Saturday, 26 December 2015

Executive banking or not!

A while ago I  went to pay my tuition fees for my professional course which I study at the Uganda Management Institute, I had a choice between making payment using a Centenary or Stanbic bank branch but opted for the latter. I wanted to do my payment quickly and efficiently in the least time possible and so I opted to use the new executive branch of the Stanbic bank at Acacia Mall.

However my intention to get in and out of the executive branch in 10 minutes tops did not pan out as I quickly realised that this branch only had 3 employees, 1 at customer care desk, the other dispensing money and the last one in the back office. So even though I got into the bank at 11: 55am I ended up leaving at 12:42pm for a very simple transaction that usually takes me a maximum of 15 minutes at a regular non executive  branch.

That aside what I found extremely interesting is how accommodative Ugandans are as can be seen during this conversation between 2 customers as they waited in queue. I entered the bank and filled out my bank slip and asked the customer care attendant where I should go and she directed me to a queue with only 2 gentleman waiting. I was relieved I would only need to wait for a short time before I got served but little did I know that would not be the case.

40 – 50 year Male Customer:  ‘How long do we have to wait to be attended to?’ he asked after sitting for about 30 minutes in the same position in the queue.

30 – 35 year Male Customer: ‘Hhhmm,’ he said rather silently while coughing to disguise his chuckle.

A couple of customers entered the bank over a 15 minute period  which brought the number in the queue to 12 myself inclusive, when a lady with a newborn in a stroller walked in and spoke to the customer care agent. Sadly she was also informed she would have to join the same queue, with no complaint she joined us and stood at the back. After about 10 minutes a senior gentleman who was in front of her stood up to let her take his seat as the conversation continued.

40 – 50 year Male Customer: So we are still here after 30 minutes of the guards and customer care criss-crossing the lobby passing us each time. What is the fuss if it does not amount to service?’

As the last word escaped his lips he was finally summoned by the security guard to go to the counter to get served, but as he picked up his newspaper and steadied himself to rise up, the bullion van arrived and 2 more security guards burst through the door making a beeline for the same counter. So the gentleman was sent back to his seat and by this time he was furious.

40 – 50 year Male Customer: ‘So now at the worst time possible, they decide to offload money from the bullion van. Who schedules such operations at a high customer traffic time of noon on a Saturday? ’

30 – 35 year Male Customer: ‘hihihi sure,’ is all he said with a smile on his face as he moved back to his original seat to let the gentleman take his previous one.

Now I am not an expert to know how long these funds transfers should take but it took nearly half an hour while we sat there and the waiting area queue snaked all the way to the door since there were no vacant ‘executive’ seats at this time.

40 – 50 year Male Customer: ‘So are we supposed to spend our whole day doing our banking? This is unbelievable and we need to report this. You know as Ugandans we never complain, we grumble as we suffer but we never officially complain.’

As he said this he moved to a counter next to the entrance and he picked up customer feedback forms which he distributed to 9 of us sitting right behind him.

30 – 35 year Male Customer: ‘Yes thank you,’ he said as he received his feedback form but to my surprised after reading through the specifics, none of the individuals who received them filled them out. Now that is what nudged me to take the time to fill it out.

40 – 50 year Male Customer: ‘See we wait in line for an unacceptable amount of time but no one fills out the feedback card to complain when they receive poor service. All we do is go and complain in the bar, what will that help you as if the bar man is the branch manager. ’

30 – 35 year Male Customer: ‘sure, sure.’

40 – 50 year Male Customer: ‘I know it is not in our culture to complain but time has changed and if I am paying for executive banking service I expect to get it after all my time is very valuable to me.’

30 – 35 year Male Customer: ‘Yes indeed.’

Now this last fellow baffled me because he kept agreeing with the older gentleman but never ever filled out the feedback form.  I eventually got called to the counter and was swiftly attended to but by this time I was too tired to pay attention to details, so much that I walked out from the booth only to realise that I was supposed to receive change from my transaction. I walked back to the counter and returned my receipt to the Stanbic teller who had just served me and she apologised and after going over the transaction she gave me my change.

I was happy I had received it but this made me wonder, is this a common occurrence for this executive branch of the Stanbic branch? I am usually the customer who will wait patiently without jumping queue even when there is no order with no complaint, however with the way this branch was running I could help but finish filling out my form and submitted it to the suggestion box. I intentionally filled in my phone number which was listed as optional and expected to receive feedback from this executive branch of the Stanbic bank.

3 months later I am still waiting for a follow up call or something but I left wondering, executive banking - who is fooling who.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Black Friday madness hits Uganda

Never have I seen such a well-oiled machine as did this 27th November 2015 as I worked with my colleagues to make sure this event was a success. What was supposed to be a one day event was extended to the full weekend so that we could give Ugandans the best experience we possible.
Now you must be wondering where I am going with this, but I always bring you the lighter side to all the interactions I have with individuals because the world is serious enough we need something to smile about from time to time.

Now originally I was supposed to go out and do street sales to get people hyped about the 1 day event and possibly get some sales but by 10:30am the plan had changed. The customer support and buying ops team was swamped with orders before we had even eaten our morning breakfast and so they needed assistance. I doubled as customer support briefly and at some point this was where I was party to the humour that Ugandans are very well known for.

Encounter 1
Customer: ‘Hello, are you there.’

Customer Support: ‘Good morning, you are speaking to Joyce from Jumia Uganda. How may I assist you?’

Customer: ‘Ehh, so you are real’

Customer Support: ‘Yes, you are speaking to customer support.’

Customer: ‘So what is this Black Friday?’

Customer Support: ‘Black Friday is the last Friday of the month of November where companies hold the biggest sales promotions.’

Customer: ‘Ehh, so why is it black.’

Customer Support: ‘It is black because it means the company will be making sales and moving from the red to black and also providing you with the biggest discounts possible.’
Customer: ‘But why is it Black.’

Customer Support: ‘Black is a good thing in terms of finance madam.’

Customer: Okay.’

Customer Support: ‘So would you like to place an order for anything that we have on discount?’

Customer: ‘No I was wondering whether you are for real and why it was called Black.’

Customer Support: ‘Okay. Thank you for calling customer support, have a nice day.

Encounter 2
Buying Ops Manager: ‘Joyce call the next vendor and get them to release items on the order list.

Me: ‘Good morning Madam, I calling you from Jumia Uganda.’

Vendor: ‘Jumia… anha.’ She said after brief hesitant as though to remind herself of what that was.

Me: ‘I would like to inform you that you have orders, can you check your system?’

Vendor: ‘Yes I saw the order.’

Me: ‘Yes madam, but I would like to inform you that you have 3 and not 1 order. So should we send the rider to pick them up for delivery to the customer?’

Vendor: ‘Let me check and I call you back.’

Me: ‘Okay. Thank you.’

Call back to same vendor – 2 hours later
Me: ‘Hello madam, I am calling back from Jumia Uganda.’

Vendor: ‘Yes, oh sorry I forgot. But I saw them.’

Me: ‘Ok, so should I send a rider to pick up the orders from you.’

Vendor: ‘No I just left the shop, it will be Monday.’

Me: ‘Monday is rather late, can I send him first thing tomorrow morning.’

Vendor: ‘Tomorrow morning! But I was not planning on working tomorrow morning. You do not work over the weekend do you?’

Me: ‘Ordinarily, we do not however your vendor manager must have informed you of the Black Friday promotion this weekend. We will be working all through to Monday.

Vendor: ‘Eh I remember the black thing. It was this weekend… I totally forgot.’

Me: ‘Okay so should I send the rider tomorrow at 9am.’

Vendor: ‘Okay send him very early because I will open for him and give him the orders and then close.’

Me: ‘What about the orders that follow over this weekend?’

Vendor: ‘Eh, also you I need to go somewhere.’

Me: ‘Yes, but I need to schedule pickup and delivery to the customers who ordered your items.’

Vendor: ‘Ok let us do Monday then.’

Me: ‘Alright, thank you.’

So cutting the long story short, we called the owner of the shop and they got her sorted out in terms of what should be a priority, therefore she was ready for the pick up the following morning. 

However, all that crossed my mind was the fact that this is a young industry and many vendors can make money however there is need to be agile and respond quickly to the market needs. 


Now we all know that Ugandans march to the beat of their own drum but I was hopeful every time I picked up the phone to call a vendor and right away they asked me when we were picking up the orders for the customers.

Today’s marketplaces are changing and it is up to us to keep up with the disruptions that technology brings, but for those of us who love the possibilities it brings this is a new beginning. Ugandans fall in line and where you do not understand ask away just like this customer did. After all what did Black Friday mean to you?








Saturday, 31 October 2015

Where did all the gentlemen go?


Late one Sunday evening as I stood by the roadside at the entrance of Uganda Management Institute (UMI), all I could think about was what a slice of cake and a cup of African tea spiced with a movie at home would be like. A few minutes before while I was walking to the stage at the entrance from class to catch a taxi home, I received a phone call that a friend would be going my way so they could drop me closer to home.

Fast forward to me getting into my friends car 20 minutes late where I pondered ‘Where did all the gentlemen go?’ Now you must be wondering what transpired or went terribly wrong in that 20 minutes window believe me I will explain but allow me to start from the beginning so that you can fully understand what I mean.

20 minutes earlier
I exited the main gate of UMI and quietly waited for my ride home I did not expect much drama as I hummed away at a tune only for a young man - late to early 30’s invading my personal space. Now at the UMI gate it is usual for strangers to wait together for taxis and often engage in healthy debates about general topics and current affairs. Being hospitable Ugandans, this is always after asking what professional course you are currently studying as we keep each other company for what can be sometimes a pretty long wait.

As many of them boarded taxis heading towards home, not once did I notice this gentleman or so I thought he was at the time, until everyone else had left.   I use ‘so I thought’ because of the conversation that transpired between us.

Male UMI Student: ‘Eh, but this woman. I get here late and she tells me to go right into a paper.

Me: ‘…….,’ I did not respond.

Male UMI Student: ‘She could not even forgive me knowing that I have not attended class in about 4 weeks and therefore I did not know we had a test.’

I smiled when I heard this and thought to myself "typical Ugandan," how is this the tutor’s fault that you did not come to class for a month.

Male UMI Student: ‘And on top of that she insists on taking our papers and marking them before we left the room, she claims she does not have space at her home to keep our papers. Can you imagine that?’

I had been silent all this while until this point where I could not help myself, I needed to respond.

Me: ‘Well you cannot blame her for not being efficient, how old is she? Is she pretty mature?’

Male UMI Student: ‘No, actually she is mid-30. Anyway that is finished so where are you heading?’ he said as he intentionally brandished his freshly marked test script that bore a 16/20 for my benefit I presume.

Me: ‘HOME!’ 

Male UMI Student: ‘Where is that?’

I turned and faced him and looked him squarely in the eyes with no grin on my face and responded in a firm tone, ‘HOME.’

Male UMI Student: ‘Is that Mukono, Ntinda, Luzira…?’

When he realised that I did not intend to respond to the question he moved on to a different line of conversation.

Male UMI Student: ‘Anyway so what are you doing at UMI?’

Me: ‘Doing...?’ I asked.

Male UMI Student: ‘Yes, what course are you studying?

Me: ‘CIM – Marketing.’ 

Male UMI Student: ‘Oh okay, I have never seen you around, which block do you use for study?’

Me: I smiled and responded ‘one of those blocks within UMI.’

Male UMI Student: ‘Well my name is Julius, what's yours. I have no need to continue talking to you as a stranger.’

Now, this fellow had broken my number 1 cardinal rule of this taxi stop - don’t ask for names. 

Me: ‘I am a stranger, all the same my name does not matter I will not be here in 5 minutes.’

Male UMI Student: ‘Please what's your name, I can't leave here without knowing your name after looking into those eyes.’

My back was facing him but when I heard this I spun around to respond, ‘I beg your pardon?’

Male UMI Student: ‘I can get lost in your eyes and those lips…there is a lot I could do with them.’

Now at this point I asked myself, a full grown man meets a stranger and because I am courteous and polite as most Ugandans are, you decide to take liberties and …. ‘’Be silly’’ for lack of better word at this time.

Me: ‘Eyes, lips are you serious?’

Male UMI Student: ‘I cannot leave here without knowing your name,’ he said as he began to move closer to me.

It was at this point that my friend arrived and the car came to a halt a few yards in front of me, you all know what I did – right. I darted straight for the car door at such a speed that I almost head butted my friend Zinedine Zidane style as she sat in the driver’s seat and I firmly shut the door behind me.

Mothers out there please raise your sons to be polite, raise them to know what appropriate conversation for public places is. This is  so that ladies like me will not wonder where they grew up or as the commonly used Ugandan phrase comes to mind, not to make us wonder ‘’who grew them.’’ (Direct translation from local dialect)

Fathers, please teach your daughters the basics of self-defence or in my case how to head butt wanton fellows such as the one in this post. With this fellow’s escalation, I would have needed these skills in a few minutes scratch that seconds.


Sunday, 27 September 2015

UMEME and Network conspire against me.

I have endured 3 days of stopping by 2 supermarkets with Payway machines and 2 petrol stations with hand held devices, all in a bid to purchase units for my YAKA power meter. 

Can you imagine the inconvenience that comes with having limited time outside your work and school schedule to do the necessary everyday errands of life only for NETWORK to be your foe and stumbling block.
I have a regular routine of paying for my YAKA at a certain point in the month like clockwork and I usually do not have an issue. However this month was quite the exception and it was an extremely frustrating process. After failing to pay for YAKA for 3 days, on the Iddi public holiday when I had ample time I decided to do Payway machine hopping to a point of nearly stalking the store owners. All this was in a bid to make sure my power does not run out.

I know a few of you are wondering why I did not attempt to use mobile money to effect payment for my power but MR. NETWORK had been doing his thing during the same period of time. So when I found a Payway machine that did not give me the usual NO NETWORK display on the screen I was thrilled. Yes thrilled but also cautious, so I decided to only purchase YAKA worth 20,000 which is not my usual monthly allocation. I smiled at the machine as I pulled out my receipt only to see these words in fine print,

Unable to retrieve TOKEN Number. The Token will be sent to you via SMS. If you do not receive it within 2 hours please call our support centre on 0800 20 30 20.’

So much as I was sad, I decided to have some faith and give the service providers a chance and after 2 and a half hours, I made a follow up call. The conversation with the lady from customer support went something like this,

Customer Support Lady: ‘Good afternoon, this is Jane how may I help you?’ (I am using Jane to save the poor lady from being warned or fired.)

Me: ‘Hello, I am calling about my YAKA – UMEME payment issue.’

Customer Support Lady: ‘Yes, what is the problem?’

Me: ‘I have been trying to pay for YAKA for about 3 days and was only able to today using a Payway device at Acacia Mall. However, when I received my receipt it did not have a TOKEN number.’

Customer Support Lady: ‘Okay, where did you pay from?’

Me: ‘Acacia Mall’

Customer Support Lady: ‘What time?’

Me: ‘2 and a half hours ago.’

Customer Support Lady: ‘What number did you enter as customer number and what is your transaction number?’

I quickly passed on this information hoping that this would aid her in assisting me to sort out this mix up.

Customer Support Lady: ‘Okay allow me to call you back.’
Me: ‘I beg your pardon?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘But have you tried to use mobile money to pay.’

I was rather shocked as this was this lady was from the Payway customer support department so I was wondering why she would openly recommend a competitor instead of sorting out a customer's’ issue to ensure I remain a valued customer. All that aside, this was my response.

Me: ‘Yes i have and the system was down as well and I do not want to risk using it now and losing money without getting any service as was the case with your device today. Besides are you sure that the system is working properly?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘Sometimes it is working sometimes it is not because I am also getting calls from people who used mobile money and have not been successful.’

Me: ‘Okay so what next.’

Customer Support Lady:  ‘Allow me to call you back.’

Now dear readers that was the last time I heard from her and every time I called her back her line was busy or she made it busy and that went on for hours. So I eventually got the hint and alternated between calling her and UMEME customer care line and the latter call eventually went through.

Customer Support Lady: ‘Hello, this is UMEME customer care how may I help you?’
I repeated the entire account I had given the lady from Payway customer support until we got to this point.

Customer Support Lady: ‘Okay so what is your account number?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘So this is your reference number.’

Me: ‘Uhhm, excuse me why am I getting a reference number?

Customer Support Lady: ‘So that you can follow up on your complaint lodged if you still do not have your TOKEN number within 2 hours.’

Me: ‘Well it is now a total of 5 hours since I effected payment and since I have been trying to pay for the last 3 days that means my power will probably go off tonight.’

Customer Support Lady: ‘Sorry to hear that but our IT team is working tirelessly to rectify the issue.’

Me: ‘So in other words, I should go home and wait in the dark until your IT team sorts out the issue. When will that be?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘I don’t know.’

Me: ‘From past experience, can you say that it will be back today or tomorrow? When will I have power again that is the real question?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘I cannot say it will be tonight or tomorrow. Maybe it will be back later on but I am not sure’

Me: ‘So as you are not sure I wait without power.’

Customer Support Lady: ‘You can pay with mobile money.’

Me: ‘I already tried mobile money, the system is also down and what about the payment I just issued. What about that?’

Customer Support Lady: ‘I am sorry but our IT team is doing everything to sort out this issue. Kindly use the reference number when you call back next time.’

Me: ‘So I will remain in the dark with your reference number. Thank you very much,’ I said as i politely hung up.

I then took to Twitter and within 30 minutes I had a response from the UMEME team online. This is the trail of feedback I received from them from that night until I finally received my TOKEN.
The moral of the story is, we have 2 systems for payment and if they are down dear customer sort yourself out by pulling out your candle stand or TADOBA (hurricane lamp which is fuelled with Kerosene). 

1 DAY LATER 

Oh and by the way for those of you wondering, the customer support lady from Payway (0800 20 30 20) never ever called me back.

For God and my country.

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Uganda’s Online retail industry.

Uganda is home to a growing sector of online entrepreneurs such as web developers, e-commerce sites for online retail services such as Jumia and Kaymu. 

Hellofood for online food orders and delivery, Lamudi for real estate, Jovago for hotel booking and travel. There is also a crop of job portals such as Everjobs, Brighter Monday and Uganda jobline and many more that cut across the East African region that every job seeker is now familiar with names.
Today however I choose to focus on the online retail sector in Uganda, where store owners have adopted the use of websites and social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp to promote and drive sales of their available stock.

Online retail is a young industry and with the Ugandan market that is driven by the physical, there is a great deal of scepticism on whether the industry will develop enough to be profitable for industry entrepreneurs. Ugandans are online previewers and often complete their purchase at the store after confirmation of specifics that they require from the given item to be purchased.  

This is usually because the store owners conveniently leave out sizes and prices when they advertise their items online mainly because they do not want the competition to know to know how much they items cost. However this can be a problem for them when a real customer who does not have time to inbox or call them but wants to make up their mind and effect payment by either mobile money or sending someone to the shop for a quick up of their purchased item.

The phrase, ‘Amaso gali munaglo,’ directly translated to mean ‘the eyes are in the hands,’ best describes the nature of Ugandan shoppers. However, there is hope on the horizon with a new online retailer showing Ugandans willing to experiment with trials, that this is a business model that can actually work after immense investment in awareness. Yes, awareness and I do not mean just the customers but also the vendors that are sourced locally because if the conversation that I overheard recently is anything to go by; we have still got a long way to go.
Vendor: ‘So you called me about some of my things the other day.’

Vendor Manager: ‘Yes!’ she responded as she wondered where this conversation was heading.

Vendor: ‘So since they were delivered to the customer yesterday I want my money now.’

Vendor Manager: ‘Now…, what do you mean?’

Vendor: ‘Shoes was delivered this week so i want my money, ’he said as only a Kikubo retailer 
would.

Vendor Manager: ‘Sebo, that is not how this works. If you remember at the beginning I told you that you will receive payment at the end of the month. I explained all this before you signed the contract.’

Vendor: ‘But I want my money now.

Vendor Manager: ‘Sebo, it is not about what you want now, it is …’ she said before she was cut off by the vendor.

Vendor: ‘Shoes was bought, not so, I want my money.’

Vendor Manager: ‘No we have policies and processes sir. Processes that I need to follow.’

Vendor: ‘Tongamba ku processes, is this your father’s company?’ (Don’t tell me about processes, is this your father’s company?)

Vendor Manager: ‘Sebo, let’s not start talking like this I clearly explained this to you before you agreed to become a vendor.’

Vendor: ‘Naye, you know me also you make an exceptions for me.’

Vendor Manager: ‘Sebo, there are no exceptions. Besides it is midway the month, I will be calling you in 2 weeks to pick your payment. Just be patient.’

Vendor: ‘Eh nyabo, 2 weeks naye njagala sente zokulya kati.’ (But Madam, 2 weeks – but I want to eat my money right now.)

The vendor did not leave with his payment that day but he was smiling all the way out 2 weeks later with a month’s pay in cash. Therein lies the dilemma –the smaller retailers are willing to risk and sign up to utilise the online retail service and yet the more structured establishments with financial muscle that would greatly benefit from the platform as a means of reduction in advertising spend - are still sceptical. It seems to me that the vendor has indeed gained the upper hand from this arrangement or has he?


Sunday, 30 August 2015

Barber shop conversations.

By now, regular readers of my blog know that I wear my hair short and have been mistaken for an S.6 vacationist or campuser (University going student) by general folk and taxi touts alike. This new found status has led me to enjoy the privilege of listening to very engaging conversations and todays’ is no exception.

A father walked in for a haircut with 2 of his sons who were approximately 5 and 3 years old. As the 5 year old waited his turn he was such a ball of energy running around the shop and asking the oddest questions. Below is a snippet I will share with you to remind you all of the time when we were this age and when we asked the silliest of questions.

It makes me appreciate the responsibility that parents have in raising their children and in particular my mother who must have put up with as many questions as these. I know this because as long as I can remember I was asking her this or that and guests constantly told her I should take on journalism as my vocation when I grew up. So in today’s blog I genuinely identify with Josiah this inquisitive and charming young man who clearly knocked our socks off with his unexpected questions and comments.

The television was playing in the background and Josiah’s attention was caught by the voice of the announcer who used a word he was clearly not familiar with and so he asked...

Josiah: ‘What is okwewunya?

Father: ‘It is to wonder.’

Josiah: ‘What is to wonder?

Father: ‘You know to wonder, like to sit there and wonder what to do or what you want to say.’

This attempted explanation by his father alone made me giggle and appreciate the difference between women and men because had Josiah asked his mother, she would have been more descriptive and used it in a real life scenario that the 5year old could relate to.
Luckily for Josiah’s father, he has a low attention span so he quickly wandered off onto something else for a while until we heard the barber say.

Barber: ‘So what is your name?’
Josiah: ‘Josiah.’

Barber: ‘And your brother’s name?’

Josiah: ‘Jonathan.’

Barber: ‘But I remember you being called Alex.’
Josiah: ‘No I am Josiah.’

Now we all moved onto something else only to hear Josiah say,

Josiah: ‘and you, what is your name?’

Barber: ‘Ssalongo John,’ he responded as he smiled.

Josiah: ‘Ssalongo, what is that?’ he said as he looked pensively.

Barber: ‘Ssalongo means father of twins.’

Josiah: ‘And what is that?

Barber: ‘What is what?

Josiah: ‘What is twins?’

Barber: ‘Twins are 2 children that means I got 2 children at the same time.’

Josiah: ‘Eh how, so you had 2 children in your stomach?’

When he asked this I could not contain it anymore and burst into laughing and Josiah looked genuinely confused and wondered why the entire shop was laughing now.

Father: ‘No it is Ssalongo’s wife – the mummy who had the 2 children in her stomach.’

Josiah: ‘no that is not right, why were they 2? How come I was alone and Jonathan was alone?’

By this point all the barbers were hysterical with laughter and tearing up but Josiah was not going to let it go so his father came to the rescue and said those words that all fathers use when they feel challenged.

Father: ‘Josiah, you will ask mummy to explain when we get home.’