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?