Customer service is at the helm of any company but in Kenya, poor customer service is the norm.
Rude receptionists grace the front desk dressed suavely but their mouths stink when addressing customers.
Most Kenyan businesses don’t offer their customer service personnel competitive packages or are over-worked or simply their roles aren’t properly defined.
In this article, we’re going to address exactly
1. What poor customer is
2. Rude customer service scenarios in Kenya
3. What bad customer service does to a business.
4. How to correct bad customer service
We’re going to base our arguments on the almost defunct Nakumatt supermarket among other industries.
Why Nakumatt yet it collapsed due to poor management and not customer service?
Because every bad customer service or experience you encounter in business, starts from the management and unless the management changes or realises their mistakes, then a collapse of an empire is inevitable.
Examples of bad customer experiences in Kenya
On a Google rampage about bad customer service, I found this article.
‘‘Top 10 companies with the poorest customer care service in Kenya’‘ is an article that appeared on https://www.kachwanya.com/2014/10/24/customer-care-service-in-kenya/
Everywhere you turn to in Kenya there’s the mention of bad customer service.
Bad Customer Service, Scenario 1
It’s not ironical though that the Kenya Police mission is: Utumishi Kwa Wote (Service to All ) yet their services suck?
They consider you a criminal before you even tell your story and some insult you before you finish talking or laying a complaint.
Plus they don’t care because most Kenyans don’t know their rights.
2. Kenya Banking Halls
When you move to the Kenyan Banking Service, the service worsens. The askari at the door looks at you as you struggle to get yourself around the bank, doesn’t even explain procedures.
Maybe you have been banking at Co-operative bank and they don’t have the dispenser paper they have in KCB you sit at the bank and don’t hear your number being called by the Intercom.
And the askari checked you coming in five hours ago.
Or at the same bank, a customer service personnel rudely leaving you at their desk and going to serve others on another desk because they’re ”Mkubwa”(important person).
Or the same customer service representative, ushering in another lady who was there earlier yet you’re seated and having them converse above your head, exchanging documents.
3. Kenya Power and Lighting Company
After the ordeal at the bank, where you wasted five hours of your time, you go to pay your power bill and the customer service representative tells you it’s five minutes to lunch break and they cannot help you.
To come back after lunch, so you patiently wait after lunch after which she doesn’t remember you queueing and chases you to the back.
”Wewe msichana fuata laini hapo” (You, lady, follow the queue or get thrown out).
That’s when the askari(guard) looks but also doesn’t remember you being there before lunch and actually throws you at the back shouting even louder,
”You think you are important than these other ones?”
Yet the same man told you to wait you’ll be the first one in line when the office opens after lunch.
All this rudeness because there was a Mheshimiwa on the queue who needed to be served first.
4. Kenya’s Public Hospitals
In the public hospital waiting-lounge, a nurse shouts your name after seeing your face she says,
”You don’t look sick”.
Or another very embarrassing one was a lady whose sickness was announced to the world,
”Kulala na wanaume alafu unashikwa na STDs – Ukimwi itakuua” ( Sleeping around with men no wonder you have gonorrhoea – HIV will kill you)
And the irony of the nurse dying of HIV.
Nurses replacing poor women in their hospital beds with wealthier women as if sickness chooses. And the poor women left on the ground.
In maternity wards, women left to deliver themselves because they’re poor and rudely asked who asked them to have sex if they don’t know how to deliver themselves and the nurse sitting watching as the woman’s baby dies.
5. Kenyan Supermarkets – Cashiers
In the supermarket with a rude cashier who asks orders you, ”Kwani huna nguvu mama?” When off-loading the cart.
Or the supermarket attendees rudely telling you,
”You know, there is nothing like a dog leash in this supermarket, actually who even keeps dogs in Kenya?”.
Kenyans are so surprising in trying to keep up with the west?.
Happened to me at Ukwala Supermarket now Choppies in Nakuru near Tuskys Supermarket and I was told by the manager they fired the man.
And he pleaded for his job but his words and actions were caught on camera because I was too fierce with him and there was a witness – a colleague who scolded him and told me where to get the leash.
6. Rude Jumia Customer Service and Lying
On Jumia being taken in circles after purchasing and paying for a printer in 2015 and never getting the printer but was taken in circles I decided to write about it.
Though they refunded my money, I have never looked back or even considered shopping on Jumia because I know they suck and don’t tell the truth about the products they have.
Read my Jumia review here.
7. At Mali Ya Abdalla, Mombasa
In Mombasa at a fabric shop, Mali ya Abdalla where a worker rudely asked me,
”Soma hapo nani si imeandikwa Paybill wewe wauliza nini?” ( Read the label there madam can’t you see it’s written Paybill).
Keep in mind that some businesses write Paybill, the Mpesa service yet they mean, Till No.
Then I go on to ask the other man seated on the cashier counter(an Arab man) and the Kenyan guy says, ”why are you insisting on asking him do you think he’ll answer you?”
Wow, just wow! I thought I don’t mince my words though I poured my heart out, threw their receipt at them and rated a 1 wish there was a zero on google for everyone to see and read my encounter with the rudeness.
In fact, my advise is go to Mali ya Abdala at your own risk. Yet they have a very good selection of Kitenge!
Find my review on Mali ya Abdalla here.
8. Matatus or Matatas?
Use the matatus in Kenya and you’re in for a lifetime ride you’ll never forget.
The men(conductors) stink, play loud unfathomable music and dare you to say a thing,
”Shuka kanunue gari yako”. Ama umezeeka enda ukapande gari ya mabati – are just some of the easy on the stomach answers you’ll get.
Question to ponder for a Kenyan Business Owner about Customer Service.
Have you ever wondered what makes for bad customer service?
Have you wondered what differentiated a bad service from a good service?
When you’re a business owner your work isn’t to get more customers but how you’re going to retain the customers who you have should be your mission.
Question: If you think bad customer service doesn’t matter ask yourself why small businesses die?
Why most Kenyan businesses never grow for decades or centuries?
Or why customers abhor a seemingly successful company for another less known or service or product.
It’s how you handle the customer base you have, it’s how you value their money.
If you get into business to value your customers they’ll value you back by being loyal, committed by spreading the word.
What’s bad customer service?
All these scenarios reflect a perfect explanation of what bad customer service qualities are and they include:
Unprofessionalism. Where you rudely gossip about your customers in front of the customer or rudely pass documents over a customer’s head, or you call in line another customer just because they are Mheshimiwa.
When a cashier tells you it’s lunchtime and it’s five minutes to lunch yet after coming back you’re the last one to be served in line. The askari is quick to judge you and your position in society.
Customer representative with lack of knowledge and experience.
Stepping into a banking hall and the guard calmly looking at you without informing you that you need a receipt with a number for you to be served.
Queueing for soo many hours at Huduma Centre then being told to come back tomorrow as if your life depends on an identification card only.
Lies and poor attention to details.
When a customer service representative doesn’t remember telling you to come back in the morning at 8 so you can resolve an issue.
For you to go and get another representative at the desk who doesn’t understand your needs.
They try to be nice by saying, ”She’s coming in ten minutes”. As the clock ticks to midday you have sweated and waited and you’re being told it was her off day today.
The list of all the dis-service the customer service world in Kenyans businesses offers is endless.
Read Bad Customer Service Scenarios in Kenyan Businesses Here and Leave a comment of your own experience so we can expand the list and bring to the attention of companies what their Customer Service does behind the scenes.
What does bad customer service do to a business?
Bad customer service unknowingly damages a business’ reputation by for example:
- Leads not converting.
If you send me to Huduma Centre, unless I have a contact person there, then I’m going.
If you send me to KCB, unless I get hold of an agent then I’ll go because KCB agents offer faster and easier service – unfortunately, their machines are always broken.
I cannot go to Nakumatt, because the cashier will make a Mhindi by-pass me because well, they’re a Mhinid(Indian) and I’m black. Yet the cashier is black.
I cannot go to Carrefour because a white woman will be served before me because they’re more important than I am.
You lose customers through the word of mouth.
When I said to people I loved shopping at Nakumatt because they have a wide selection of items I love I was met with questioning eyes, ”really?”.
”They love to reap people off plus their customer service sucks and they only cater for foreigners more than Kenyans”.
I had been a resistant Nakumatt shopper because of their discrimination services.
And they were always pitted against other supermarkets like Tuskys and Naivas.
And when leads don’t convert, you collapse.
2. Customers run away.
When Nakumatt got accused of favouring foreigners, the same foreigners were the first to escape from the supermarket.
Kenyans were left to wonder and many took to social media to laugh at the poor management of the supermarket chain.
A friend of mine said, ”The elephant has gone back to the forest”.
Your customers don’t trust you, they cannot offer you money in return for bad experience. Never.
What’s customer retention?
Many business owners are into customer acquisition more than retaining them. A very important aspect of any business makes sure that 75% of your customers never walk away.
When I ran my pillow business as an offline store, I often asked myself, ”Why do my customers keep coming back?”
And other business owners around the block asked me the same question as well. I just said, ”Cause they love pillows”.
“No, they love how you treat them, they love how welcoming you’re in this business – a quality I want in my business as well”.
Read about my pillow business here
Of course, you don’t have to be 100% accurate there are always flaws in a business owner but when the good customer service and experience outweighs the flaws, customers overlook that as long as you’re willing to improve.
Instead of gearing to open up shop after shop after shop, Nakumatt should have focused on the ones they have and improve the quality of the pay plus customer service.
In fact the biggest hurdle in any business is retaining and maintaining a customer.
3. You lose your best employees.
At the verge of collapse, Nakumatt saw the loss of its best employees.
Some were university graduates who went on to other businesses.
Though some will be back, the enthusiasm and fear of working for a collapsing supermarket are going to be there.
Employing new staff isn’t a walk in the park because it’s must be a slow process.
Want to employ a good customer service representative for your business?
Blog Post to Read:
Well, Read How to Employ a Competent and Excellent Customer Service Team Here.
4. You won’t be operating on profit.
What’s the sole purpose of a business? I remember those class lessons like yesterday.
And we’d all scream, ”To make profit”.
When you run a non-profitable store it leads to closure.
Because there are no customers, you’re spending more money to pay workers money which isn’t coming in.
You’re essentially wasting your time and energy.
5. You leave a bad taste in the mouth of investors.
Investors cannot bail you out when they can clearly see the missing link between you and your customers. How can you deal with a business with a reputation fond of insulting its customers?
6. Accept customer feedback.
A customer once said to me,
“I love your work but sometimes you really anger me because you don’t want to work more”.
I’m glad she made me see a trait in me, one where if I want to do something I do and when bored I don’t.
From that day on, I decided to stick to one business niche within my business, sew pillows and she’s never complained again.
Let’s Talk Business.
Would you want to improve your customer service as a Kenyan Business Owner?
I offer customer service consultations to businesses at starting rates of $200 an hour.
Get encouraged by reading my pillow and Airbnb business here.
When you reach out to a brand to tell them how awful their customer service and customer experience was and they tell you that,
”No our customer service is really top notch”. When you press further, they call you a rude or unsatisfied customer and you cannot please everyone.
Taking and accepting you’re not 100 % is entrusting your customer to you.
Your customer is trying to show you your areas of improvement. Your flaws.
Don’t take that to mean they are insulting you or are rude.
7. Having vague explanations about a product.
How many times have you landed on Trip Advisor or Booking.com to check for the reviews of hotels or places to visit in a country?
And found comments regarding how a credit card was faultily charged and how the management reacted poorly on the request.
Or there was not much explanation given as to why the card was over-charged despite cancelling the booking in advance or within 24 hours?
Or a card was charged despite the hotel saying they don’t charge a credit card but only when you book with them?
8. Removing bad reviews.
Hope onto Jumia to see what customers talk about Jumia and why.
On Yelp, businesses removing customer’s feedback are always under the spotlight.
If you need a five-star rating, then offer five-star service and don’t fake it.
On Jumia, for example, they say that their services are 5-star customer experience but on their Facebook page, one is perplexed by the number of complaints offered by the community.
Ranging from never receiving their goods, or over-charging, or receiving a faulty good or rude customer support who rudely answers you, ”We don’t care, call God”.
9. A customer support representative telling you, ”There’s no help for you”.
How many times have you heard of this shocking answer served to you?
Efforts to try reaching the management are always futile and endless then you give up.
I found this appalling review on Bonfire adventures believing it was the biggest travel industry in Kenya.
But the reactions on TripAdvisor or booking.com leave a bad taste in the mouth.
From the responder arguing with the customer to being told they were helped yet the customer felt mistreated, ignored or left to fend for their own.
How can foreigners travelling through your agency be left to fend for their own when all they have is you?
This is all we can offer, a customer is told.
But the hotel exchange was to be a five star, we paid for a five-star accommodation in the tent, why this?
Sorry, there’s nothing we can do to help, this is it. And you’re left in your tent full of holes.
10. How do you use your language as a customer service representative?
“You’re so silly”. “Come on you can do this, it’s so easy!”. Have you ever been made to feel so stupid or so small?
How you word your sentences when talking to your customer can make them feel stupid or idiots.
I overheard a conversation about a man requesting customer support service.
While it’s also good for the customer not to shout over the phone(etiquette and mobile manners) he was in a public coffee shop outside.
I just heard his part of the conversation:
White Man on the phone:
”Can you understand me, please?
Please read to me the numbers one by one.
What did you say I do with the manual?
I said I cannot understand the manual?
Are you trying to tell me that I’m stupid?”
This totally angered the customer so he asked for help from the waitress in the coffee shop for assistance.
And the same lady repeated the same remarks the gentleman did.
What was wrong?
I guess, the customer representative thought, how easy is this and how stupid of them?
Or maybe the customer representative remarked to herself, ”These Mzungus are too demanding why doesn’t he go back to Europe and get his Mzungu services?”.
Unfortunately, I once heard a cashier telling a customer about a Mzungu customer this. They conversed in Swahili so that the Mzungu doesn’t understand.
The same goes for minding your language,
”Oh shit, OMG, Motherfucker, Bastard” Aren’t terms to use in front and when serving a customer, reserve them for your colleagues and even that (OMG).
11. Quick conclusions about one’s wealth.
I walked ( I won’t tell because I resolved my issue with them and the management apologised profusely) into a seemingly high-end store in Nairobi one day.
The lady at the desk, let’s assume she was a cashier or attendant( most business owners don’t define exact roles for their employees), and those in line kept looking at me.
They stared for a few minutes before the one at the desk approached me, I asked her if they had this brand of the product and the lady said, ”This one is only afforded by the rich”.
A lady customer who was walking in gasped and said, ”Which one is that ONLY for the rich?”
”How did you know the lady isn’t rich?”
The attendant mercilessly said, ”You know some of these ladies love to pretend they can buy things, but they waste your time removing from shelves and packing them back up isn’t an easy job”.
Wow, let me walk out because I’m not about to be insulted by you like that, I was actually coming to compare prices.
And futile moments from the manager trying to convince the lady to come back fell on deaf ears.
A few days later, I saw her review on a popular Facebook site in Kenya relaying her story.
Though the manager apologised, I have never set foot in that store. A few years later, I heard of its demise and its position was taken by a restaurant.
I was in to buy she was window shopping! They lost money and a potential customer.
12. Have you ever seen a customer representative gossiping?
Well, I walked into a shop in Biashara street Mombasa, where the attendant before I ordered immediately whispered something into his ears.
They looked at me giggling. So I asked them, ”Why do you find pleasure in gossiping about me, do you know me?”
I over-heard them saying something about my blue shorts and how we love to wear like ”Westernised Women”.
The owner took control of the situation by telling the lady to go behind the counter.
He apologised and gave me a discount on all the sewing supplies I wanted and since fired the lady and gentleman whisper mongers.
13. Announcing customer problems for the world to see and hear.
How many times have you walked into a shopkeeper selling for another customer and before they’re done they’re like, ”Sema or Nikusaidiaje?”.
Honestly, how many customers can you serve at one time?
Why is your attention immediately divided as if the other customer doesn’t have value?
A friend of mine owns a butchery, and his butchery is always flocked with business.
I asked him, Michael, why?. He said, ”I love children”.
I was amazed because we weren’t talking about kids.
Parents love to send kids to my butchery because, in my business, kids first especially when there’s a queue and I have explained that to my customers.
When adults come, I make sure they queue but I serve them quickly so they don’t wait in line or if I have an influx, I deliver meat to their doorstep.
When a customer representative asks me how much money I want to deposit or withdraw so loudly, I often wonder if it’s part of the business policy to announce money.
When we know how risky it is to talk so loudly through the glass window and when one steps out of the bank.
Or when a nurse blantaly asks, ”Ulisema ni dawa za ukimwi unataka?”
So loudly the other hospital members are left aghast or don’t want to be near the patient or you see patients suddenly wanting to wash their hands.
When your customer service sucks, your business will fail and you’ll close it.
I’m addressing customer service representative as the cashiers, guards, the customer representative themselves.
Take a serious and keen note:
Customer service isn’t about the one who has the name tag, ”Customer Care Representative”.
It’s about service to the customers and service to the customers starts at the door step of your business.
How to resolve bad customer experience for customer retention in Kenya
Resolving bad customer service will help prevent the death of your empire in the following ways.
Listen to the customer’s feedback.
Honestly listening to customer complaints and change.
Don’t pretend to be in tune with their feelings then when they come back again they experience the same level of customer experience that breaks their trust.
Form a platform where you regularly engage in surveys to gauge the customer’s level of business satisfaction with your business.
Don’t just make customers leave feedback, let them be assured of an extra cup of coffee.
Though Java coffee house and other high-end hotels do this I wonder how many customers actually leave feedback immediately.
Offer something free to up the engagement and make it a surprise. Always keep customers guessing.
Keep your customers talking positively.
Let customers engage with you on a more personal level by you creating an email newsletter.
Where you can offer new products about to grace the shops and finding their opinions about the product for example.
Or about an employee you’d want to hire and if your email list qualifies.
Engage your customers through videos, on YouTube on how to utilise or use a steam cleaner and why it’s very important for home use and how it saves on cleaning time instead of the manual way.
Create how-to articles and offer detailed information apart from the manuals created about how to use a washing machine.
Offer a platform where the Frequently Asked Questions about a product are thoroughly answered like how and what Amazon does.
Make sure your customers engage with you before they take to social media or review sites like Yelp, they’ll have told you what to solve.
Or if they see a bad review, they’ll defend your product.
Have you seen what customers do for Apple against Samsung?
You want to build a tribe of people who fight for your product and why they have them in their hands.
3. Reward your employees.
Companies cannot afford to lose money on paid employee vacation.
Your company keeps changing face because your employees don’t feel valued.
They feel overlooked.
And overlooked employees transfer their anger to customers or leave or are lazy to deliver their best.
It doesn’t have to be paid vacation, it can be buying products subsidized or getting the products for free or before products expire, you offer them to customers instead of throwing them away.
Eateries like Pizza Inn, Chicken Inn and Supermarkets must learn how to reduce waste.
Make employees feel like part of your organisation by listening to them and services they’d love to improve or equipment they’d need to help improve your business.
Make your employees feel wanted by praising their effort on how they resolved customer complaints excellently.
Give your employees time off (unexpectedly) and say, ”Courtesy of Management”, because of your great job skills or this week you have outdone yourself.
Who doesn’t like to do without a little praise?
4. Review your mission or vision statement.
Are you battling negative response or thinking your customer is an entitled bitch?
I assure you to go back and check why you started.
Sometimes getting back to the beginning offers one a new direction they’d want their businesses to take.
You may have started because you felt there was a need or a gap to offer top-notch products or services.
Along the way, you hired the wrong staff or your attitude is that of entitlement like Nakumatt.
Where they were praised of having the best products in the supermarket retail industry in Kenya.
The praise got into you and you forgot who made you.
Many business owners forget this crucial statement, ”Your customers make you”.
If you didn’t have them you wouldn’t have started.
Your mission should be to serve whether you’re in the hospitality industry or not, your business isn’t dominated by robots but people. Serve them accordingly.
Stop defending your poor customer service.
When a customer comes to your business and says they have had a bad customer experience, stop standing above them to argue with them.
Accept and profusely apologise for your mistakes.
Tell them you own a mistake.
Always listen and pay attention even if the customer turns abusive.
You see the most disgruntled customer are always the return customers and you must aim to reach out to them so they can say, ”Wow, that business listens”.
They are the ones who spread the message better.
Go and change your mistake.
When customers complained about Nakumatt discriminating customers based on their skin colour, there was a great improvement since many black Kenyans started visiting their store and remained life-line customers even after their demise.
Dear Carrefour I warn you-you risk falling like Nakumatt.
The rule of customer service is the customer is always right even if they are wrong.
After they have calmed down or explained themselves now you can offer a step by step explanation of what went on wrong and why.
You can politely point out their mistakes.
Offer customers clear explanations.
Don’t charge customer’s credit cards unknowingly.
Like in the case of making a hotel reservation with either booking.com. Don’t say the credit cards aren’t charged yet they are.
Explain to customers hidden charges accompanied by a service you’re offering.
Trying to be sneaky with customers only backfires and customers will always call you a thief or a conman.
Also, don’t call a few months, weeks or days later to say to the customer that you have changed the payment policy. Or you have suddenly increased the fees.
There’s nothing as annoying as inconveniencing a customer and make their lives hell one too many times, you’ll never see their service.
Bad reviews are good publicity.
Stop deleting customer’s reviews and act upon them.
Taking shortcuts by deleting the comments worsens the relationship between the customer and the business.
And who said bad reviews means bad business?
You choose to act on your bad reviews depending on the response received then promise to improve and actually improve.
Then you create a brand that offers great service and loves to be corrected.
Explain the shop’s policy in advance
When you get in the shop and see, ‘‘No idle sitting” or ”Don’t leave your luggage un-attended” like in Java, Nakuru Branch.
If and when you don’t want children to run around your store or shop, say so because you know kids are kids and they love to touch things.
There’s nothing as good as setting expectations and customers love that.
When you explain to your customers what to expect, they know the consequences of breaking the rules.
Teach etiquette to your staff about customer experience
Not shouting or screaming about the bank balance or withdrawals a customer is making.
Not calling out to the patient loudly about their ailment as if announcing to the whole world.
Tell the guards at the door not to rudely ask personal questions and loudly at that.
Customer Etiquette Course
Teach your customer service team and staff proper etiquette here.
10. Have an online presence
Many businesses offline don’t have an online presence which offers a way of customer- business connection.
Employ a digital marketer using the strategies I listed here.
Because you know when your business is online there are many ways to know and increase your customer service experience both online and offline.
I hope these lessons help you prevent the death of your empire due to poor customer service support or experience.
I touched on most scenarios not only Nakumatt because I feel customer service is lacking in all industries in Kenya.
I chose, however, to focus on Nakumatt because now that they’re making a come-back on Facebook (#NakumattBounceBack) it’s a high time they learn from their mistakes.
Poor customer service and Mismanagement are some of the causes of the death of any business even a hospital.
As long as there are people in the industry, a business must strive to offer the best customer service support and experience ever.
And I wish NakumattBounceBack all the best because Nakumatt remains my best choice of a shopping complex.
If you’re a business and looking for a detailed overhaul of your customer service centre, get in touch via email
GERTRUDE AT AKINYI AT GMAIL DOT COM