We lead the leaders

We lead the leaders

A few months ago as we were travelling down towards Nairobi, a bus whizzed by followed by another with a similar tag line at the back “We lead the leaders”.

I then got a flash back to our campus days when we used to travel by road for rugby matches at the Kenyan coast. Back then there were few option of bus companies. It was almost impossible getting a bus seat in the leading bus company unless you booked early and booked at their offices in downtown Nairobi. Most of the time we ended up using “unknown” bus companies with “unknown” safety records. To think of it, our choices were mostly driven by budgetary constraints. Luxury was a distant secondary consideration. To our surprise, we found a large contingent of travelers who were using these “unknown” bus companies. Clearly there was a budding market . God’s mercy would always shine upon us young men and we would move back and forth from the coastal city safely.

That budding market bloomed and gave forth to the renaissance of the bus business. The rebirth started small then then it exploded (thank you capitalism). With every passing year of us going to the coast, we started seeing a variety of buses. Buses with fancy body work, cool interiors, bigger seats, music, tvs, free water, free soda and then air con! Yes, opening windows on buses was no longer cool. In this variety emerged the bus company taunting the leaders, “We lead the leaders” .

Fast forward a few years later, before the SGR ( yaaaaas!), when we had to travel to the coast the dominant “leader” was top of mind (damn, I love great brands!) …again. However, the “leader”was a pale shadow of its former self. By then it had older buses, not so clean interior, the aircon felt “mouldy” and the chairs were not comfortable. That was really a forgettable journey. Despite this, the bus was still full ( damn, I love great brands! ). On our trip back we opted for another bus company. For a few more shillings, we were able to travel in a smaller bus, with functioning air con, comfortable seats with charging stations, WIFI (though limited as people drained the bundles before Mtito-Andei) and most important a newer comfortable bus. Oh, and we purchased our tickets online from the comfort of our hotel. Clearly there was a bus company listening and reacting to the customer.

I am not sure whether the “leader” has shaped up since we last used them(disclaimer), however I take away quite a number of observations which I see in Kenyan run companies:

  1. Businesses talk at customers rather than talk to customers. We like slogans. The slogans, some catchy, some tacky are directed to the customer. We boast most of the time with our slogans. We want to show how great we are as a business. But do we get to listen to our customers? Are we reachable by clients? Are we able to solve problems for clients? Do we think we know it all? Tough questions.
  2. We focus too much on the competition: “Businesses commit suicide rather than homicide”, Sunny Bindra has commented severally. One way of slowly killing themselves is to always have an unhealthy focus on the competition. Our strategies betray our focus areas. When one company makes a move, almost immediately we see the competitor make a similar move. It is great to copy what another organisation is successfully doing. It is folly to copy it without understanding why they are successful. You may inadvertently follow them down the wrong path if they pick a wrong strategy (which happens to all organisations at one point in time). Remember, Do not compare yourself with others.

So what do you do? Focus on on the customer. As I said in my blog It’s Customer service week…(not again) it may seem logical to make the customer centre of your business universe but most of the time we just pay the customer lip service. I am guilty of this as a business leader and also a victim as a customer.

As the two buses pull away, my thoughts return from nostalgic days gone by to my current business challenges. “How we can do better as businesses?”. “How can I get more clients and give the best product/service and ensure they come back again and again?”.

Let us try overcome this lip service by unlearning our poor customer service behaviors and strive to put customers first. That is the only way to survive out here.

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