UMEME – Outsourcing Gone wrong?

UMEME, the company enjoying the virtual monopoly of supplying electricity to all Ugandan homes and businesses has been struggling so much over the years ever since it was given the concession.

As a consumer, I must say that my experience with their services has greatly improved and I do commend them for that. With a view of trying to run a lean but profitable organization, UMEME set out to shed off as much excess baggage as it could and this led to the outsourcing of various services under their operations.

It is very noticeable when one visits their head offices in the Industrial Area of Kampala that they are intent on serving the customer better and would like to walk the talk. This led them to outsource some of their key customer facing functions like Meter reading, Bill delivery, Disconnections and Reconnections of power among others.

In principle, this was a brilliant idea because the textbooks say so. However, what UMEME forgot to factor in was the local situation context especially the history of the Government Parastatal that used to play a similar role.

In the times when the Uganda Electricity Board (UEB) managed all the operations of supplying electricity to the Ugandan consumer, their customer facing staff who used to carry out works like; Pole repairs, meter reading, disconnections among others were known for among others;

  • Foul / Obscene Language
  • Extremely poor handling of customers
  • Crooked meter reading habits
  • Arm twisting customers to solicit bribes

When UMEME decided to outsource a number of its customer facing services, many former employees of the defunct Uganda Electricity Board formed companies that took up the various contracts on offer. These outsourced companies then went ahead to rely on largely the same human resource that had previously worked with UEB in order to hit the ground running.

By the look of things, no effort was made to professionalise and sensitize these people regarding the new dispensation they are working under. UMEME envisioned a very good strategy to win customer appeal and this largely worked but the missing plug in all this was ensuring that their vision for the customer was effectively communicated to the OutSourced companies and their staff.

As a subscriber with the Mukono district office, I can say that each time I have reached out to the management over there, I have been handled with care and all went smoothly but this treatment is a distant cry from the experience me and my neighbours get when we interface with their field staff. I have shared with my neighbours about UMEME and there are horror stories galore.

A few days back, I was threatened with disconnection of my power (again by the field staff who are outsoured) simply because my neighbour hadn’t paid their bill. Even when they knew clearly that we never shared meters.

Shortly after that, my Tweepie  Counsel David Mpanga published a missive of the harrowing experience he had with the over zealous field staff who were arm twisting him to install Yaka (The pre-paid metering). On Thursday September 12th 2013, even after the UMEME Head of Communications Mr. Henry Rugamba appeared on the Sanyu FM radio talk show, another tweepie Leticia Iguma gave us a real time tweet account of some hallucinating UMEME field staff who were busy on rampage re-living their UEB mannerisms of hurling all sorts of obscenities and threats at consumers whose money is the very basis of their existence. To quote her tweeter feed;


<Umeme chap is abusing the kisasi residents who are asking him questions abt yaka n why they are being forced!>

< Want to know his name. A one Hajji >

< Back to office after wasting three good hours as the foolish yaka goons abused my neighbours who were asking questions!!!>

< Whoever is in charge of that company that was chosen to do the yaka installations has alot to answer #YAKA..>

< I am called home to open for those goons to install the thing and they take three hours!!!!!!!!!!!!!mmmsssttteeeewww!>

< I engage one guy…and jokingly tell him that he will be beaten by the angry neighbours for forcing them to change to yaka..#YAKA.>

< He assures me how he is ARMED! Umeme, is this what is has come to?????? Now u want to kill us coz of #YAKA>

< And all this time Hajji gundi is still throwing all sorts of insults at my dear neighbours!!!!!!!!!>

< he even goes ahead to start to imitate some…and asking them what they will do to him.. #YAKA >

< He even shouted from the top of the pole..”MUGENDE MULOOPE!!!’…#YAKA >

< I asked the guy if he had actually talked to the owners of these houses and explained…”OGWO SIMULIMU GWANGE” he responded..#YAKA >

Mr. Rugamba, from the above rant by one of your customers, it is very evident that UMEME has a big job to do and you can no longer bury your head in the sand and keep blaming errant outsourced staff. For your own credibility, you need to take aggressive measures to address this illness.

I would recommend some of the following measures;

  1. Set minimum standards/guidelines for all the companies that you outsource to do your customer facing work
  2. Take it upon yourselves to train all their staff in customer service and don’t leave this job to those companies because they will never do it. Trust me on this one.
  3. Outline seriously punitive measures for those companies that continue to employ such uncouth staff.
  4. Ensure your district office management takes time to tour their catchment areas periodically interfacing with the customers to find out what is on the ground.
  5. Sensitise your customers through various media about their rights and why they shouldn’t stomach bad service from any person clad in UMEME apparel.

I trust that you are now aware that we are living in a Uganda where the consumer is becoming more and more empowered by the day. A lot of what used to pass unnoticed can no longer do so today. Its time for a thorough re-think of your operations and I advise that you borrow a leaf from National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) because I hardly hear people complaining about them apart from when the water supply breaks down.

It’s never too late.

Always @wirejames on #Twitter

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