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 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.