Kenya: Is the customer ever right

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In early January this year I was meeting a friend and as she was delayed at a salon I decided to go chat her up while they plaited her hair then we would have coffee later.

It struck me while I was there that she kept on repeating instructions to the hairdresser and the hairdresser was very resistant to follow them. She asked that they use less of a certain braid color, the hairdresser insisted that it wouldn’t look good.

When they were styling her hair, she insisted that she wanted a very specific type of Mohawk, they refused, insisted that what she wanted was going to look bad and went ahead and styled the hair incorrectly.

Two hours later, my friend undid the styling and re-styled her hair the way she wanted. I wondered then why it was so hard for the hairdresser to follow the instructions given to her by the customer.

Fast forward to last weekend where I visited a salon near my home. I chose the simplest hairstyle, pretty hard to mess up and sat patiently waiting for my turn. As soon as I sat in the barber-style chair, I noticed the lady was reaching out for a hair-dryer.

I told the lady that I do not blow-dry my hair as I prefer not to have heat damage on my hair. She said hair cannot be plaited without being straightened with heat I reiterated that I plait my hair all the time without heat-straightening before I knew it she was blow-drying my hair. The lady then started plaiting my hair and after a while I touched my hair and to my horror she wasn’t doing what I asked her  not to do.

I asked her what she was plaiting she said she thought the hairstyle I chose was too simple, so she decided to do something different. Needless to say there was no turning back as she had already cut and knotted the braids to be used.

As soon as my hair was done I knew I would be undoing it and on Monday evening, 24 hours after being plaited, I undid my hair. The sting that I had paid for it and been ‘duped’ into accepting the hairstyle still hasn’t worn off.

These incidences have led me to start thinking about the customer being right in Kenya. It seems to me that the customer is highly disregarded.

Until a few years ago, once you bought goods in a store, regardless of whether you had a receipt or not they could not be returned. That included if you inadvertently bought expired goods or non-functioning electronics.

It was counted as bad luck, and one moved on. In restaurants, sometimes waitresses bring the wrong order and they take so long that because of time one chooses to just eat the food. The practice has also become less prevalent and for me as a rule I do not eat food that I did not order or does not meet my standards.

Hotels still make customers feel like returning food to the kitchen is impossible…I have since learnt that it is a ploy to force the customer to accept something they never wanted in the first place.

Public transport is much worse, a tout will announce that it is Kenyan Shillings (kes) 50 to board a matatu and once its full decide to charge Kes 100 instead. In frustration, most people will pay, few if any customers will put their foot down and condemn the injustice.

Touts are also known to hurl insults at complaining customers threatening to leave them in the middle of nowhere.

However, with time Kenyans are becoming bolder. It all started with the overthrow of President Moi from presidency. The end of KANU rule in Kenya suddenly made Kenyans more enlightened.

President Mwai Kibaki, during his tenure, gave opportunity for Civil Service Organizations to empower people with knowledge. The Constitutional referendum process educated people on their rights and duties as citizens and for the first time, the Kenyan citizen knew that they could stand up to the government, to law breakers and feel bold enough to take cases to court.

Based on my experiences in the salon, restaurants and in matatus we still have a long way to go when it comes to demanding that the goods and services we pay for meet a certain standard and refusing to pay when these standard are not met.

However, these experiences notwithstanding, I look at Kenya now and believe that we have much potential in ‘training’ sellers on how to treat consumers. We must react swiftly and decisively when injustice is being carried out.

Speak up when a tout is abusing a customer; refuse to accept what you did not purchase whether it is goods or services and report traders who are deliberately selling expired or sub-standard goods.

Most importantly, every person must know their rights and educate others on their rights because unless we know that we are entitled to something we will never demand it.

I have made a decision that I will no longer pay hairdressers/barbers if they do not follow my instructions. After all I am the customer, and I pay for what I have asked. The rest, as far as I am concerned is charity work on the part of the barber/hairdresser.

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