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Don’t just hand your money over to bad businesses

I often state something like this on Twitter: “Don’t give your money to businesses that despise you.” I will keep repeating a version of this for as long as I can.

Interestingly, every time I do this, several people will reply with: “So what should I do with Kenya Power?” In other words, how is one supposed to stop dealing with monopolists whose monopoly power one has no control over?

So here is a long-form response to that question.

First response. Focus on the point of the assertion, not on the obvious exception. Most businesses are not monopolies. Most consumers are not shackled to buy the majority of their purchases from monopolists. Most of us have relative freedom to choose most of what we buy. And yet, we continue to choose badly.

A business that repeatedly gives you a bad experience is giving you a strong message. It is telling you exactly what it thinks of you. That you are a sucker to be fooled, a sheep to be fleeced. People who treat their customers with disdain don’t deserve to survive. It is in your collective power to cleanse the market of them. And if you fail to do that, if you fail to deny these businesses the oxygen of continued business from you, then you can’t complain if they keep mistreating you.

Second response. Monopolies don’t last. They are inefficient, lumbering, ponderous beasts. They lack the incentives to innovate or increase the value of their offerings. If left alone, they bite the dust naturally. The problem is that they are kept alive artificially by governments who can’t see the light. Here, too, meek acceptance is not what consumers ought to do. If competitors can’t keep monopolists on their toes, demanding customers must.

So again, don’t just hand over the money tamely every month. Complain. Voice dissatisfaction. In concert, in unison, continually. Don’t allow bad service to become the new normal. When enough voters feel strongly about something and articulate it forcefully, politicians take note. It may take a long time, it may not even happen in your lifetime, but timid acquiescence in the face of a monopoly is not your best strategy. That is just feeding the beast.

Third response. Kenya Power once stated that it competes with paraffin lamps, candles and the like. We laughed. We shouldn’t have. We should have taken them at their word and started using those options and others even more. Sure, there’s no substitute for clean, modern grid power for many things. I’m stuck with Kenya Power, and so are most of you. But, if you hate a monopoly, don’t just keep feeding it. Seek options. Explore substitutes. Look at the many things you could power from alternative sources. Think differently.

My fourth response is to Kenya Power. Why are you so accepting of being the buying public’s favourite bugbear, its least liked supplier? Why do you seem OK with being a resented company? What does that do to the morale of your employees, to be always on the receiving end of a cacophony of complaints?

I always say: the years when you are a dominant monopoly are the very years you should be preparing for a post-monopoly future. This power monopoly won’t last. It can’t deliver the reliable, affordable, innovative power solutions that a rapidly growing economy needs. It’s a question of when, not if, competitive options appear in Kenyan power distribution.

So buck up, Kenya Power. If I were you, I’d be preparing for a competitive future right now. Now is the time to invest heavily in innovation, employee engagement, customer experience and service reliability. If you only start thinking about those things once the heat is on, you won’t have to think about them for long.

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