i needed a technician, but luckily i had God

THAT William Cowper hymn, “God Moves In a Mysterious Way, His wonders to perform” often plays in my mind at the end of my most random gallivanting sessions.

Saturday brought it to mind quite strangely, having left home on two precise missions that both departed from my usual schedule to the dismay of my real superiors.

Four minutes after driving out, my phone began to blink – rebooting itself every twenty seconds.

This was a problem. For both appointments I had the location was uncertain and arrangements had been made for me to confirm the final details by phone after getting to specific points in the city. So I had charged the phone to a comfortable 68% before setting off well in time for the first appointment, with a buffer for getting lost a little bit in between phonecalls.

The need to place a phonecall is for me, as you might know, a practice abhorrent and to be avoided. So I drove on with a resolute mind to make it to both appointments, phone be damned.

I bounced at the place where I thought the first one would be, and spent twenty minutes trying to make use of the twenty seconds up-time the phone permitted in between reboots.

The continuous failure made me realise I was also losing battery life very fast (39%), so I sped down to a gadget shop at the Lugogo Mall, for help.

“Hi,” I said brightly to the young lady who walked up to fill the empty space behind the counter, where the fellow that I know over there was conspicuously absent. Using that bright tone of voice is a good trick – it makes shop attendants pay better attention to you, and if they planned to be rude or sullen they sometimes change their attitude.

“I need help opening this phone to check why it keeps switching itself on and off,” I said, avoiding technical terms, since it was obvious she was non-technical – having observed her walking over from a totally unrelated counter and, as I mentioned, since I know the chaps there.

“Do you have a manual for this type of phone so I can check?” I concluded.

“You need a technician,” she replied.

I already suspected this, but had opted not to ask for a technician since it was Saturday afternoon, the shop was sparsely populated with just two other people at counters that made it clear that they were not technicians, and I really just wanted to first open the back cover to take the battery out for a little while – or to read the manual.

She reached out and took the phone out of my hand.

“Eh. Nga it’s very hot?” she said, being consistent to the trait of stating the unnecessarily obvious.

I took the phone back (32%) and asked again, “Do you sell this type of phone here so we can open a box and check the manual?”

“Ha. I don’t think…” she began, but luckily one of the fellows who should have been behind the counter returned, confirmed they didn’t have the manual, double-confirmed that the phone was hot, and even pointed out that the battery was running out pretty fast (27%).

“You need a technician,” he said.

I gave him that look and smile that conveyed deeply how disappointed I was that we had spent these precious minutes together only to arrive at a point we had more or less started at. My look most probably made it clear that if I hadn’t needed a technician I would have asked to buy a brand new mobile phone within seconds of arriving at that counter.

Contrite, he directed me to the very next shop to find ‘a technician’.

The chap was seated in the corner of a small, stuffy room. I could tell he was the one because of the ten or so people in the room, he was the only one who didn’t look frazzled, sweaty, anxious or worried.

Plus, he was the only one with a computer and twenty phones on the desk in front of him.

And, he was the only one who looked up and nodded a, “What do you want?” at me.

I couldn’t resist saying, as I held up my phone (20%): “I need a technician.”

It was an inside joke only I enjoyed, but I did not dare laugh in case I got thrown out of the shop. The second appointment was very important to me, and I did not have the phone number of the person in my head – it was on that phone (17%).

He took the phone and added it to the queue in front of him as I explained my problem quickly. Nobody complained those things of, “But we were here first!” as he flipped my phone over and over like a Ssenga inspecting a newborn child whose mother has never been fully accepted into the family.

When he spoke, he did not raise my need for a technician but pointed out that the phone was hot. I concurred, suspecting that I had about 10% battery life to go.

He then interviewed one of the other people in the room, and handed them back their phone as he made a phone call to another technician and explained my problem. They talked a bit, after which he hung up and addressed one of the other people in the room, and sent them on their way as well.

All this with the solemnity of a highly celebrated medical surgeon, or a judge of the higher courts somewhere in the mid-sixties.

Then he turned to me and gave his verdict.

“You might need to buy a new battery, since this one is heating so much. Or you need a software upgrade, but it will take some time. Maybe up to Monday. You have to leave the phone here…”

I could not.

First of all, I suspected that if I needed a software upgrade I could do one myself. Secondly, the conversation he had held with the other technician had dented my trust in him – I needed a technician who needed a technician?

No, thank you.

I maintained my bright tone of voice, took back my phone (10%) and left.

The second appointment was now a niggling problem in my mind so I tried a desperate move: as soon as the phone re-booted yet again, I re-dialled to get the number of my target, and when the network showed up I pressed the ‘Call’ button.

It went through!

In five seconds I said where I was and that my phone would cut off.

It did.

It re-booted again (7%), and I went through the same motions to say where I was, again, and that my target should find me there.

Miraculously, he confirmed having heard me and said he would be there in twenty minutes.

The phone didn’t cut off.

So I told him what I was wearing so he could recognise me (6%). He confirmed having heard that as well.

The phone didn’t cut off.

So I told him precisely where I would take a seat, on the verandah of Good African Coffee (5%). Yet again, he confirmed having heard that.

The phone didn’t cut off.

I began to suspect that we would develop trust issues if I continued talking yet I had said the phone was acting up and was bound to cut us off – so I signed off, and hung up. (5%).

But I couldn’t sit down at the coffee shop twiddling my thumbs. Strangely, I hadn’t carried a notebook and pen and didn’t have my laptop or tablet on me either.

I reserved my table and made my way to Game, hoping against hope that one of those second hand book sales was under way.

Five minutes later, William Cowper’s hymn started playing in my mind, because I fell upon this magnificent book at only Ushs4,500 yet I could easily have paid ten times that for the pleasure that it is giving me:

Glorious reading material – not to be put down!

And so I sat and consumed page after page, till my meeting happened, and went on after the meeting had ended, page after page. I was at peace, with the phone being off, until I realised that I had stopped paying attention to its screen flashing to indicate a re-boot.

The battery must have died, I thought to myself, turning a page before reaching out to check its temperature and finding it to be normal.

But in the process I touched the power button and caused the screen to light up again, which was surprising since it had been on 5% thirty minutes ago and should by rights have blacked out by now.

It hadn’t.

It was at 2%.

I hadn’t needed a technician after all. Two days down the road and I am still operating as normal – but giving the phone far less attention than this fantastic book.

“God Moves In a Mysterious Way, His wonders to perform”

#UgBlogWeek – customer service builds and defends brands more than talk and marketing

I had threatened to post something about MTN Uganda this week, then by sheer co-incidence this morning @jmakumbi tweeted about @albertmuc and @mtnug out of a totally unrelated incident to the one that stoked my ire last week.

@jmakumbi First Tweet

I am still not sure why @jmakumbi kicked this off, but the co-incidence drew my attention.

A few weeks ago I advised someone close to me to take up a specific product and service from MTN Uganda in the belief that it would be good for her business. After she had paid for the product and service, the set up process was a nightmare that made me regret having suggested it in the first place.

Within a couple of weeks after the eventual set up had been concluded, we were back at square one as the service had stopped for some reason we were not clear about.

By the time I sent @mtnug the tweet last night notifying them that they had presented me the opportunity to meet my daily #UgBlogWeek quota, I was smarting from a story that involved an MTN Uganda technician shouting down the phone at their (my) customer in full hearing of his supervisors…

See, as @jmakumbi suggested, people like @albertmuc will do anything to defend their brand – which is not just talking the talk, by my experience with him, yet their brand suffers greatly from characters such as that rude, inefficient technician and many other ‘Customer Service’ characters.

@skaheru First Tweet on @albertmuc

So in spite of the torrid experience my friend (and myself by extension because I had made the recommendation) had had with some of those staff of @mtnug these last couple of weeks, we appreciate the existence of people like @albertmuc and @stkirenga (who are consistently useful and helpful) and three other technicians and supervisors that we have interacted with during this period.

The issue with most companies – whether small companies like my own or the massive ones like MTN Uganda or every MTN operating company – is that they don’t have enough employees who care enough about the brand to defend and build it by focussing on pleasing the Customer.

The first technician who visited my friend’s office to do the set up was quite impatient and tut-tutting at the inconvenience he was undergoing by having to come out to do this installation. The lucky (because I was not physically present to witness his attitude and set him straight for life ever after) fellow even had the audacity to run a loud phone call with a friend about the inconvenience and bother he was suffering, sitting in that office to do the set up.

And he left without finishing it.

Another technician took money to fix the problem (presumably, we later worked out, by loading a data bundle) without explaining how he was going to do the fix – like those medical professionals who pull your trousers down and slam a needle into your bum without a word of courtesy.

Only one of the ten or so people we spoke to on the phone during the period told us their name – the rest simply did not, which was frustrating because we kept getting asked by subsequent callers who had NOT given us their own names, “What was the name of (the person who had called earlier)?”

At one point the comedy even appeared scripted, and my friend glanced up into corners to check whether there was a candid camera hidden there.

These days, this rarely happens with providers like @nwscug (National Water & Sewerage Corporation), who not only respond immediately to queries once they are raised, but actively work at resolving them – and in the process demonstrate quite vividly that they are doing so.

I suspect that the reason is because @nwscug has taken on more of the @albertmuc and @stkirenga types than @mtnug has, so it has more opportunities to present its brand positively than @mtnug does.

In the past I believed that numbers were a major factor – since @mtnug deals with millions of subscribers and @nwscug deals with (hundreds of thousands?) but over time I have had the opportunity to observe the quality of their handling and consider it differently.

Of the two providers, one would expect the Water guy to be a little more complacent than the Phone guy because there is basically one water service provider and if he isn’t meeting your needs as a customer you are screwed, whereas there are so many phone service providers that when your phone is down for a day you simply go out and buy another (as some provider close to me is going to realise shortly).

Surprisingly, we see the reverse at play and now hope that one day the opportunity will arise for the teams at NWSC to take over the MTN Customer Service department, just so we test the DNA of both organisations.

The most serious lesson to pick up, though, is that if you’re a business owner then place A LOT of focus on the people that deal directly with your customers and clients because THAT’S where the bottom line is.

Not on the marketing and public relations that so much effort goes into – because I don’t care how many concerts you sponsor, billboards you erect and colourful flyers get strewn across my path; the experiences I suffer (or enjoy) make a much stronger mark on me.

So in those very important jobs – Customer Service – hire people who are genuinely passionate about solving problems, serving people, representing and building a brand, adding value by their own presence, and protecting the business.

@jmakumbi's Last Tweet On @albertmuc