In Nairobi, The Customer is Always Wrong

Nairobi is a very large city teeming with all sorts of businesses, from the fashion industry, to the motor industry, to the culinary industry and the flesh industry. With competition among businesses, each business owner has to go that extra mile to attract customers.  This is where customer service skills are employed to ensure that not only are customers attracted, they are also retained.

Good customer service includes having a positive and friendly attitude, responsiveness to customer needs, efficiency in service delivery and customer support. In Nairobi, the skill that is most lacking among personnel dealing with customers is a positive and friendly attitude.

Customer JeansLast weekend, I went to the market to reward myself with a pair of new jeans.  Having exclusively breastfed my baby for 6 months, I lost quite a bit of weight and was happy with my new figure.  I browsed through the stalls of blouses, skirts, dresses and shoes and kept reminding myself to remain focused.  “No impulse buying today,” I kept telling myself.

I finally reached the row of stalls with jeans sellers.  All colours, sizes and styles of jeans were exhibited.  I entered the first stall and began looking at the trousers which were displayed on hangers.  A lady, who I assumed was the sales lady was sitting at a corner browsing her phone, completely ignorant of my presence.  I saw a trouser I liked and decided to initiate conversation.

“How are you madam?” I asked.

She simply waved at me and continued browsing through her phone.

I did not lose heart but pressed on, “How much for this pair of jeans?”

Still staring at her phone she said, “Hapa hakuna size yako!  We do not have your size here!”

I was immediately taken aback but decided to keep calm because I really liked that pair of jeans.

“Do you mean that all the sizes you have are too large for me?” I asked.

“They are too small,” she said finally looking up at me impatiently.  “You can’t see that for yourself?  We only have up to size 14.  If you want large sizes for mothers, go to the third stall from here.  These are for girls.”

I was upset because I knew I was a size 14 and I had seen size 16 and 18 trousers in her very stall while browsing.  Did she not know her merchandise?  I decided to forgive her as maybe she could not gauge my real size based on the fact that I was wearing a large loose fitting dress popularly known as a dera.

“Where can I fit this pair of jeans?” I asked her.

“You cannot fit in them,” she said laughing mockingly.  “However, if you insist on fitting them, go behind this curtain.  But be careful not to tear them or you will have to pay for them.”

I quickly went behind the curtain and slid easily into the pair of jeans.  The waistband was a bit on the larger side but the hips fit snugly and comfortably.  I stepped out and asked her for a mirror to see how the trousers looked on me.  She brought a full length mirror to me and could not hide the instant surprise on her face when she saw how the pair of trousers brought out my newly acquired figure.

“The waist is a bit too big, don’t you think?” I asked her.

I could see her eyes suddenly light up with the prospect of making a sale.

“You should try this other design,” she said quickly browsing through her stock and retrieving another pair of jeans.  “This one has a smaller fitting waist with extra allowance for the hips.”

I tried it on and it fit well.  And she brought out more and more until I ended up trying on eight pairs of jeans, all of which fit me very well.

“Which ones do you like best?” she asked.  “If you pick more than two pairs, I will give you a good discount.”

I could not believe that she had so quickly forgotten her previous rudeness.   I went through the eight pairs of jeans one after another, pretending to have difficulty in selecting those I liked best.

Finally, I turned to her and said, “I think you were correct from the beginning.  You do not have my size here.  Let me look for my size in the next stall.”

With that I walked out of the stall, leaving her quite upset.  I could see that she wanted to say something to me but wisely held her tongue.

Customer Walking HomeDone with my shopping, I proceeded to board a matatu back home.   There was only one matatu available at the bus stop and it was what is known as a “nganya”.  This is a public service mini-bus that has been pimped and spruced up.  It has a lot of graffiti and “matatu art” painted in bright colours on its exterior and fitted with loud speakers and video screens on the interior.

I was not too excited to board this matatu and urged myself to keep the peace and endure the loud music for the short ride.  The music was indeed so loud that one could hardly hear themselves think.  The lady seated next to me received a phone call and signalled to the conductor to reduce the volume so that she could take the call.

“You mama, use WhatsApp or put your head out of the window,” shouted the conductor, much to the amusement of the rest of the passengers who were all quite young.

“It is an important call,” the woman pleaded.  “My mother is in the hospital with my sister and this is my sister calling.  I need to know what it is about.”

“Tell her to send a kunguru to give you the message,” the conductor retorted.  “Usitupake uzee! Don’t apply your old age on us.  We don’t want to go home to our girlfriends smelling of oldness.”

More laughter from the youths.

At this point I was upset but kept my cool.  The woman asked for a refund of her fare so that she could alight immediately and take another matatu.

“We have a no refund policy,” said the tout.  “Check in the depths of your huge bra or mothers’ union underwear and you may find some random change that you hid there.”

Loud outbursts of laughter.

I was livid and could not keep silent anymore.

“Why don’t you just stop the vehicle and let the lady alight.  Her mother is unwell and she is expecting updates from her sister,” I said.

Wewe fala!” exclaimed the tout.  “You idiot!  If you want to be her lawyer go and get a law degree!”

“I am, in fact, a lawyer with a Masters degree,” I said angrily.

“Masters kitu gani?” asked the tout derisively.  “What is Masters?  Lawyers with masters are known.  They are in the Supreme Court right now doing presidential petitions.  And they did not take a matatu there.  They drove!  Wewe ni lawyer mwitu!  Bush lawyer!  Fake matatu lawyer! Alight with your client.”

I couldn’t believe that someone would insult his customers in this fashion.  I almost collapsed in shock as laughter rocked the matatu.

“Then stop the matatu and let us alight,” said the woman.  “And please keep our fare.  I hope it burns a hole in your pocket!  You will never hold enough money in hand to sustain your needs!”

“I am not affected by curses from old witches,” retorted the tout.  “If you feel offended by me, swallow a razor blade or hang yourself using chewing gum!”

The lady and I shouted to him to stop the vehicle so that we could alight.

Shuka na jam,” he said.  “Alight with the traffic jam.  We have no time for bus stops!”

We could see no traffic jam ahead and realized that the tout would not let us alight.  However, as if by a miracle, the driver turned off the music and slowed down to a stop.  We soon realized the reason for the stop.  There were traffic police officers carrying out routine vehicle inspections.  The driver held his driving license out of the window and I could see the corner of a fifty-shilling note peeping out of it.

Before the police officer could take the bribe, my seat-mate jumped out of the matatu screaming, “Kidnapper! Kidnapper!”

The police officer rushed to her and asked “What is the matter madam?”

“This conductor tried to kidnap me and that other lady,” she said pointing at me. “We wanted to alight and he refused.  He held us in this matatu against our will.”

The police officer held the conductor by the waist of his trousers and pulled him aside.

“Is this true madam?” he asked me.

“It is true,” I said.  “We kept asking to alight but the conductor refused and started insulting us.”

“That is hate speech, you know,” the police officer told the conductor.  “You are under arrest for attempted kidnapping and hate speech.”

Some of the youths in the matatu began to protest.

“All of you alight from this matatu at once,” the police officer ordered.  “This vehicle is now an exhibit.  It was used to kidnap 2 women.”

“Madam,” he said turning to me.  “Were any of these other passengers accomplices to the kidnapping and hate speech?”

The youths all tried to avoid my eye.  None of them wanted to get into trouble.

“No,” I said, much to their relief.  “It was the tout acting on his own.”

The police officer ordered the tout to reimburse all our fares as he and the driver were herded to the back of the police van.  As they entered the police van, I thought to myself, “I hope there is good customer care at the police station, otherwise he will receive a taste of his own medicine!”

Author: Didi Wamukoya

4 thoughts on “In Nairobi, The Customer is Always Wrong

  1. A nice reorientation of Nairobi today. An inlaw told me a story of how she thanked a matatu conductor after alighting and was abused in return and asked never to board the vehicle again! But sadly as a people we embrace that and would be shocked at proper etiquette.

    1. That is shocking. Why would one return courtesy with insults? But it’s true. As a culture, we’re very abrasive to one another.

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