DHL = Delivery Happens Leisurely!

Less than 3 weeks to clear another zero-rated consignment. That must be a new record for DHL!

After the Kyoto Flash solar torchlights, which DHL took a month to get through Customs, we received the first samples of the new Kyoto Village Charger. This is a solar panel with 4 charging outlets. Jon Bøhmer‘s latest project is a simple, yet ground-breaking product for villages without electricity. People there have few options but to send their mobile phones with a matatu to the nearest town for charging.

More than half of Kenya’s 39 million inhabitants live in such places. That creates a huge market for entrepreneurs setting up micro-businesses to charge phones KSh 20. Those entrepreneurs are our target customers. If we can reach 10 000 of them in Kenya, that is already good business. Now imagine what the rest of East Africa will be then!

Already while importing the chargers, I had reminded DHL that zero-rated goods need to be bullied through Customs. People there seem to take personal offense at anyone bringing in anything exempt from VAT or import duty.

Talk is cheap

Of course, DHL assured me that this time, things would be a lot faster, and that they had learnt a lesson from the last round with the solar torchlights.

Things did go a bit smoother this time, though. No mess-ups like “ooops, were they supposed to be zero-rated?” That does not mean that anything they did was fast, let alone well-executed!

DHL Kenya has a switchboard where it’s not possible to put people directly through to someone. Instead, callers are directed into an automated queue where the first available attendant picks up the phone. That can get amazingly annoying when you have to call them up to several times in a day and you need to get hold of specific persons!

The fact that the customer service people in DHL are extremely friendly and helpful, doesn’t help when the general service is dreadful. The fact that people who promise to call, consistently fail to do so, does not add positively to the experience, either!

Threatening to sue usually helps

After 2 weeks of daily excuses, my patience was gone! Having given up on simple and polite pushing, I repeated the same threat that I had used the last time: If the consignment wouldn’t clear by next morning, we would go to court, get a court order forcing Customs to release it, and that we would send the invoice for the lawyer’s fees to DHL.

That apparently worked. The next day, it was all done. DHL promised to deliver the package early that same afternoon. I once again repeated my contact info to them(!), and crossed my fingers. It was a Friday, and I wanted those panels before the weekend.

When I called again in the late afternoon to ask what had happened, they claimed the driver had tried to contact me on some number that was complety different from the one I had given them earlier in the day.  They then promised me that the delivery would happen in the evening.

When I called again after the weekend, they still had the wrong contact information. Apparently, repeating the correct details twice hadn’t been enough.

DHL can’t even get simple information right!

Again, they promised to deliver it in the morning. Then in the afternoon, and finally in the evening. Every time I called, I went through the same switchboard queue about 5 times before getting the right person. Every time, I also had to repeat the contact information again, as they still couldn’t get it right.

When I called on Tuesday morning, I had erased the word “please” from my vocabulary. I was now communicating with short, direct orders. I instructed them to assign a driver specifically to deliver my consignment only, and told them to direct him to a nearby petrol station at a specific time, as finding the correct address was obviously too much of a challenge.

Still no phone call, so I called DHL again. Unsurprisingly, he was there, and was trying to call me on the same, wrong number again. Hoping that they would have gotten it right after all those attempts, was obviously too ambitious!

Finally, I drove over to the petrol station where the driver was waiting. He followed my car back, and was finally ready to offload.  At least, he was a friendly and jovial guy, just like his colleagues at the DHL Customer Service. That made it easier to laugh at their messed-up routines, the uselessness of their systems and the unbelievable delays.

Without exception, the people in DHL Kenya have been very friendly, always ready to assist. That doesn’t help much when every other aspect of their services is useless beyond belief. Unfortunately, nothing in this world that could get me to use DHL Kenya again. Unless I have no choice, that is. Fortunately, there is also UPS!


  1. Jinal November 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    I know exactly what you mean by DHL = Delivery Happens Leisurly! What an apt quote! Brilliant! I’ve been waiting for my mobile phone to clear through customs for about a week now…..and as we all know mobile phones are zero rated for VAT and import duty. The people at DHL (friendly as they are) are not bothered about pushing your consignment through customs. In my opinion, they dont really care!

    If you dont mind me asking, after arriving into Nai-robbery, how long was it before your consignment even made it to customs assessment?

  2. Alan November 9, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Great story… hehe. Sad that a threat of court made stuff finally happen. Bado tuko mbali (we’re still far)!


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