Monday, 27 August 2012

Hello Mobile Networks. You Suck, Suck and Suck!

For a longtime now I have learnt to be patient with our mobile network companies in Zambia. I have to breathe in, breathe out just to control my temper. Somehow, they brilliantly know exactly how to tick my buttons and last week they pushed me to the edge. If there was a scale of incompetence and pathetic customer service in this country, our mobile networks would win the gold medal. The customer service of the networks that I have experienced particularly Airtel and MTN are absolutely a nightmare.
I have no idea what is happening in this country; it appears that the consumer’s voice does not matter. In fact, it is like we do not exist at all. Last week, was one of the worst customer services I have experienced since I started using Airtel. For reasons known only to them, I could not call or text despite having airtime. I could not call customer care service because I could not go through in the first place. What is the point of customer care if you cannot get through? I had to bombard the Airtel Zambia Facebook page over and over just to get a response. They kept telling me that they valued me as a customer and would solve my problem; it took them five days before I could finally make a call. However, at the point of writing this, I still cannot text using my Airtel line, and I have just given up all together. I believe it is not worth my energy anymore.
If I could make a calculated guess that they are having a problem with their network. However, what is so annoying is that despite constantly irritating us with promotional messages they do not have the decency to apologise to customers that they are experiencing some challenges. Mine is by no means an isolated case, all you have to do is look at their Facebook page, and you will see the number of similar complaints. This interruption in their network is no trivial matter as lack of communication is costing business people money, vital information cannot be passed on time or who needs the added stress of an incompetent customer service.
For the amount of marketing that mobile networks undertake, you would think the same effort is being put in their customer service. It takes approximately 30-45 minutes just to get through. By the time the person on the other side answers you would have cooked, watched Isidingo and taken a nap before the customer service operator picks up. When I complained about the time that it takes to get through, one MTN customer service personnel answered,
“Understandably with all the calls we are receiving.” I think she even rolled her eyes as she said this. Such an appalling response infuriated me and I gave her a good lecture. I am not one to use French words.
If mobile networks are failing to run their customer service departments then they are better off outsourcing them to other companies that can run it for them properly. They are even better saying that they have got no customer service department because it is clearly not serving its function. You actually have to pray that you never have to call customer service. The people we have substituted customer service with are our friends, hoping that maybe they have the solutions to our questions. It is only in the event that they too are clueless do I ever think of the tortuous task of calling customer service. The regulatory body, Zambia Information and Communication Technology Authority (ZICTA) need to show their teeth more often. After all it is not as if they are unaware of these problems, they use the very same networks. They need to take a stronger stance against mobile network providers who are making poor customer service a habit.
Through my experience this past week, I have learnt to stop living in denial. I admit that Airtel sucks. Mobile networks need to understand that they are in business because of the customers they have. They should never take them for granted and think that they can continue providing mediocre service and expect the customers to remain loyal. Small things such as quality customer service make a huge difference in a customer’s experience. They should not for one second be deceived by the millions of subscribers they have, patience is not a virtue all have. Until our mobile network providers learn this, they might as well call their customer care service, Customer Careless Service.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Throw a Stone and Be Heard: The UNZA Dilemma

The University of Zambia has become synonymous with stone throwing and breaking people’s cars. This is what the highest learning institution in the country has been reduced to. A single year does not pass by without an incident occurring. It is always very easy to label the students as hooligans who are not worthy to be called intellectuals. However, the question that we should be asking is why do the students resort to riotous behaviour whenever they are aggrieved?
The university is supposed to be filled with the brains of the nation. These are individuals who are supposed to be the future scientists, engineers, policy makers and educators. The nation should be looking at them as a voice of reason. Therefore, when they have something bothering them why don’t they dialogue and sort out their problems? It is definitely not difficult to table and air their views and have them sorted out instead of breaking innocent people’s vehicles. Indeed this should be the logical and best solution to the numerous problems that UNZA faces. The only trouble is that dialogue has not always been the best solution.
It is only people who have been to the University of Zambia who truly understand the situation and can probably empathise with the students when they go to the Great East Road in protest. Students do not just wake up one morning and decide that today we are going to block the road until our grievances are heard. It is always the last resort. Before that is even decided dialogue is opened, however, for some reason this dialogue is either lost in the corridors and it never gets to the right people who make decisions. A very simple problem somehow develops into a complex matter which later opens up a Pandora’s Box. The sad part about it is that these are situations that can easily be resolved but someone somewhere decides to take their time in addressing them.
When the students decide to discuss their problems no one seems interested in hearing them. When they throw a stone all of a sudden they have everyone’s ears. When the students complain about water problems they are lucky if they get an article in the paper but when they throw stones they make the front page headline. When students complained about closing early to make way for the zone 6 SADC games all ears were deaf, when they took to the road finally they were told they would not close. While I was at the University of Zambia two lives were lost while crossing the Great East Road. The students had been lobbying for a bridge to be constructed for so long but no one paid attention. It had to take two lives lost, a burnt bus, blocked Great East Road, tear gas and running battles with police. Lo and behold, that is the only time the bridge we see today was built.
Now this does not need any research or psychologists to interpret that if you talk no one hears but if you throw a stone then you will be heard. This is the deduction that the students are left with. The only way they will get their voices out there is to be aggressive. Why on earth should they stop what has been a winning formula for decades?
In my opinion as long as students are continued to be taken for granted and their views ignored, we can brace ourselves for more stone throwing. The stakeholders need to be open to dialogue and act promptly upon whatever resolutions are reached. We also need to address issues before they have escalated to alarming levels. It is time that government, the university administration and the students decided whether the ladders of bureaucracy are worth it. Perhaps each institution should have a committee of mediators who will be a bridge between the students and related stakeholders. Some of the problems that occur at UNZA are long outstanding, lecturers striking, water problems, poor accommodation, delayed meal allowance, hiking of tuition fees and poor security. Surely we do not need an Einstein to solve these problems. Allow me to borrow my friend Alinani Mugala’s words, “I look forward to day when UNZA will make news because students have made an invention, lobbied for a good piece of legislation, cabinet models UNZASU leadership, management makes its own money, etc. it can be done. Enough of the deterioration of what’s supposed to be the pride of the nation.” Until then kindly insure your cars and may we pray that UNZA students remain happy.

Is rioting a justification to getting the publics attention?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Someone Stole Our Medals!

                 So it is my first-year anniversary as a blogger, I was hoping that I would not need to rant but some geniuses decided to interrupt my celebration. The whole world has been glued for the past two weeks basking in the glory of the athletes, they sent to represent them at the London Olympics. And what were we doing instead of supporting our own we were busy adopting other countries to support.
                We had to watch in awe as the likes of Usain Bolt (we really don’t care about the othersprinters), Mo Farah, David Rudisha, Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas and others scaled the summit of their sport, taking home gold medals. In case you haven’t already noticed none of the previous names are Zambian. Because like always our athletes just went there to be tourists and get autographs. The boxer, Gilbert Choombe had stage fright while the judoka, Boas Munyonga somehow decided to forget the rules. Seriously, I am sure they could have come up with better excuses than that. Stage fright of all things, what did he expect to be boxing in front of the judges with no spectators and no lights? What about the judoka, how on earth does he forget the rules? It is like Emmanuel Mayuka forgetting that he is a striker and handles the ball in the 18 area and says that he thought he was the goalkeeper. The swimmers did not fare any better either. Their qualification times were not good enough and they too were dismissed in the first rounds.
                The only one who was our saving grace and gave us a whisker of hope was Gerald Phiri when he reached the 100m semi-final. When that flame was blown out with it went our medal dreams at the London 2012 Olympics. Why Gerald Phiri chooses to run the 100m is beyond my scope of thinking. Frankly, unless Usain Bolt breaks a leg, Yohan Blake catches flu, Tyson Gay retires and Asafa Powell decides to take a vacation, Gerald Phiri can forget about winning a 100m race. My bet would have been to opt for the 800m or 1500m where his fellow Africans have dominated with the likes of Rudisha breaking the world record at these Olympics.
                Anyway what would we expect from athletes when our very own delegates said that they did not expect the athletes to reap any medals but they were going there to gain exposure. Oh wow! They were just short of saying that we are going on vacation on taxpayers' money. After such announcements, we do not honestly expect our Olympians to come up with gold medal winning performances. Sometimes I feel sorry for them. After the Chipolopolo won the Africa Cup, we expect nothing but the absolute best from our sports men and women. However, maybe we are unfair to expect so much when they are not adequately supported.
                The fact in Zambia is that if you do not play men’s football, then you can go to hell. Few are willing to pay attention. The rest of the sports have to continually beg and appeal to sponsors for whatever activities they have. The infrastructure to support them is almost none existent. Before the Levy Mwanawasa Stadium, there was barely an international standard running track. Furthermore, taking athletes for three weeks intensive training before the Olympics is not sufficient. It requires years of proper training. I mean sports such as Javelin, Long Jump, High Jump, Volleyball and even track do not need massive infrastructure. Perhaps what needs to be done is to identify talent and get the proper coaches to work with these individuals. Whatever happened to the inter-schools athletics events? If they are still there what about upgrading them and spotting talent. Before the self-proclaimed legend, Bolt was a world record breaking gold medalist, he was a school and world junior champion.
                When the Rio 2016 Olympics roll by it would have been 20 years since our last medal (silver) by Samuel Matete in the 400m hurdles in Atlanta, unless something drastic is done we will simply be sending tourists. Maybe the athletes will blame their losses on the fact that they saw women with real Brazilian If the attitude that we still have that we are only sending athletes for exposure continues, then I pray for no teams to make it to the Olympics for we sure do need the money for more worthy national ventures.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Who Still Goes to the Show?

The Agricultural and Commercial Show has become a mainstay in the Zambian calendar. It takes place during the first week of August every year. Most people remember going to the show as kids being taken by their parents or guardians while they chewed on Candy floss. At a time when Lusaka had very little variety of entertainment, the show was usually anticipated. However, for some of my friends, they believe that the Show has currently lost its shine. Well the numbers do not seem to be dwindling. So I am wondering if that is the case, then why I have been going to the show grounds every single year for the past five years and will definitely go next year.

Many of my friends do not believe that the show has the same appeal it had ten to fifteen years ago. Well to some degree they are right. The people who used to stab their heads or the magicians who used to make a woman float are no longer there. We would look forward to our faces being painted and the fear of ensuring that you cling onto your father’s hand so that you do not get lost. My argument is that at that time, we used to go to the show purely for entertainment and excitement of getting to meet your classmates there.  Definitely, if you go to the Agricultural and Commercial Show with that same mindset, you are most likely not going to enjoy it.

One-Stop Shop
I currently find going to the show as a one-stop shop. Instead of me having to trot across town to get to compare prices of services I could want, the show provides me the opportunity to get it all in one place. Take, for instance, when I want to compare the services offered by the banks, all I had to do was go to the bank pavilion. In the same vein, this time around it was masters programmess and their pricing that I was most interested in. Copperbelt University, Lusaka University, Chreso University, DMI St. Eugene and Zambia Open University were all exhibiting. Talk about killing many birds with one stone.

Beat the Bargain
The other reason that I appreciate about the show is that it is an excellent place to find a good bargain. Prices of products are usually sold at a discount to show goers. This means that you will find them cheaper than you would ordinarily get them for in shops. Since there are many business houses both large and small scale it really does present an opportunity to bargain. For example if you were looking for a contractor to help you build your house; there are contractors who you can directly talk to and negotiate there and then. It is the same thing if you are a farmer, agriculture equipment suppliers, fertiliser suppliers, seed suppliers are all there. Now tell me if this is what you are looking for can it be difficult honestly to get a good bargain? You will be discussing with the decision makers of the companies after all.

Discover New Stuff
It is also a good place to learn new stuff that you would not necessarily be interested in. This time around my mission was to get to learn more about unit trusts. I have been considering an investment in unit trusts for some time now but never got the opportunity to understand them fully. So I did end up visiting Madison one of the companies that have unit trusts. How a unit trust operates and the conditions that Madison offers were also provided to me. I left that stand, with a clearer view of unit trusts than I had gone there with and came up with a conclusion. A unit trust is not my kind of investment. Now assuming that I had not gone to the show it would have taken me a while before I arrived at this decision.

It’s all About the Entertainment
Then the obvious reason to go to the show is the entertainment. The show only comes around once a year, there is a feel that the show creates that does not normally happen. The crowds found at the show add their own personal twist to it. This year around at the grounds there were acts like JK, BFlow, PJ, an act from South Africa, an act from Brazil and the main draw Fally Ipupa. These are all free, by the way.

There are definitely more reasons to go to the Agricultural and Commercial show apart from the ones that I have highlighted. I will acknowledge that maybe some people have outgrown it and assume that it is no longer for them. However, I definitely go to the show for different reasons, and each time I go, I always benefit something out of it. It is a great way to spend a day even though my tired legs would not agree. However, what the heck, I will still be back next year.