Monthly Archives: May 2015

Disenchanting Service From Airtel Kenya

Airtel is a great brand. 

I mean, they have an expansive network covering a large part of Africa, calls made from their network are famed for their clarity and they have, for much of their presence in Kenya, weathered the gargantuan storm that is Safaricom’s dominance.

Who knows? One day, Airtel might just be Kenya’s – nay, Africa’s most successful network. 

But going by the disenchanting experience I had as their subscriber, the prospect of this happening is as low as the image I gathered of their service.

When I signed up to their postpaid service, I gave out my credit card details and granted the Telco the right to charge my card whenever my bill was due. However, on a number of occasions, they cut me off their network, each time explaining that I had reached my limit. 

I wondered why they wouldn’t just pay themselves off, which authority they already had from me. The billing, an official explained, happened once a month (if my recollection is correct, I was advised it took place around the 3rd of every month). Although they contractually may have been obligated to undertake the billings once monthly, I found this arrangement commercially inexpedient.

“Why not introduce dynamic billing”? I asked the official. “You are losing revenue because I will use my other (competing) line more while I wait for the 3rd of the month”, I offered helpfully. 

In these days of all-day traffic snarl ups and hectic schedules, no one wants to start making his way towards an Airtel shop in order to clear his bill. Not when he already gave out his credit card details so he can be spared the commuting and the queues (I didn’t even know how to pay up using Airtel money).

The consternation occasioned by the Telco’s confounding messages was yet another reason I found my continued subscription untenable.  Below are actual text alerts I received from Airtel Kenya. When I needed to top up my data bundle, I got message that advised that I was “already currently subscribed…”. To add insult to injury, the provider mocked me by asking me to try a data bundle that was within the Kshs. 0 range!

And if you thought that the foregoing faux pas was a flash in a pan, consider the alerts below. On the 7th of February this year, I received two text messages, each citing the fact that I owed Kshs. 16,936.77. This figure, according to one text message, was “above 60% of my credit limit…”. According to the second text message, sent not too long after the first one, the SAME figure was “above 80% of my credit limit…”

 
Confounding, eh? So, was it 60% or 80%?

As you may imagine, I called up Airtel Kenya seeking to establish whether (1) there was a problem with their billing/alerts system and (2), how on earth I could have used up that much money in a short period of time.

I cannot recall the explanation given to the first question. But on the second question, a customer service agent ruefully owned up to the fact that my credit card payment was inexplicably ‘forgotten’ during the previous billing cycle. So the amount owed had headed skywards as my card was not charged when the billing was last ran.

I was miffed! 

Here was a cellular provider that was playing catch-up in the market and who could not pay themselves despite being granted the unfettered authority to do so by their subscriber.

This incident became the proverbial last straw that broke the camel’s back. I couldn’t take it any more and proceeded to cancel my contract immediately – the fact that the contract cancellation process was itself another ordeal notwithstanding.

The only other time I contemplated canceling my contract – and in retrospect, probably should have – was four months earlier, in October of 2014. This was the very month in which I signed up for the postpaid service.

On Mashujaa day, my Airtel line received two text messages that came in in quick succession – actually seconds apart (see actual messages below). 

If you study the messages carefully, they were duplicate bill notifications for the same period. That is, I received two bills, both as at the same date, but roughly Kshs. 7,000/- apart.

  When I sought for an explanation, Airtel maintained – quite predictably, that the higher bill of Kshs. 18,642/- was the correct one. They even sent me an accompanying itemized bill of this amount a bit later. 

Could Airtel furnish me with the itemized bill that generated the lower bill of Kshs. 11,677/-, I asked. 

I remember laughing when, in response to this question, a customer service official haltingly explained that a hitch with the billing system had given rise to the billing discrepancy and that ‘only the corrected’ (higher) itemized bill could be generated.

I am sure Airtel means well. But it doesn’t show this in the services it offers. Going by my short-lived experience as a post-paid subscriber, it is difficult for me to maintain trust with the provider.

Indeed, Airtel Kenya even billed me on 5th May 2015 and I had to remind them on email that my line has been inactive since February. I further reminded them that they even acknowledged my service cancellation letter on the 23rd of February 2015.

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Matatu DNA Is In Many Of Us

There is a difference – I dare posit, between observing and seeing. Similarly, there is a difference between hearing and listening.

I do hope that the authorities, particularly those in law enforcement, will listen to this post, not merely hear what I have to say.

‘Impunity’ is a word that has been bandied a great deal in our country. It’s resounding in prime time news, debate shows, in our local dailies and ubiquitous radio waves. A day doesn’t pass before one hears the word.

The greatest impunity in our society is not the obscure yet wanton graft that transpires within the walls of public institutions. It’s not in the ‘briefcase’ wheeler-dealing that takes place away from our prying eyes and cocked ears.

No.

The greatest impunity is that which manifests itself everyday under our very noses. It’s in the streets. It’s in how we drive, in turning public roads and footpaths into small open-air shops, in carting our mikokotenis on the wrong side of the road, real examples are inexhaustible.

Do you see my point?

Our roads are indisputably the most famous theaters of impunity. Matatu drivers bully us everyday and everywhere. They overlap, make sudden stops, drive with reckless abandon, break virtually every traffic rule on the book. The public is helpless because matatu drivers and a growing number of private motorists have triumphed over those responsible for maintaining law and order.

My 4-year old son doesn’t see or hear about the runaway white-collar graft happening in side parastatals. But I fear that he and many other kids are growing up learning that it’s ok to be a lout; that being rebellious on the road and in the streets is cool.

It is this visible impunity that the authorities should resolutely rein on not merely because of the illegality involved, but also due to the fact that the tacit tolerance by law enforcers is encouraging a general state of matatu-type lawlessness in our society. When a generation learns that its society condones bad manners, it gets emboldened to disregard every fabric of the law with care-free abandon.

A parent striving to raise law abiding kids is looking up to you public authorities charged with bringing about law and order to diligently play your part.

But, are you listening?

As for matatu drivers and reckless private motorists in these days of incessant traffic jams – I have a practicable idea that will bring about order on the road (particularly in the major urban towns).

Central and county government agencies are increasingly on social media. It’s not lost on me that electronic evidence is now admissible in courts of law in Kenya.

So how about initiating a campaign allowing citizenry to share photo or video evidence of offending motorists on Twitter and Instagram with the authorities? For this to work, just adopt a hashtag that can be used, say, #NyumbaKumiReport, and then feedback a case reference number within an hour to the person reporting an incident. 

If I had it my way, I would see to it that the prosecuting authorities via mobile money share a percentage of the resultant fines (upon successful prosecution) with the individual who volunteers incriminating evidence. Sounds far-fetched? I don’t think so. It can be done. Stay with me.

All you do is start off an online portal on which any adult can register. One should even be able to register anonymously, provided that they disclose their mobile numbers, Twitter and Instagram handles. They can bare their identities privately should they be required to testify in court.

Overall, collaborative efforts are needed to stem impunity. Use of social media whistle-blowing tactics, especially where there is indisputable, ready incriminating evidence can go a long way in encouraging a law-abiding society.

Of course, corruption has a way of fighting back any initiatives that threaten its very existence. It takes nose-to-the-grindstone guts to adopt and oversee ideas such as the one described here.

Matatu drivers have guts, and they don’t care. To get rid of our increasingly matatu-type society, we need a leader who similarly doesn’t care, and has guts. I care much about our country. I don’t care what morally acceptable methods we use to become a great Society.

We have been ‘business as usual’ for far too long. It’s about time the authorities concerned became ingenious and employed business unusual tactics to overcome the threats to our societal well-being. By publishing this post, I’ve played my role as a private citizen.

If you believe nothing is impossible, I am listening.