You can make it mandatory for all trucks to display their weighbridge printouts.

Now with this system, you will still have the same people operating it, but you take the space for corruption away from them.

In other words perhaps I am a cynic but what we need to do in Kenya is not design systems for the best set of hard working devoutly religious and honest people, but design systems that will remain efficient even when operated by a bunch of bone lazy thieves.

This is not to say that everyone is a bone lazy thief..quite the opposite actually. But there are those amongst us who deviate from the norm and when designing systems that is who you design for.

When you design your home security system, you do not design it to repel your relatives who will hoot at the gate, ring the bell or gently knock on the door. You design it to repel the deviant gang of robbers who will try to break down your door with a rock. When you buy a swanky new car, you dont install an alarm system to keep your friends out..you install one to keep the deviants out and to trace the car if the deviants do take it. What our systems design often seems to amount to is driving a swanky car to a rough part of town and leaving it with all doors and windows open with keys in the ignition and a shiny laptop in full view on the rear seat and hoping nothing happens. Hoping that the people who see the car are honest enough and decent enough not to steal the car or the laptop or both. Well we do not exist in that sort of utopia.

With this in mind, I think that we need to change focus in our "Fight Against Corruption". How much corruption stems from poor systems? I would say the majority of corruption we see would disappear with better systems. Perhaps we should marry the KACC and the Efficiency Monitoring Unit and really give the resultant organization power to go in to places, examine systems and processes, identify weak areas and recommend changes to ensure that systems do not rely on individuals qualities. Once we have redesigned systems, it becomes easier to see where the deviants are and root them out.

Monday, February 8, 2010

FPE: It's the System Stupid!

Currently, there is a scandal raging in Kenya regarding Free Primary Education (FPE) program funds. Basically dishonest Ministry of Education officials have used certain bureaucratic tools (fake expense reports, fake receipts, fake workshops etc) to misappropriate funds.

Since the scandal came to light, there has been a lot of back and forth (along party lines) about whether the minister and PS in the education ministry should resign. Two basic arguments spring to my mind when I think of this matter.

On the one hand, if neither the minister nor the PS stole funds, then their responsibility is to ensure that the perpetrators of the theft are caught and dealt with and the loopholes that were exploited are closed so that there is no chance of repeat occurrences again.

On the other hand, this occurred under their watch. They are the men in charge of the ministry. It is the minister and more-so the PS whose job it is to manage the ministry. As such, is it not management's job to ensure that the systems and procedures in place are designed such that theft etc do not take place? Having failed to design (or oversee the design of) a system that does so can be considered a failure and as such they should quit.

This internal debate (the second point more than the first) has led me to feel like this issue (and many others) is being approached and dealt with all wrong.

Quite apart from the petty politicizing, playing to the gallery and grandstanding that we have been seeing; rather than media jumping on a high horse and MoE Minister & PS in turn being defensive and saying nothing more meaningful than "I will not resign", perhaps we need to be talking about systems, processes and procedures in place.

Assuming they personally did not steal, I would like to hear from the PS/Minister exactly what the system for dealing with funds is in his ministry as well as what processes and procedures are followed in the procurement process. I want to know how, where and why the system failed. I want to know what action he is taking or has taken to ensure that these loopholes are closed. If the PS and/or Minister have not got comprehensive answers to these questions, then I would like to see him/them fired. Simple.

My simple belief is this, we live and die by the system. A good system will be efficient but will also eliminate leeway for there to be system failures caused by individuals. Too often in Kenya, we get stuck pointing fingers at individuals but fail to realize that it is poorly designed & implemented systems that let us down the most. We do not live in a utopia where everyone is 100% honest. As such we must create systems that force honesty...by catching any dishonesty early and by ensuring that those responsible are brought to book quickly.

We need an appointment and performance appraisal system in place that picks the right candidates for jobs and accurately rates their performance in the management of our institutions. We need a system that does not in any way indulge non performance. From top to bottom.

Can we please start debating how to make this happen instead of forever focusing on petty politics and individuals?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Motor Vehicle Transfer - KRA

Dear Sirs,

I am writing to you regarding the process in place for motor vehicle transfers. I undertook to process a transfer and the process was as follows:

1. Queue at counter 21 (or 22) to have application approved (This involves an officer leafing through documents provided to ensure they are in order then writing amount to be paid if they are so)

2. Queue at counter 23 to get an e-slip

3. Go to petrol station outside Times Towers to make 3 photocopies of the e-Slip

4. Go to NBK on 5th Floor of Times Towers to pay the transfer fee

5. Return to Petrol station to make a photocopy of the payment slip

6. Take documents back to counter 23 (no need to queue this time) and leave them with officer.

On Tuesday 19th January, the above process took me about one and a half hours to complete. I noted the following:

This is a 6- step process involving 3 different queues that could (and should!) be completed in one step, at one service window in 5 minutes. Due to the convoluted process in place, what should take 10, maybe 20 minutes (including queuing time) is stretched to take over an hour.

I would suggest any or all of the following measures be implemented to speed up the process to make it more efficient:

1. The approval and e-slip printing combined to one single step.

2. The e-slip is currently printed in landscape orientation in the middle of an A4 sheet. It probably takes up about half the paper in total. I suggest printing the same in portrait orientation and to reduce the size of the slip so that the same thing can be printed 3 (or 4) different times on the same page. This will allow customers to simply tear the different copies rather than have to leave the building altogether to get photocopies.

3. Payments can be done at the same time and place the documents are approved and e-slip printed. The current process turns the taxpayer into a defacto cash handler for KRA which is not efficient from a customer stand point.

If these steps were implemented, the process of lodging transfer documents would be much faster and easier for the taxpayer.

By creating efficient processes, KRA allows taxpayers to spend less time in queues and on fools errands and more time being productive. More productivity translates to higher earnings which in turn translates to more taxes being paid.

I thank you for your time.

Kind Regards

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is This Progress?

Today, I made the bold decision to handle a motor vehicle transfer personally. I tend to be the type of person who tries to do everything personally at least once, just to have the experience of doing so and to know what goes on. I needed to be in town quite early so I figured that rather than send a messesnger, I would do this one myself.

The process is thus:

- Go to Counter 21 (or 22..don't remember which one) to get the application approved and be informed how much it will cost.

- Go to Counter 20 to get an e-slip printed out (this states the name of the seller, name and PIN details of new owner and the fee payable.

- Go get 3 copies of the e-slip. This is done at the NOCK petrol station beside Times Towers.

- Go to either the National Bank of Kenya (NBK) branch at Harambee Avenue or sub branch on 5th Floor of Times Towers to pay the fee. (I chose the latter)

- Make a copy of the deposit slip from NBK (at the NOCK petrol station).

- Drop the application back at Counter 20 Times Towers banking hall on the ground floor. (Thankfully you do not have to queue for this step, you just walk up to the counter and drop the application off).

In my opinion, a country (government) that has such a long, cumbersome process for such a simple transaction is just not serious about becoming developed.

That will strike some as an extreme statement but I think that the first step towards creating an enabling environment is to make the simple things....simple. Then tackle the complicated things. Times Towers banking hall (and numerous other government offices) are places where the simplest is turned into the most cumbersome and complicated.

Streamlining this process would require little to no money, just a real commitment to ensure that citizens get the best possible service. The presence of such cumbersome processes in 2010 points to a lack of this real commitment.