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

Immediately after the Kyoto Flash Mini solar torchlights, that DHL took a month to get through Customs, we were receiving the first samples of the new Kyoto Village Charger: A solar panel with 4 charging outlets. A simple, yet ground-breaking product for villages without electricity, where people today have no choice but to send their mobile phones with a matatu to the nearest town for charging.

With more than half of Kenya’s 39 million inhabitants living in such places, there is a huge market for entrepreneurs setting up micro-businesses where they charge phones KSh 20 for each charging, and 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 the chargers were on the way, I had reminded DHL that zero-rated goods need to be bullied through Customs, as those guys take it as a personal attack on them when you bring in something for which there is no VAT or import duty.

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

After 2 weeks of daily excuses, my patience was worn out. 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 through, and they promised to deliver the package early that same afternoon. After repeating my contact info to them, I crossed my fingers that they would bring it, as it was a Friday, and I wanted it 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.

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

When I called on Tuesday morning, the word “please” was long ago wiped out of my vocabulary, and I was communicating exclusively through 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.

As I still hadn’t received any phone call by the time I had instructed him to be there, 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 a bit 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, there is nothing in this world that could ever get me to use DHL again, unless I am left with absolutely no choice. Fortunately, there is also UPS!

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  1. Jinal 2010-11-06 at 15:53

    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 2010-11-09 at 11:54

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


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