KenCall CEO talks on Customer Service in Kenya

Nicholas Nesbitt is the Founder and CEO of KenCall, the first and most successful of Kenya’s business process outsourcing (BPO) and contact centre services providers.
We had a chat about customer service in Kenya, why it’s so lacking, the cost of providing customer service to corporates and the consequences for corporates who do not engage with their customers


As someone who has lived and worked in the US and now taken on the reins of a service company in Kenya – you have unique insight into what can be done to make it better here. What is wrong with customer service, and why do we get it wrong?

In the tourism sector, Kenyans show very good customer service and are known the world over for this. However this is a practice of only cleaning up house when visitors are coming, and does not apply the rest of the time, or extend to fellow citizens, local customers etc.

Customers, who don’t have much of a choice, get used to a bad level of service, which they tolerate

Industry regulators set standards for companies to follow in terms of delivery in some sectors, but they rarely enforce this.

Some Companies in some sectors show monopolistic tendencies – and define their customer service by that i.e. . they set their market prices that customers will pay, and then set the level of customer service that they can offer based on that price.

Some (banks) may also (falsely) believe that since they have had some customers for so long, these customers are eternally loyal to the bank and will not take their business elsewhere

What can be done to educate the common man? E.g. Banks ask customers to form queues, but these are ignored and impatient customers often ignore these and jump ahead of others being served. Can civic education help her? i.e. let citizens know how they can get served better?
Civic education would help e.g. radio messages that will encourage road courtesy – give way to someone entering traffic, and the next time someone will reciprocate for you

People rarely talk about good customer service (beyond their family & friends), but they will rant and even write online about a bad experience from a particular company
Some companies know this, others don’t know or seem to care what their customers say. This is unfortunate as we live in an age where customers in the US, UK and other countries (including Kenya now) will go online and rant about their bad experiences e.g. on twitter or facebook.

It does not take much for a company to watch or and monitor what’s being said about it online. A proactive company should respond to these negative signals , messages, communications being posted online e.g. notify customers of technical glitch that happened and the steps being taken to fix it.

Also, the youth of today interact online and companies (and politicians) should recognize this in terms of customer service and adjust their messages to reach the youth.

He demonstrated how he uses a program called Incoming, to track what’s being said about KenCall online, as well as other topics such as ‘Tiger Woods’ (golfer) and ‘Raila Odinga’ (Kenya’s Prime Minister) , with hundreds of instant results on screen instantly displayed

Safaricom and KCB (a leading commercial bank) set up call centers for their customers? Did they go wrong by not outsourcing these services? Did they give KenCall a chance to bid for that?

KCB set up a call centre that was about 1/10 the size of KenCall at a cost of 20X what KenCall would have charge them. They did not invite KenCall or other companies to bid. Some companies fear outsourcing for security reasons because of confidentiality of customers data, but this excuse if based on falsehoods – much bigger banks and companies entrust their data to service providers like KenCall the world over, and in any case leaks or security violations are likely to originate from the bank/company itself e.g. G4S, not KenCall. KenCall has the most secure communications links with the company that cannot be intercepted.. also many companies that sign with KenCall and services providers require that this not be disclosed to the public by KenCall

Safaricom talked to KenCall, south African and Indian companies and wanted KenCall to do what they were already doing for Orange/Telkom (Kenya) and Tigo (Tanzania). In the end they decided to do it in house, but at an estimated cost of 200X what KenCall would have cost and about 50X what KenCall would have charged them to run it

What is the take-on cycle at KenCall? If KCB had contracted KenCall how long would it take for KenCall to be ready to handle business?
Perhaps 3 to 6 weeks depending on what KCB wanted. A bank like KCB has many different types of callers with queries ,and they could still use KenCall to share the load e.g. credit cards, or card dealers with technical queries

Kenya government is the largest procurer; we’ve seen large embassies have outsourced their visa duties – do you think Kenya government should do the same? E.g. Manual processes in land office, judiciary?, there’s all this talk of digitizing records..
Absolutely this should happen, the digitizing of public records, outsourcing of services. This can be don even at community level, where young business people can set up BPO centers, now that there is fibre cable, and work with public records e.g. health, digitizing them. The go ahead for this has to come from Nairobi though

Service delivery in government would improve through outsourcing; there’s no need for people to get in buses and travel hundreds of kilometers to obtain simple documents like birth certificates, if this was outsourced and online, it would make government more efficient.

On its part at KenCall prefer to work with outsourced packages that average at least 10,000 calls

Has the arrival of fibre cable changed things for the industry?
Speeds have not changed for many, because you have to pay more. It’s like sipping soda through a straw, but even if your demand goes up, you have to invest in a bigger straw

What do KenCall Customer experience specialist teams do?
They step into a customer’s shoes and interact with KenCall staff the way a customer would and the performance is measured with a view to improving the service that KenCall customers receive

Comment on education gaps in the area of improving customer service
Nesbitt is a board member and deputy chair of the board of the Multimedia University of Kenya (formerly KCCT). They have a vision of becoming a world leading institution and producing talented Kenyans specialized in ICT to work in key economic sectors like tourism and ,agriculture – and curriculum development is key area that will be looked at.

11 thoughts on “KenCall CEO talks on Customer Service in Kenya

  1. Cairo Typ0

    I’d be interested to call a speak to one of these reps. I have 10 years customer service experience (incl management) and was appalled at customer service in Kenya.

    Simple changes like hold and mute standards would make a huge difference in call centers there.

    For the record – I have VERY high cs standards since this was my job for so many years so it’s not necessarily just Kenya.

  2. Anonymous

    Next time you interview this guy please ask him why KenCall treats its employees like garbage from poor pay to bad working conditions and sometimes no pay…..Customer service starts at home bwana…

  3. kenya insurance

    while I may agree totally on the lack of good customer service in Kenya, I felt a bit slighted when he started complaining on the bad decisions made by other companies not to pick his.

    A little modesty is part of good customer service.

  4. Anonymous

    I concur. We Kenyans have lousy customer service – especially towards our fellow citizens.

    When it comes to mzungus, we flip over and do summersaults.

    Disgusting. Irritating. Maddening.

    Am still smarting from horrible experience with staff of two well known stock brokers who act as if they are doing investors a favor.



  5. bankelele

    Cairo Typ0; it’s an area many companies have room to improve

    Kenya insurance: they were not bad decisions not to pick his, but the companies had other objectives and constraints; he was merely pointing out the cost effectiveness of outsourcing some of these functions

    Mkenya: was nice, though more focus should go to up coming CEOs’ e.g. at skunkworks

  6. Marvin Tumbo

    This was an interesting bit. I like the part where he said he uses incoming to monitor what is being said about Kencall online.

    I am sure you saw the problems the Wazua Forum caused for KDN in January even relegating the KDN website to the second page for major search KDN terms.

    Customer care is now as much an online arena as it is on call centres, and the shift will increasingly lean towards the internet as penetration levels increase.

    From that angle, I think it would have been wise for KCB to outsource this so that as changes shift, they can just as easily shift to focus on the online community without wasting the huge capital costs on call centres.

    The other thing is that the reality of a customer care crisis emerging from social networks is real and present. Monitoring thwrefore becomes key because businesses now need to go where the customers are talking and listen to them there; not to sit down and wait for calls.

    (Just because you mentioned it, I am an upcoming C.E.O – Socialight Media Kenya)



  7. Anonymous

    Yeah! Next time ask this guy too about the Job Interviews at Kencall Kenya. I went for an interview and it was all biased, untrue and time wasting. It was not transparent. I did pass all the tests including the voice test and typing test ..but all in vain …

  8. Anonymous

    Kencall has to be nominated the worst companies to be created in kenya on the side of paying their stuff… the next time someone decides to hold an interview with this guy ask him why people don`t get paid on time as much as they are making peanuts… where is it written that comissions are taxed…that company sucks just because its a muzungu we bow down .. kenyans you need to get a grip and stop allowing people to misuse you. Kencall sucks no wonder people quit day inn day out.

  9. Opondo

    one question for that Mr nesbitt, why do you allow your company to be run by some people who shamelessly have no respect for junior staff? a lady I’ve worked with runs everything like a class, shouting at agents, talking to her juniors like they’re her kids and basically acting like she’s God. why do you still have such kind of people in your payroll? why would someone intimidate her subordinates just because she has authority over them? i still hear that she’s doing the same things at a county government project she’s heading somewhere (but at least i can now breathe with her not being at the HQ)and i find that so foolish and childish for a company in your stature! charity should begin at home!

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