Friday, December 19, 2008

Safaricom Data - Marked Improvement

As a follow-on from this post, I have recently noticed a significant improvement in quality of Safaricom's data network. 

Reception is now stronger than ever before and the constant disconnections I had earlier complained about seem to be gone. 

Great stuff and long may it continue. 

Thursday, December 11, 2008


The current saga with the ECK has totally shocked and outraged me. What does somebody have to do to be discredited in this country?

The ECK oversaw an election that brought this country to the brink of war. That is a fact...and that has to be a sackable offense. 

As I see it, the ECK has two main responsibilities as relates to elections:

1) Conduct free and fair elections

2) Always be perceived to carry out 1) above.

The second responsibility is at least as important as the first. It is what builds the credibility of the institution. They totally, completely, catastrophically failed to fulfil the second function of their existence. 

It should not even have been a matter of waiting to be sacked..these guys should have walked the day the peace agreement was signed AND they should have abdicated any right they had to any payments arising from this election. 

There may be a case to be made for keeping or reassigning the staff but the mangement of the organisation (the commisioners) should slink away quietly and never ever even fathom the idea of holding any public positions ever again. 

They are either negligent or incompetent and the very loud message all Kenyans should be sending out is that there is no room for negligence or incompetence in tax-payer funded positions. 

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Passport Control - 2

Following on from this post, here is a list of my observations of the shortcomings in the passport collection system and suggestions to make it better. 

1. Tracking Information: The online tracking system should be working. Even in the absence of that, absolutely under no circumstances whatsoever should somebody be told to go and collect their passport before it is actually ready to be handed over to them. Immigration should also insist that everyone who is going to collect their passport either checks online (when they fix the system) or calls in beforehand to ascertain whether the passport is actually ready. That way, you avoid having people making the trip and contributing to the congestion and confusion in the banking hall unnecessarily. 

2. Crowd Control in Banking Hall: Sometimes, they have a guy posted at the main door, checking what people are going to do in the hall and turning away those that don't have receipts (this obviously tends to be around lunch-time when it becomes more important to reduce the rush). If you show this guy your receipt, he allows you in and points to Counter 13 as where you need to go. Unfortunately, Counter 13 has 3 workstations, which generate 3 queues. Only two of those stations deal with checking passport status. Immigration have provided no way whatsoever for somebody to know what queue is for what..except asking other people who are its pretty easy to queue in the enquiries line, then have to re-queue to check your status.

To further compound this problem, quite a large percentage of the time, the workstations are left unmanned. This means that you end up with a situation where one queue moves while the other stands still or both don't move or the first stands still while the second moves. 

I would suggest having two queues. One leading to the workstation on the extreme left of the three workstations at Counter 13 for General Enquiries and the other feeding to the other two workstations for passport status checking. The queues should be separated by these barrier things you find in banks and there should be signs above each workstation to inform customers where to go. (Ofcourse, if suggestions from point 1 above were in place, the 'check passport status queue could be done away with altogether). I would further suggest instituting a policy that workstations must be manned for at least 95% of the working day. 

3. Convoluted System: Why queue to Counter 13 to check status, then queue for Counter 14 to hand over your receipt, then wait? Why not queue to Counter 13, hand over your receipt and wait for your passport to be delivered at Counter 14? That eliminates one queue and cuts down on confusion about the place.

4. Staff: The staff are rude, sullen and surly BUT I don't know that I could fully blame them(frontline staff that is). They are operating within a system that may as well have been designed by a child. Such is its unsuitability to the purpose that it serves. When I was walking around complaining, quite often the staff response was "We are doing the very best we can....Look at how many people we have to serve". What they don't seem to understand or realize is that a large percentage of the people crowding the hall are only there because the system is so very poorly designed and so utterly inefficient. 

Mr. Karoki complained about going to get my passport personally BUT he only had to do so because the system that he oversees is totally useless so he ends up wasting time dealing with stupid minor things like going to collect one individuals passport instead of doing his job of ensuring efficiency. And that brings me to my main point...

5. Management: IMHO, these guys are either incompetent or indifferent. Either way, they should be sent packing. 

It is they who design the system, train and deploy the staff and are responsible for customer satisfaction. From my experiences at this place over many days, they completely fail on all counts. 

Like I said, the fact that the officer-in-charge was wasting time collecting my passport personally is a symptom of his failure to do his job. He should be ensuring that the system he runs fulfils its function so well that no silly little complaints/issues come his way and he can concentrate on his core function..oversight and ensuring service delivery. 

I also think that every PS and minister should be forced to have their applications dealt with in the same manner as your ordinary mwananchi because I am positive that would quickly see the system cleaned up, streamlined and made more efficient. Part of this problem is that it seems 'Wakubwa" actually have no idea of the rot that exists in these sorts of departments...simply because they don't actually ever experience the paralysing inefficiency that characterizes operations in these departments. 

None of the suggestions I had require that much monetary input. I mean, they have a huge screen TV in the hall..why not put it to some use; for example; to alert customers to proceed to Counter 14 to pick their passports? They could easily use the split screen function and have half the screen showing Citizen or whatever and the other scrolling the names of the ready for collection passports (rather than have some hoarse voiced fellow shouting names and nobody being able to hear what names he's shouting). 

As far as I could see passport control is by no means short staffed...they often have many staff members milling about or standing chatting with each is just horribly and criminally mismanaged. 

If GOK is serious about development and improving service delivery, these are the first things that have to be drastically improved. They must design systems that allow/force the staff to be totally efficient. They must design systems that make best use of the resources we have. 

That way, we don't waste time getting passports/licenses/logbooks etc and instead proceed with our productive activities to earn our living which we then pay taxes on, which they then use to build us to 'developed status'. 

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Passport Control Nairobi

I recently applied for a replacement passport and was informed it would be ready after one week. I was given a receipt with a tracking number that I could use to track the progress of my application. The online facility for tracking wasn't working so I had to either phone or go to Nyayo House to check whether my passport was ready. 

5 weeks, numerous visits and phonecalls later, I called up and was finally told that the passport was ready and I should go and collect it.

The Nyayo House banking hall where passport collection is done, has two counters. Counter 13(labelled "Enquiries") deals with general enquiries and checking of the passport status and counter 14 labelled "Collection of Ready Passports" is where you go to get your ready passport.  

The process for collection is:

1. Present receipt at counter 13. 

2. If passport is ready, retrieve receipt with newly written passport number and proceed to Counter 14. If not go home and try again in "a week" or "two weeks"

3. At Counter 14, hand over receipt. 

4. Sit and wait for your name to be called out. (Big..nay..Mega screen TV provided for your entertainment..was tuned to Citizen TV on the day I was there..covering some KRA event)

5. Upon hearing your name..(over the din of all the people milling about in the hall), proceed back to counter 14 and collect your passport. 

On the day I went, Steps 1-4 took about one and a half hours. I was pretty much fed up by the time I heard my name. 

I proceeded to the counter to collect my passport and was met with the following (flippantly): "Hii yako haija teremka....angalia kesho". 

I was gobsmacked.

 Seriously??...Its not like I had just turned up out of the blue...I had actually phoned before I showed up and been told to come pick my passport. I had been through the process above (which by the way is the most retarded, convoluted system imaginable for the simple task of collecting a passport).....and a full non-productive morning later, I am just shooed away like beggar asking for 10 bob on the streets!

I was livid..stormed around complaining, asked to speak to officer-in-charge and was told he was in a meeting. So I left. 

I phoned up in the afternoon and spoke to said officer-in-charge (Mr Karoki) and tried to relay the point that it is just not right to make somebody waste a full morning of their day only to not have their passport ready....he didn't seem too bothered by that point but instead told me to go the next morning and collect my passport from him personally (how nice of him to do me such a huge favour right? Big shot personally tending to my needs.). We agreed on mid-morning. 

Next day turn up at 10am, he's not at his desk and there's a queue of about 6-7 people waiting for him. Wait in queue, he keeps coming and going, helps one or two people at a time then leaves. Eventually find myself at head of the queue at which point he has to rush of to do something. That was 11.30. At 12.30, his secretary tells me he's gone for lunch and that I should leave and come back at 2pm. I refuse. She mumbles to herself and leaves me alone. 10 minutes later, Mr Karoki comes back and personally goes to dispatch and gets me my 1pm. 

BTW, while I was waiting for Karoki for 3 hours, I overheard his secretary talking to one of her pals about how Alfred Mutua's office called cos he needed his passport replaced and she had to direct him to 2nd floor because "huko ndiyo wakubwa wanafanyiwa". 

I've left afew details out because I could be posting bout this til the new year but I hope the gist of my experience comes across. 

Will post my observations and opinions at a later time. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Safaricom Data Uh..oh

In my experience, the following is the normal usage experience with data networks in Kenya:

It starts out fine, works well for between 3-6 months then starts to slowly deteriorate until it reaches the point where I jump ship for the next package. 

This was the case with Flashcom and Celtel Edge. 

Having signed up with Safaricom 3 or so months ago and had 2 and abit months of trouble-free surfing, I have now noticed that little niggly problems starting to creep into the service. 

It has now taken to disconnecting itself from the network pretty regularly and failing to connect sometimes. 

So I'm this the beginning of the end?

Update: Just keeps getting worse..disconnections keep getting more just periodically keeps disappearing. I've never had great network reception but its always been largely stable. That reliability seems to have disappeared now. When are Yu kicking off again? 

Friday, November 28, 2008

Kiambu Road

Sticking to the roads theme:

Kiambu Road was rehabilitated awhile back. New layer of tarmac, slightly widened and little bumps along the side of the road. Unfortunately, they have failed to paint road markings on the road...or rather, they started painting them and stopped a short distance after Muthaiga Golf Club. 


And on the subject of road markings....I have the impression that road markings painted in and around our City Centre fade away awfully quickly. I often wonder whether its a misconception or if its just poor quality paint. 

New-huru Highway

I am sincerely hoping that the work that has been taking place along Uhuru Highway does not 'end' before the 'bumps' (the height differences caused by the new layers of tarmac) at the junctions with other roads that were not redone are smoothed out and proper lane markings are painted on the road. 

I say 'proper lane markings' because the last lane markings that were on the stretch of road from Museum Hill roundabout to Haile Selassie roundabout were a total disaster in my opinion. They were okay on the straight bits but got all messed up and confused at the roundabouts. 

Some cats eyes and street lights would be great too.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Video worth a thousand words

In this video, from Fareed Zakaria GPS, Thomas Friedman says something about the American motor companies going to beg congress for a bailout without any proper plan but rather doing what amounts to asking American taxpayers to bail them out "or we'll bleed to death on your steps". 

It almost exactly sums up the sentiment I was trying to convey about Uchumi in the last post. 

Monday, November 24, 2008

Uchumi Sarit

There's something about Uchumi in Sarit Centre that just annoys and irritates me. I generally do my best to steer clear of the place but everytime I go in there, I seem to get irritated and irritable. 

Thing is..I cant quite put a finger on exactly what it is that causes me to dislike the place so much. 

It may have something to do with the fact that for such a large space..its really cramped and crowded. They have huge huge infact that they decided to place products in the middle of many of them thus rendering the walking areas quite narrow in places. For the record I also dread any trips to Nakumatt Ukay because its so cramped, stuffy, lightless and airless. 

Maybe its an existing preconception I have from the bad old days that a trip to Uchumi was just a preamble to a trip to Nakumatt..simply because you never ever managed to find everything you would need at the Uchumi so you had to go someplace else to get what you missed out on. However this aspect of Uchumi has improved significantly oflate. I've also noticed that whereas Nakumatt tend to have full shelves, they often run out of products as well. If you're a Nakumatt shopper and you regularly buy Besbix 20kg dogfood for example, I can guarantee that you'll frequently find it's not available. 

One thing I can definitely identify as irking me virtually every single time I go to Uchumi in Sarit is the staff...especially till staff. They look and act like they'd rather be waterboarding in Guantanamo Bay than be serving you. They are that slow and that sullen. 

I always hated Nakumatt Thika Road and I avoid Nakumatt Ukay like the plague but they have the excuse of not having sufficient space. Uchumi Sarit has a nice big space that they still manage to turn into a small, dark, cramped area. 

And maybe thats what it is about recent times, its always been less than it could or should be. They managed to turn shopping there into some sort of act of charity..a woishe shop if you will. At some point their whole marketing strategy seemed to become: "We aren't as big, nice, polite or swanky as the competition, and you will never find all that you came for in our stores but pleeease just support us because deep down we're really nice." 

I guess Uchumi represents alot of what is wrong with Kenyan business to me.....they stop aiming to be the best, give the best service at the best price and thereby see out their competitors..they instead rest on their laurels, become complacent and slow, take their customers for granted and then  try to tug at our heart strings when bigger, better, hungrier, cleverer competition comes along. 

Until Uchumi sharpen up and start aiming to be the very best at what they do, they will forever be one step behind the competition and we, their customers will forever be the ultimate losers. 

Friday, November 21, 2008


I signed up for M-Pesa a couple of months back and I have to say...this is one hell of a service. It is absolutely awesome...truly innovative and a real (potential) lifestyle changer. Remember life before ATMs?...This service (and probably other similar ones to come) will have a significantly greater effect on our lives than ever ATMs did. 

Two improvements that I would not minding seeing are:

1) Rock solid reliability. Since I signed up on the 29th September, I think there have been 3 days when the system has been down. I can't say whether this is representative of how its been all along, but I would say that with such a system, Safaricom need to ensure that there is virtually zero system downtime. This is because when it comes to accessing money, one needs to have absolute confidence that they will always be able to access their money whenever they need to. For example, if I load up my account when travelling upcountry in order to avoid having to carry a large sum of money around, I need to be totally sure that when I need to pay for fuel or accomodation etc, I will be able to access the money. 

2) Secondly, I would love to see the banking sector embrace this service. I think that this service presents a great opportunity for mainstream banks to bring services closer to their customers. Imagine if you could deposit money into your bank account via M-Pesa...or make a withdrawals the same way.  That would not only reduce the number of customers needing to go into banks, but I think that it would also mean that customers are able to pass more funds through their accounts. The 'unbanked' would also be able to operate accounts even where they are not located near branches. This could theoretically mean more savings, more people able to borrow (because the banks see their cashflows) and more businesses growing and expanding...therefore higher earnings for banks. 

I have to admit I don't even know whether banking regulations etc would allow such services or whether there are plans already in the pipeline but I think companies in all sectors (not just banks) reallly need to assess how these and other innovations can benefit their businesses. 

Just throw a bunch of technical sounding words no particular order.

Heard on Money Matters, NTV last night:

"DT Dobie has launched a new car into the Kenyan market...the Nissan Navarra, a pick-up brand with a 2.5 four litre cylinder and diesel turbo engine is a heavy duty howler that balances toughness and power". 

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"Help!...I'm underwater!!!!"

Did you ever go swimming as a child and try to 'run' in the pool? Ever watched one of these movies that have underwater fight scenes? If so; you'll have noticed that everything that happens underwater happens much slower than it would out of the water. The punches, kicks and parries seem to happen in slow motion. All those who remember their high school physics will know that this is because water is a more viscous substance than air and hence causes greater resistance or drag to motion. (Ok..maybe my terminology isn't exactly accurate but I'm sure you get the idea). 

It seems that some cheeky magician has been going round hypnotising tellers and customer service agents in Nairobi and convincing them that they exist in some sort of underwater world. They therefore move at a speed that suggests they are straining every sinew to fight the drag that is being caused by living and working in in a more viscous atmosphere than they are used to/designed for. 

This has always been the case with our public sector offices..they have always seemed to work and move in slow motion but I also notice it quite often in the private sector. 

Go try and buy a bankers cheque at just about any bank and see how long it takes (without factoring in the queueing time waiting for some other poor sod to buy a bankers cheque). If you're brave and have half a day to kill, go and order a TT. 

I think alot of the blame for this lies with management and their failure to put fast and efficient systems in place (why is paying by credit card in Nakumatt such a cumbersome process for example?) or adequately train and motivate their staff. 

But it seems like even when you look at Kenyans as individuals, majority of us just generally tend to be half assed and half hearted. How many times has an insurance salesman (or any other salesman for that matter) tried to sell you a product and not had all the information about the product at his fingertips? Is there any excuse for that?....where is personal initiative, competitive spirit etc. Do they exist in us or are we just a bunch of losers sitting on our asses, waiting for riches to magically manifest themselves and complaining when it doesn't happen? 

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Queue Question

This is not directly related to service but rather to one of the side effects of slow/inefficient service. The queue. 

I have but one question for my fellow Kenyan man (women too in some cases):

Why oh why my Kenyan brother must you insist on standing so close to me that I can virtually taste what you ate for breakfast/drank last night? 


Driving License Renewal

I had to renew my driver's license this morning which meant a trip to the KRA Banking Hall in Times Towers. 

Firstly, I have to say; the banking hall is a really great space. Its well designed(from this layman's point of view), very spacious and has many labelled (or label-able) service counters (32 on the ground level alone). 

Unfortunately, any raised expectations that this aesthetically pleasing environment causes are quickly dashed by what occurs within.

Firstly, of the 32 aforementioned counters, 14 were unmanned or manned by staff who were not dealing with the public. 

Upon walking into the hall, I asked for and was directed to the queue for driving license renewal. This is because the swanky labelling system that is in place is not really used as perhaps it could and should be. Many of the labels above counters are ambiguous or out of date. Some functions (like "Driving License Renewal") are not covered by the current signage. So virtually every single person who joined the queue behind me had to ask either a watchman or a fellow queuer(is 'queuer' even a word?) where they should go. FYI, for D/L renewals, you want the counters labelled "Free D/L", which I believe are 7 & 8. 

Ofcourse, in keeping with the staffing policy highlighted above, only one of those counters was manned. By the time I was next in line to be served, I had been waiting for about 20 minutes...then the person manning the counter had to leave to get cash for her till. That took about 10 minutes. 

The transaction itself took under two minutes. 

I have to say that there has been alot of improvement to the Times Towers banking hall in recent times but this is still quite a long way short of how efficient this place could and should be. 

Driving License renewal is probably one of the simplest tasks that they perform and it definitely should not take over half an hour to do on what was a rather slow day (there were only about 7 people ahead of me in the queue). 

One thing I always wonder about places like this is what are their performance benchmarks? Stuff like how many customers should be served per hour, how long each transaction should take etc. What if these benchmarks were made public and displayed above each counter? 

Hypothetically, based on the under 2 minutes that it took to process my D/L renewal, its not unreasonable to estimate that each window could serve 30 people per hour. KRA is open from 8-5 with a one hour lunch break. Assuming another hour for tea breaks, bathroom breaks etc (and thats frankly rather generous) meaning effectively a 7 hour workday, each service window should deal with 210 people daily at the very least. 

Spread over a 9 hour day, 210 people daily is 23 people per hour. Assuming the 8 people served during the half hour I was there is representative, that's working at only 70% efficiency for the single window. If the fact that there should be two windows working is taken into consideration the figure drops to an alarming 35%. Is that really good enough? 

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Inaugural post

Welcome to this new blog about all things "service" as experienced by an ordinary Kenyan trying to go about the business of going about his business. 

Many times I have complained about various aspects of what I consider to be poor service. I have heard friends, relatives and acquaintances do the same. Often I give feedback (when I feel I receive poor service) but very rarely do I feel like the feedback is received, taken seriously or acted upon. Infact, complaints resolution often seems to be based on the principle of "get this person out of here as fast as possible".  The process of giving feedback/making complaints about poor service often ends up being even more frustrating than the bad service itself. 

So... as someone who feels rather strongly about the need for good service, I had two choices...pick up my shot gun and become some sort of good service vigilante or find some forum to air my grievances. Unfortunately (or fortunately as the case may be), I was born in Nairobi not South Carolina (therefore I neither own nor know how to operate a shotgun) so the first option was pretty much out of the question. Therefore I present Huduma Bora. 

As Kenyans will know that is the first half of our Government's service delivery mantra, 'Huduma Bora ni Haki Yako', which translates to Good Service is Your Right. Better minds than me can go over the merits of having that as a mantra (is that the correct term anyway?), but good service really, genuinely is every citizens right..because put simply;...bad service takes money out of your pocket. Whether in form of lost time, opportunity costs or simply having to pay to 'grease the wheels' (bribe) so as not to incur bigger losses due to enduring poor service. 

I think that good, efficient service is absolutely vital if this country is ever going to move forward. Good, efficient service is like the oil that lubricates the productivity engine. Without it, everything grinds to a halt...literally. 

I will basically be posting any thoughts I have on any aspects of service...from public sector to private sector, seemingly important to seemingly insignificant. I will try to be concise, objective and offer up suggestions for solutions. I will try to ask questions and I hope that others will see this blog, take an interest, comment on posts and post their own experiences. Who knows..maybe this grows into something that positively affects the service that we Kenyans recieve. I hope that a few people who deal with service delivery will see this blog and will be able to offer us insight into why things may be the way they are from within. Whether all that happens or not..this is my small step.

If you read anything that you relate to or that you agree or disagree with, please leave comments. 


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