#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

a wheelbarrow full of ideas

I have fond memories of a time, back in the 1980s, when we children would spend weeks at my grandfather’s residence in Bulindi, Hoima doing all sorts of work – especially mowing the compound using a mechanical mower, then sweeping up the grass.
To convey the cut grass into the nearby garden for use as mulch, we used an old iron sheet that had two holes punched into it for a long wire to be inserted and used as a handle. In those days of scarcity we made do with what we had, and invention was born of necessity.
At around the same time in my life, one day in school we were taught about simple and compound machines, including the wheelbarrow. We learnt to draw the wheelbarrow and found it was made up of basically the two items in its name – a wheel and a barrow. Its function was to allow one to convey things carried in a barrow, using the convenience of a wheel.
All this came back to me last week at the end of a day spent hobby gardening in Wakiso, with a couple of chaps, one of whom had a ‘Citizen’s’ identity card (not the National ID ones) that described him as a “Peasant”.
I had insisted, as part of the gardening plan, that we divide the different agricultural plots with paths and walkways for various reasons – including enabling the workers to use wheelbarrows to do their basic duties.
They were convinced, and at the end of the day one of the items on the list of requirements was a wheelbarrow – which they assumed would go for about Ushs90,000 each in Kampala. I eventually found one at Ushs50,000 being sold online, but of course it was imported from China.Wheelbarrow Kaymu
Dissatisfied with the idea that we still don’t make wheelbarrows here, I went off to the internet as usual, and found leads on alibaba.com for wheelbarrows going for as low as US$10 a piece – but only if you place a minimum order for 200 pieces. Then I called up my preferred metal worker who offered to make one for me at Ushs180,000.
But before closing that discussion, a memory hit me from a month ago: while doing some work at home, we dug up quite a lot of soil that needed to be relocated elsewhere, but the wheelbarrow I bought years ago while doing the construction had since been stolen.
Just as I was about to approve the hiring of fifteen casual labourers to use their muscle power, one of the workers told us we could hire a wheelbarrow from Mbuya, and provided a phone number. About Ushs1,200 of my phone airtime later, they had confirmed that hiring the wheelbarrow for the day would be Ushs3,000. But we also had to use a boda boda to fetch it, at Ushs5,000 one way.
By the evening, I had spent Ushs14,200 for the use of a wheelbarrow for a day.
And now, with my situation in Wakiso, I feel we need to make more wheelbarrows in Uganda – and not the wooden ones used to carry fruit. All the construction and farming work we are doing should certainly support a local wheelbarrow industry even if we do not produce the steel for it.
In fact, while pondering the issue that weekend I spotted a dis-used satellite dish in the corner of my backyard and immediately called my preferred local metal worker with the suggestion that he buys a wheel and fabricates a local wheelbarrow for me using this dish as a barrow – I will report progress on that later. (UPDATE on October 9, 2015 – I actually did it, and the brief report is here – https://skaheru.wordpress.com/2015/10/09/following-up-the-wheelbarrow-full-of-ideas-with-real-life-implementation/)
But before that, would you believe this story from a Canadian on Facebook in 2011? After visiting Uganda and doing some voluntary work building things, he noticed work was being done too manually. So this person bought a wheelbarrow all the way from Canada, flew it to Uganda on an aeroplane, then put it in a minibus to Gulu for use on a construction project, and the people there were fascinated by the contraption. In fact, after he had assembled it, with the entire village gathered round, they were all afraid to use it “until one young man was brave enough to try it”.
To declare a young man in Gulu, the centre of war in northern Uganda for over two decades, “brave” for using a wheelbarrow, is what we call in local vernacular, “okujooga”.
I blame our being kujooga’d for so long by so many people on our stupidity in not adopting simple technology for developmental use, in spite of our education and the availability of the basics we need to fashion our own wheelbarrows and make use of them to ease work.
Wheelbarrow in Uganda

how do you like your eggs – stupid or AGOA?

ON Monday morning most of the urban elite that crowd my visual space started their week off with the usual excitability around our national politics, while griping in passing about the rise in fuel prices and the strength of the United States dollar.
I picked up my copy of The New Vision with my mind on a story that I read a couple of weeks ago about a poultry incubator in Iganga that was lying idle and unused for inane reasons presented by adults of severely diminished intellect.
I gauged their intellect from the comments reported in that story – a cutout of which I have kept with me.
One farmer, for instance, said, “There is nothing we can do apart from abandoning it for now.” because the incubator, he said, could only work if it had 500 trays of eggs but “most birds that had been kept in the 23 chicken houses for purposes of supplying the hatchery, died…”
The “multi-million shilling” incubator was donated to the farmers in Iganga three years ago and has NEVER been used.
I went to google for the real cost of an Egg Incubator and found that a

Big Incubator
A Big Incubator – downloaded from some site Google sent me to

48-Egg incubator (forget that idea of 500 trays) costs between US$40-70!

And I even remembered something about poultry and incubators from my past – we used to MAKE OUR OWN INCUBATORS! They were fitted with lightbulbs and other ordinary things that were available even back in Obote II.Small Incubator
Can we get some youths to manufacture them so we address the unemployment issue, even as we convince Iganga farmers to use the bloody things?
I think so – but first, let’s run around politicking.
But then, on the day that story ran in the news and even the day after, there was not much of a hue and cry in my circles about how ridiculous this was.
Jump to this Monday morning where, on Page Two of my newspaper, I found a small article stating that the United States President had signed the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) last week, renewing it for another ten (10) years!
The key changes to the Act are found here (http://agoa.info/images/documents/5659/agoa-extension-and-enhancement-act-of-2015-2.pdf), but the full text has not yet been released – not that any of you would read it if it were.
There is a long list of products – 6,000 in total – that countries in sub-Saharan Africa can send to the United States without quotas and tariff free under AGOA.
Uganda is one of 40 countries eligible for the AGOA benefits, and has been on the list from the start in October 2000. We even set up a factory and recruited people who actually made clothing (apparel) that made its way to the United States – and I saw some with my very own eyes in a store over there.
Today, though, as you drive past the Bugolobi factory where this project was established you will see samples of imported tiles positioned to indicate that they are being sold inside there somewhere.
Countries like Ghana get good mention as suppliers of apparel to the United States markets, while we don’t even make our yellow or blue campaign t-shirts here on the ground!
And the irony gets thicker when you consider that the United States dollar is now at its strongest worldwide, and we should therefore be doing our damnest to earn in THAT currency by exporting TO them.
But when did YOU last hear about AGOA, if you didn’t notice that little story on Page Two Monday? Have you seen any follow up story yet, or been invited by anyone hurriedly setting up a project to take advantage of the AGOA extension?
More importantly, though, egg and chicken products form part of the AGOA list, ladies and gentlemen, so…
…should we go to Iganga and retrieve that incubator so we use it to produce eggs that can be exported tariff free to the United States in exchange for that very strong dollar?
It is important that you look at this table: http://agoa.info/profiles/uganda.html

i definitely need NAADS, or operation wealth creation

I LIKE mangoes. I spend a lot of money on mangoes. A few years ago, after we had moved into our new place and were basking in the achievement, a pal called Edgar Byama dropped by one weekend and gave us a couple of fruit tree seedlings.

My joy at receiving them fuelled my planting efforts and I tended the trees carefully over the first year until I spotted a couple of mangoes popping out as fruit.

My excitement was kept in check by the anticipation of getting to slice into them when they became ripe one day, and I made daily pilgrimages to the tree to check on the literal fruits of my labour.

Until one day when even from a distance I could tell that something was not right. My chest tightened as I got to the tree and was forced to accept the empty truth.

A quick investigation resulted in a delayed but dumbfounded confession from an askari who was astonished that I could put so much energy into establishing where three or so mangoes had gone.

The wretched fellow must have been switching glances from my angry face to the house and car, and back again, thinking that the value of those mangoes surely was not commensurate to the amount of feeling my eyes bore into his. But I was unsympathetic, and explained to him that it was the principle of the thing – even though I did not mention the amount of food I happily plied him with daily.

It didn’t make sense to him and his apologies were certainly not as profuse as the mangoes had probably been juicy, but I accepted them anyway, in the belief that it would be a matter of weeks till I had replacements naturally sent my way (in the askari and the mango sense, both).

I was wrong.

It took more than another year or so – not to get the askari changed, that happened quicker; with the mangoes, eventually the flowers showed up again and I followed the life cycle of the fruit keenly until, a few weeks ago, I noticed a healthy offering developing on the same healthy tree.

My excitement levels shot up again, and I took the current askari through a quick module on ethics at work and respecting other people’s property, then watched the fruit grow. After a couple of weeks, I found myself unable to control my excitement when they reddened and increased in size.

Such was my loss of self-control that I took photographs and sent them round with pride, and purred a bit when friends sent back congratulatory comments.

The fruits of my ‘labour’

For ten minutes.

When some pals began asking for guidance so they could also procure mango seedlings in order to venture into some level of “farming” as well, I began to feel how foolish I have actually been all along.

Five mangoes? Maybe ten, these few years past? Right here a few metres from where my bed stands?

Perhaps that askari I gave a rough time had left to plant a couple of dozen mango trees of his own and was that very day filling up sacks to send to the market, while I was here proudly exhibiting my five mangoes using a smartphone whose value at purchase could have funded a small but sizeable mango farm complete with cost of land!

I realised, that day, that I need NAADS. I am ill-educated and ignorant. A fool, growing fruit as a past time instead of seriously investing in farming so that I spend less cash on the fruits themselves. NAADS, or Operation Wealth Creation, should be aimed at the likes of me, and other city dwellers wasting resources instead of investing them sensibly into long-term, value-addition-based agricultural ventures.

a round of applause for the budget.go.ug guys at the ministry of finance, Uganda!

PLEASE join me in applauding the technocrats in the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development for their performance over the last couple of months – particularly as evidenced by the website budget.go.ug.
Mind you, I am not applauding them simply because of the budget reading the other day – that is just one event in the cycle, as we have discussed before.
That website has been, and continues to be, quite useful to the people who like data and take pleasure in comparing figures and text to do things such as extrapolation, or even just to use the word in conversations such as these.
The technocrats in the ministry who we ordinary members of the general public never get to see or hear about have put together their gallant efforts not just to present the voluminous document that constituted the speeches of the President and Finance Minister on Thursday, and the budget in its entirety, but this – budget.go.ug.
This tool is highly significant in the information age we live in because it practically puts the budget in our hands in a manner we, the educated elite with internet access, can make sensible use of.
You really should go over there to get the details on your own, but consider that it provides budget information going all the way back to 2003!
Unlike many government departments that have websites and rarely use them for even the most basic of functions (provide up to date information), the people that run budget.go.ug have even been interactive and respond to queries and comments that one puts into the relevant sections of the site.
You see, the true test of a functional and useful digital site is in its integration into the other arms or sections of one’s business or operation. If you type a comment into a website comment box and get back an email that contains a phone number, and then call up that phone number with an issue that is handled and you get a call back – the system works!
On budget day itself, I found a problem accessing some data and dialled a mobile phone number that I had acquired in that process, and conducted some sensible human interaction that provided information I could work with and believe – all within a matter of minutes!
Whereas it is very easy every day to issue blank statements such as “Government people don’t work” and “Government is useless”, the facts on the ground are very, very different when one interfaces with budget.go.ug.
Those who didn’t wait for the speech read out on the day of the budget reading or the headlines the day after, and who took intellectual time off to visit this website and keep track of its updates cannot have many complaints.
The site is so detailed in presentation, for instance, that one can check to see exactly how much money was released to a parish or sub-county in one of those remote districts that “we” keep joking and complaining about.
Not only that, the dashboard on the site tells you when the money was disbursed, who is responsible for it, and whether the money has been spent or not! THAT is full transparency and accountability.
Anyone with a complaint about a borehole or health centre, for instance, can go into the tool on that page to first check exactly where the problem might be before organising a demonstration or political rally.
But besides that, if you have a comment or query to make and probably don’t know your local official, you can post the comment right there into the website and have it published right away, for the ministry people to follow up on…(I think and hope).
Plus (this list can go on and on), the website also allows you to create alerts so that when updates are made to budgetary items from previous years or the current one, you get an email into your inbox or an SMS.
And, best of all, budget.go.ug promises that, “The Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development is working to ensure those responsible for the outputs (Commissioners, Directors and Permanent Secretaries) register to receive relevant updates and respond to your feedback.”
All these people, ladies and gentlemen, are Ugandans working for the Government of Uganda, for the good of the people of Uganda! Would that they could be lined up for the next medals being distributed…