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?