By Jonathan Spencer Jones

Kenya Power and Lighting Company (KPLC) was adjudged the winner of Smart Energy International’s Excellence Award 2008 for Africa for its Umeme Pamoja (“Electricity together”) campaign aimed at reducing the backlog of unconnected customers and significantly increasing the rate of new connections.

At the start of the project in 2005 the backlog of unconnected customers stood at almost 40,000 and the rate of new connections was less than 50,000 per year, and the targets were set to halve the backlog and more than double the new connections up to 120,000 per year within three years – targets that have been more than met with the backlog running around 11,000 and 125,000 new connections during 2007.

In the longer term the aim is for KPLC to approximately double its customer base to more than 2 million customers – a significant increase given that in this country of over 30 million people the level of electrification is only around 16 percent (average 30 percent in urban areas to just 4 percent in rural areas).

John Ombui, chief manager of KPLC’s distribution and customer service who led the development of Umeme Pamoja, explains that market research had shown that KPLC had a poor public image and that electricity was perceived as expensive. Accordingly the decision was taken to develop a more customer focused approach under a brand that the customer could identify with, with the broad aims of improving service delivery, customer relations, revenue collection and productivity while decreasing operational costs.

Smart Energy International Excellence Award

John Ombui, chief manager of KPLC’s distribution and customer service, receives the Smart Energy International Excellence Award for Africa 2008 from South Africa’s minister of minerals and energy, Buyelwa Sonjica

Working with a local agency Lowe Scanad, KPLC embarked on an extensive marketing campaign under the slogan “Njia rahisi ya kupata stima” (“Your easy way to electricity connection”), to sensitise potential new customers to the benefits of electricity as well as to improve its image more broadly. The campaign comprised a range of print, television, radio, internet and direct mail advertising and promotions, road shows, the introduction of marketing officers within the ranks of KPLC, and the introduction of an anti-corruption hotline.

KPLC also reduced the connection cost to Ksh32,500 (US$500) for peri-urban residents and KSh15,000 (US$230) for rural applicants, and to further reduce the individual costs consumers are encouraged to form groups with others in their neighbourhood and to submit a joint application for connection.

Revenue from new customers through monthly billings was targeted at Ksh100 million (US$1.55 million) but to date has exceeded Ksh115 million (US$1.78 million).

Ombui says that the project has had a wider impact in that the installation of new connections and wiring is outsourced to private contractors, of which around 180 are currently contracted to KPLC. In addition the force of meter readers has had to be expanded and currently some 600 meter readers are employed across the country.

To date new connections have been provided with a single phase meter, but Ombui says that KPLC is looking at prepayment and plans to rollout initially 50,000 prepayment meters aimed at poorer customers in the urban areas “who are prone to not paying.”

He also comments that the project has had a major impact on the billing and revenue collection side of the business. “Our banking halls get flooded with people, and in order to cope we have established additional pay points by partnering with banks, post office and supermarkets under a new service branded Easypay!”

Plans for the future include the possibility of bill viewing and payment on mobile phones, and the opening of a 24-hour customer call centre.

Other KPLC programmes include the fight against vandalism involving theft of oil and copper from transformers. With such vandalism of transformers costing some Ksh800 million (US$12.4 million) in the past two years, this is a major problem in Kenya (as it is in other African countries). Ombui says the campaign has “paid dividends, with a good response from the public to an awareness campaign dubbed Mulika Mwizi (“Be our whistle blower to theft”). A number of arrests have been made and discussion has ensued on possible legislation on scrap copper.

“Umeme Pamoja is an in-house developed brand that has become well known, with good support from the people of Kenya,” says Ombui. “It has completely revitalised KPLC and continues to re-energise the company.”

The award was announced during the opening session of the 4th African Utility Week in Cape Town, South Africa in May, and presented by South Africa’s minister of minerals and energy, Buyelwa Sonjica

 www.kplc.co.ke