This article first appeared in the July Issue 2013 of Commerce and Industry Magazine Vol 2. No. 007
As the scrutiny of MDGs continues, it is indeed the onus of individual countries to carry out self appraisals to celebrate wins and develop renewed goals for the gaps. In the service landscape therefore, with specific reference to customer service as the driver of business, and as the oil that fuels the wick of sustainable business revenue, there is need to take cognizance of gains made in this direction.
Let us specifically take into consideration MDG Goal 8, whose first target 8A is to develop further an open, rule-based, predictable, non-discriminatory trading and financial system that includes a commitment to good governance, development, and poverty reduction – both nationally and internationally. This target at a national level has only recently received a significant boost with the coming into force on 14thMarch 2013 of the Consumer Protection Act 2012. This is a huge milestone for customers and a very good reason for us to bring out the champagne and toast to the recognition and entrenchment of the rights of customers into law.
As is often the case in this country, customers feel helpless in the event of service failure and suppliers are often quick to dismiss customer complaints. What then does this new dawn mean for this country? For you as a customer? How does the passing of this law protecting consumers and preventing unfair trade practices in consumer transactions affect you in real terms?
Let’s take the example of my colleague Sam, who has had a sufficient amount of drama with an airline that lost his luggage. Sam travelled to China on a business trip to source for supplies for his art business and on arrival back in Nairobi discovered that his luggage was never checked in on the flight. It has since been an exercise in frustration to trace this luggage, with the concerned airline oscillating between being non responsive and shuttling him back and forth to explain his story for the umpteenth time to different officials some in the Head office in the Middle East and others locally. When in frustration he threatened to go legal, he was called to collect a bag they claimed had been found in Guangzhou. The bag in question turned out to be alien and in an appalling and damaged condition. Some contents indeed were part of his business consignment, but a better part wasn’t and he naturally refused to accept this luggage. The airline then wrote to advise that his bag was received in Nairobi on 24th August 2012 and that as he’d identified some contents positively, compensation would be calculated based on the difference between the weight of the bag when checked in and the weight of the bag when received at USD 20 per kilogram, amounting therefore to USD 20. Needless to say that this dispute has been ongoing for over 10 months and has turned into a financial nightmare with deplorable handling of his situation.
How does this new dawn for consumer protection in Kenya now provide an avenue for recourse in a case such as this and other cases pitting customers against well established corporates in event of service failure? With Sam’s incident in mind, the act is very precise with a section highlighting the specific industry as follows; Airlines – the Cabinet Secretary responsible for matters relating to trade and industry is to make regulations to provide for passenger rights and the standards of service by air carriers. These regulations are to include provisions on access to necessary services while on a grounded air carrier, customer complaints, notification of delays, cancellations, overbooking, baggage concerns, compensation for passengers and the right to deplane where such rights are infringed.

This is the Holy Grail for airline customers who often have numerous complaints that go unheard, and awareness should be created to enable frustrated customers take action. And the beauty of the Consumer Protection Act 2012 that customer service activists have embraced with open arms is the running statement that punctuates its clauses that Any ambiguities in a consumer agreement (including oral agreements) shall be interpreted in favour of the consumer’. Now how about that? Consumers and customers – get your champagne glasses out, the law is on our side