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.


  1. Dear Sir/Madam,
    Congratulations on the work that you are doing. Very good blog and good dictum too.
    I have a request: Can you do a piece on Medical Services Providers-private hospitals to be exact? If you have had the misfortune of going to one you'll attest that their customer service is wanting.

  2. Kizuri cha jiuza, kibaya cha jitembeza.

    A great Swahili proverb which should be taught in business school. It means “a good thing sells itself, a bad one advertises itself”.

  3. Anon,

    Would you by any chance be willing to share an experience?

    I have had a few experiences waiting at hospitals (for outpatient services) but I have tended not to judge too harshly as I suspect (a hunch..not really based on facts) that our medical services are fairly stretched.

    I will be sure to post any experiences I have/see/hear about though. Thanks for the suggestion.

  4. Ok, just arrived on this blog for the first time. Good work you are doing! now following! When it comes to bad service, I usually blame the management, it is their responsibility to ensure that they transmit the values to all staff! On the hospital thing, try and visit Nairobi hospital -- my take is that most private hospitals are being run as business and have fewer staff to maximize on profit