Thursday, September 29, 2011

An open letter to the Chief Executive Officer of Kenya Power

Dear Eng. Joseph Njoroge,


First of all let me commend you for the great strides you have made at Kenya Power. Despite working in an environment with high cost of supplies, rampant vandalism, legacy employees, and generally hostile consumers you have managed to accomplish a great number of things. Applying for new electricity connections especially in rural areas has never been easier or cheaper. Prepaid meters have introduced certainty in billing and protection of revenues for our national utility provider. You have also worked hard to improve the customer experience with more responsive customer care, use of information technology and a charter on response times.

Certainly if Kenya Power continues on this path you will delight your customers with a world class service that improves their lives. Naturally in rebranding a parastatal you will encounter challenges, but all challenges are solvable. I’d like to share some suggestions on how to overcome some challenges currently facing your firm so that you can achieve your goals even faster:

  • Customer Support on Telephone and Social Media

Dealing with upset or difficult customers is not easy; I can attest to this as a small business owner. However this is a most critical element to world-class service standards. Right now, getting support through your emergency number telephone number can be very frustrating experience. Yes the phone goes through, but only to a contact person who will transfer you - before fully understanding your issue - to a number that will ring for three minutes and then disconnect. Yesterday I made five consecutive calls with each ending in disconnection. Exasperated I finally pleaded with the contact person to be put on hold rather than transfer my call while she researched on my issue. The contact persons also rarely if ever give their names so when you call back you can’t be sure you’re speaking to the same person and have to repeat your issue.

Your twitter account @KenyaPower is another positive addition to your helpdesk but you need to devote more resources and personnel to make sure it is relevant and responsive. Queries I raised several times one month ago have gone unanswered to date. Your customer care department must continuously evaluate its performance and welcome feedback from its consumers to improve.

  • Handling Accounts Owned but Landlords but used by Tenants

For perfectly understandable reasons most landlords of mutli-tenant properties choose to register the Kenya Power accounts under their own names. This however creates a tricky situation for tenants who actually use the account when a problem arises. As one of your staff members succinctly put it: no contract exists between Kenya Power and the tenant. For example your staff will disconnect all the accounts of the landlord if one or more of the accounts are in arrears. This greatly inconveniences other tenants who have paid their bills. I’m sure there exist legal and regulatory arguments that might make finding a solution a challenge, but we’re counting on you to continue showing innovation even in such areas and find a solution.

  • Knowledgebase and Escalation Procedure

If all your consumers would pay bills on time, it would reduce your disconnection/reconnection overheads and at the end of the day make electricity cheaper for all of us. In addition as a shareholder and citizen I am quite motivated to ensure that no revenue of our utility company is lost. So when I report a meter that is moving even where the electricity is disconnected I would expect a swift and structured response. Instead what happened is that I got four different solutions from four different Kenya Power contact persons. It is important that your firm builds a knowledge base of common issues from which all contact persons can refer and where they are unable to, a structured way to escalate the issue. This will definitely ensure faster resolution of problems and delight the customers.

When I remember the KPLC ten years ago and compare it with the Kenya Power of today, I am pleasantly amazed at how much things have improved. I look forward to seeing even greater progress and I remain firmly in your corner cheering you on.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Screw Textbook Publishers

I feel very fortunate in the time I have spent as an entrepreneur. Not only have I gotten to meet a great number of different people: partners, suppliers, clients, proteges, employees but I've also provided products and businesses of utility AND made money. I like think of myself as an innovator as most of my ventures have been firsts: 1st person to publish the laws of Kenya online, 1st person to launch a low cost business centre, 1st person to automate the company registration person; but I do not naively believe that I was the first one to come up with these ideas. Rather I was the first one to move from conceptual stage to actual implementation. As any real entrepreneur knows, implementation is 80% of the work.

If you regularly read this blog, you'll therefore know that when I get a new business idea I usually share it freely. No need hoarding an idea, get it out to there and then make it a race to see who can make it work first. It is with this same spirit that I'd like to share an idea I had today after a twitter chat with @ndinda_, a study on iPad tablet use improving student scores, and Kenyan textbook publishers recent intention to increase prices by 50%.

Currently the cost of purchasing new textbooks for a student in primary school costs about Sh. 5,000 (12 books) per year in public schools and upto Sh. 25,000 in private schools (where the prices are included in the fees and more books are bought). In high schools the costs are roughly 25% higher.  If these prices are increased by 50% we're looking at the lowest cost per year being Sh. 7,500 for textbooks.

Now instead of this imagine a situation where each student can get a 7" android tablet at Sh. 10,000 running an e-book reader, plus plenty other learning apps. Not only will the parents spend less money on textbooks  (on a 3 year use of the tablet) but their children would score 25% higher, and be ready for digital age right from the beginning.

Bored? I'm sure you've had or heard the same idea. What makes what I'm saying any different, what is special or workable about my idea?

To get this to work you need to sort out two things:

  1. Uniformity in deployment of the hardware - you can't count on parents to buy their own tablets you need to get the school to do it for them. Start with private schools who have much greater flexibility in their approach and routinely include textbook costs in the fees. The schools will also need an incentive - simple, offer them money. Let them make a margin on the hardware (which will also allow them to justify the WiFi you'll ask them to setup).
  2. Textbooks in e-book format. Of course you can try and get the existing kenyan publishers on board with the project but I suspect that would be a long, arduous, and ultimately unsuccessful mission. There is too much money they risk losing by giving in to something they don't control - not to mention their general conservatism.  The alternative is to get individual publishers who are trying to break into the market or screw publishers all together and put up free textbooks - widely available online. I can personally attest to the fact that the depth of quality of free textbooks beats many KIE publications hands down. This might be another reason to approach private schools first who are not subject to government control. After publishers see their sales crashing through the floor, they might just wise up and join you.
Is it easy? No. Is it possible?.... that's a rhetoric question.

When SoftLaw started converting over 50,000 pages of the text of the laws of Kenya into soft copy, many people laughed at us and told us we were on a fools errand. Now we get to have the last laugh as the cost of consuming all the laws of Kenya has dropped from as high as Sh.300,000 to Sh.0.

Can the same be done on textbooks? Of course. Am I going to be in the race? Hell Yeah!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Mulika Mwizi

In one of my first classes at the University towards my law degree I encountered what must be one of the most eccentric lecturers in Kenya. Besides a deep seated hatred for apples (for the crunchy sound made when eaten) he was a multiple accident victim whose injuries had left him with a condition where he could lapse into complete catatonia. Not only did this affect his duties at the International Criminal Tribunal of Rwanda where he was a prosecutor but it could also make him re-boot halfway into his lecture. On re-boot (despite lecturing for hours already) he would begin "good morning class today we are going to look at..." In spite of this, I still found myself immensely enjoying his class and the subject he taught - criminal law. There were many reasons why I liked criminal law but perhaps the number one reason was because of some of the fantastic stories we discussed. We would study intentions and acts of murder, manslaughter, arson, cannibalism, conspiracy, buggery (don't look it up),  treason and lots more. Our class was like a modern day police procedural TV drama or detective novel.

Of course at some point, the stories would give way to studious review of the law. Fascinating among this was the very extensive definition given to the crime of stealing. To understand just how wide the definition of stealing is, take a look at it's definition in the Penal code. Here's an example:

Did you know that if Njoro gives you Sh. 100 when you're in town to take to his mama mboga in South B and while you're in the matatu since you only have money in m-pesa, you use Njoro's money to pay the fare, intending to repay it once you can withdraw from m-pesa in South B that you have stolen? 

Well it's doubtful that Njoro will prosecute you but today let me highlight some other more obvious examples of wizi that I've encountered.

1. Plagiarism by Standard Media 

Kenyan bloggers have long complained of the shameless copying and pasting by the MSM (main stream media) of their blogs and passing off the content as original. In their defence (if you can call it that) most of these "journalists" passed through a school system using the same copy n' paste approach to their studies. As a tenant in the university district I can attest to the blatant, unrepentant copy n' paste culture that is second nature among university students. Well despite blogger's occasional noise, it seems MSM have got away with it most of the time. So confident in their impunity, it seems one David Odongo decided to lift an entire article almost word for word from an international website. You can see his article here:  (might be pulled down by the time you get to read this, so I've also done a print screen you can look at here); now take a look at the original article published a year ago here. Standard Media and David Odongo, consider yourself MULIKWAD.

2. PayBill Trickery by Kenya Power

Kenyans pretty much agree that Kenya Power is the number one most despised supplier, more so because if we want to have any semblance of modern living, we almost must use them. They've been called many things, and thieves probably ranks pretty much up there. However most of these accusations are usually conjecture from their fluctuating charges or informed by the fact that fuel costs of electricity exceed actual consumption costs by almost 25%. This month however I discovered that there might actually be theft of customer's accounts going on through the Safaricom M-PESA PayBill system. The scam seems to be that payments made by PayBill to Kenya Power are not recorded on their accounting system, putting consumers at risk of being disconnected and probably lining some accountant or techie's pockets. This has personally happened to me and despite one month of trying to contact Kenya Power for resolution, nothing's changed. So to use your own call to action, Kenya Power here's me MULIKAING you.

3. Nation Ads not run by (AJA Ltd)

AJA Ltd run a website called which is supposed to allow you to pay for classified ads on the Daily Nation. When was first launched, I was one of the early adopters and wrote a glowing email to their developers (Mugambi) and almost did a whole flowery post on them in this blog. I have always admired online products that make tasks convenient so despite some early problems. It seems this was a big mistake. Last week I paid for a very date specific ad and even called AJA's office to confirm my ad would be run, which they assured me it would. I was quite upset therefore when the next day I chanced to buy the paper and found the ad had not been run. I immediately dispatched an email to them asking for a refund, figured I would do it the old-fashioned way. They ignored my email for two days and only after I called them three times the following day did they respond (3 days after the ad was to run) to tell me they would not be giving me a refund and I should choose another day. So here's how the scam goes, you pay for a classified AD and it's not run in the paper. AJA will keep quiet praying that you haven't discovered this and if by chance you do eventually discover, they will stonewall for a couple of days and eventually ask you to pick another day when they can run the ad (at this time they hope to have roped in another sucker to pay for your rescheduled ad and the cycle starts over again). Worse off if you pay for several days, as they will run it only on the first days and then just stop running it altogether. Yes, I'm probably a sucker as this has happened to me three times now but I really wanted to give these guys a chance. Sad thing is though it is such shifty companies that give the whole online business in Kenya a struggle for credibility. Since I noticed Nation promote the Classifieds website through their paper; in public opinion they also assumed liability for anything that AJA Ltd does so Nation and Aja Ltd MULIKENWI.

Well it's getting dark now and I need my light to see the way home, but do you have a story of someone you want MULIKWAD?

UPDATES: 26/9/2011

It seems everywhere I go, someone else wants to have a go at my small ka-wallet. No sooner had I finished this post than two more "suppliers" tried to illegally part me from me from my cash.

4. Nakumatt Cashiers - boblarceny

Despite the CBK undertaking a massive campaign to get shillings back into the economy, Nakumatt staff continue pilfering customers change which is in shillings. Recently I went shopping and on checking out my change was twenty-one shillings. The cashier gave me a twenty shilling coin and then promptly ignored me. Other times, I might have simply walked away, but on this day enough was enough. While other supermarkets also have change scarcity, at least they give you something of nearly equal value to the change e.g. a matchbox, or a sweet.  Nakumatt however never bother to give you change. The cashier tried to tire me by testing my patience telling me when he got a customer with change he'd give me my one shilling. Little did he know amechokoza nyuki. I made such a scene that the entire checkout staff had no choice but to look for a shilling. At some point he tried to give me a Sh.5 to get rid of me, but the thought that he had stolen that change from some other shopper would not allow me to take it. These checkout fellows probably process 20 customers on average. With 16 counters running 14 hours a day, if each customer is defrauded an average of two shillings it means Nakumatt (or its staff) is pocketing Sh. 268,800 per month. That's a helluva lot of cash so Nakumatt and your bob-snatching staff I have MULIKAD you.

5. Restaurant Staff steal from Owner, Customer and You.

Now these have to be among the worst thieves as they will steal from everyone: the owners of the restaurant, the customer buying the food, and you as a taxpayer. Next time you eat out at a restaurant, ask for an ETR receipt and make sure the ETR receipt corresponds with the meal you took, the time you took it, your table number and the waiter who served you. If you do not you are perpetrating a magnificent fraud that sees waiters in busy restaurants pocket upwards of Sh. 15,000 per day! There are three main scams  which take place. When it comes to food, the waiters use a single ETR receipt for several customers. This receipt is never given to the customer but simply brought to show the customer how much he owes. It is then taken back and re-used for a different customer. Meanwhile the waiter will only indicate one meal was sold and pocket the cash for the rest of the sales. Where bottled drinks are involved, the waiter will use a stock-inventory loophole called "shortage" which allows for discrepancies during stock taking. The other scam is where the waiters bring their own drinks to the restaurant to sell. This means that they are basically running their own business within the owners' business with zero costs. Lastly, never order a double shot of anything, unless you are actually watching it being poured. This is because two singles are invariably always more than a double, sometimes 25% more. The excess drink left over is sold to a different customer at the waiters profit. Have you ever wondered how you find some waiters can happily stick in the same establishment for years upon years? It's because they probably rake in 5 times more than you sitting in that air-conditioned office with your shiny suit. Special MULIKO to the Wine Bar staff.