By Rose Odengo

You can look at Brand experience technically from a marketing perspective or simply as a human being. I choose the latter. On Sunday, I decided to roll out of the house and attend the last day of the EPZ (Export Processing Zone) expo in Nairobi before they shipped off to other cities across the country.

The EPZ is known for manufacturing top quality international grade clothing for export. Because for years it’s made more sense for them to do that. This is a conversation for another blog post.

Buying new clothes in Kenya is just unthinkable for most Kenyans because of the cost. Jeans can go for as much as 2,500 – 7,000 shillings (USD 24 -67) a pair. If you are shopping anywhere else in the world, that is an average price. Here; girl! That is unnecessarily expensive.

For the average Kenyan, that’s rent, food or other expenses covered. For this reason, that normally leaves us with thrift shopping as an option. So the EPZ was a big deal; you could get well made clothing; jeans, t-shirts, shorts and few other things between 100-600 shillings (USD 1-6). That was a treat.

It was the last day and most of the good stuff was gone, I got myself a pair of jeans and a nice pair of shorts. There were a few things that got on my nerves during my shopping experience. The event was in the mall, I had already gone through the routine security check, my shopping bag was searched again as I walked into the premises. Immediately that happened the first thing that ran through my mind was; these guys think I am going to steal; these exhibitors don’t trust me.

I felt irritated but went in anyway. There wasn’t that much to choose from.. People had been shopping there for a month, so the fact that I could find shorts and jeans that fit me was fine. As I walked around looking at the clothes on the racks, I saw attendants with tape measures. I saw people pawing over clothes measuring length and hips of the clothes.

I paused and looked around the room and alas, there were no changing rooms! And you couldn’t leave the pxhibition hall on clothes in the loos either. I was wearing leggings; I just hiked the clothes over them to try them on. In my head all I thought was, “Let anyone tell me that’s not allowed and I will give them a piece of my mind.” No one did, attendants passed me as I tried on the pairs I picked. I saw other ladies on another rack area doing the same thing.  My second thought; they really are more focused on making money than on my experience as a customer.

Once I picked my clothes, I did one lap of honour to see if there was anything that I missed. I confirmed with the attendants that the price tag on the clothing was the actual price. In Kenya our items are sold inclusive of VAT. The attendant I spoke to confirmed, even after I showed him the pair of jeans that had a 100 shillings (USD1) price tag. He nodded.

I got to the counter, an attendant said “hello” I responded and she began to manually write the price of each item in a receipt book. She saw the jeans price tag talked to a man who looked like the owner of the exhibition. He frowned and looked up at me and said the price is 600 shillings (USD 6). The irritation turned to seething. “Why wasn’t this tagged properly?” I demanded.

“Sorry, it is meant to be 600 shillings.” I let that slide. The lady wrote the particulars and gave me a receipt with a carbon copy. I went to the counter paid cash. My third thought, Kenyan nonsensical deception. Kenyan businesses need to get their act together and be honest.

Then I still had to go to another station and show my receipt with the two items. Not to get them packed. But for them to see, again, that I WAS NOT STEALING.

“I thought this was a packaging area,where can I wrap these?” I asked the lady who checked my receipt. She smiled and said it will be done at the next desk.

I exit the exhibition hall where the other table was. People  were once again queuing to have their stuff packed and reviewed against their receipt AGAIN.

My fourth thought, this is legit old school Kenya, they think we are low enough to steal.

At this point I had had it. I had my shopping bag; I stood, folded my shorts and jeans and stuffed them in there, praying my groceries didn’t spill on them. I walked to the exit and again I was asked to present my receipt. I lost it.

“This is so ridiculous; you need to come up with a better way of tracking your sales. This is inconvenient and makes me feel like a criminal.”

“Madam, we just need your receipt to stamp it,” the lady said calmly.

“For fuck sake!” I handed the receipt, the attendant was naturally offended and yanked the receipt from my hand.

“You need to treat your customers better.” I continued as she returned with the copy of the receipt.

“If you have a problem, tell management!” She retorted.

“You are an employee of this…you know what? I am never coming back.”  I stormed off.  Could I have handled it better, yes I could.

But as you can see, like any other customer, when I walked into the premises I slowly built perceptions based on my experience. You the owner may feel your “procedures”  are in order, but your customer feels completely undervalued and exploited.

Needless to say, that was a horrible shopping experience and I have no interest in spreading the word about how great EPZ products are worth the buy.

It is one thing as a company to have a fancy identity and compelling ads. When your clients come into contact with your products and especially services, and get horrible, lackluster and unapologetic response from your company; they won’t come back. And word of mouth advertising in all its forms, whether real or perceived by the customer,  is very very hard to undo.

Lesson to ALL Kenyan companies; you seriously need to pay attention to customer experience, no matter how little your clients are spending. Your brand promise is more than just what you say on your website; what defines it, is what people experience on a daily basis when they come into contact with your brand.