If you ever reach a point where people can’t disassociate you with your work, you must be quite good at it or terribly terrible at it.
The service industry is not the easiest environment to work in. Knowing how to handle the different complex personalities presented every day, requires a super power called patience.
Eldah Odhiambo seems to have a lot of patience; at least that’s what her customer’s testify to.
She doesn’t think so herself, ‘At home I’m told I’m quite impatient!’ she quips.
As we celebrate workers this month of May, there couldn’t be a more deserving person to celebrate.
Working as the Customer Care Manager at Kisumu Water and Sewerage Company (KIWASCO), it is Eldah’s job to ensure that customers get the services they need by providing information and solutions to their queries.
“I love to serve my customers and I try to do that as efficiently as I can,” says Eldah.
For online members of Kisumu Mum’s, a Facebook group, she does more than just serve. She goes out of her way and they appreciate her efforts by always referring to her whenever someone needs the services of the ‘KIWASCO lady’.
Norah Opiyo, a member of Kisumu Mum’s describes her as her hero.
“Anytime you call her day or night, should you have a problem with your water bills or even make a report on water leakages in your area, she will always respond positively,” explains Opiyo.
The same dedication that oozes from her work perhaps has a lot to do with her background.
Losing her parents young put her in the care of relatives. Wanting to move out and venture on her own she got a job at a clinic and that’s where she says she met her biggest supporter.
‘As other young people were looking forward to university life, I met a wonderful man and chose to get married at 21 years old,’ says Eldah.
Perhaps her need for a family of her own after her parent’s demise also contributed to that need of wanting something of her own.
“He was an engineer on a site close to the clinic I was working in and he saw something in me, he saw more than just a form four leaver,” she fondly remembers.
Rather than keep her at home as some men would, her husband encouraged her to enroll for a degree course and in 2008 she graduated with a bachelors in business administration, finance option.
“I worked during the day selling metal scraps and attended classes at Maseno University in the evening while being a mother at the same time. All that would not have been possible without the support of my husband,” she says.
The mother of three also attributes her success to her primary school teacher Sister Angela who taught her a motto she uses to this day: Do the right thing at the right time and at the right place.
After her bachelors, she went on to attain her masters in Strategic management and this has helped her climb the corporate ladder from a sales agent at NIC Bank in 2008 to the current head of commercial services at KIWASCO.
“My skills in customer care were honed when I was working in sales and I discovered I enjoyed it. When there was an open vacancy for zonal coordinator at KIWASCO in 2012 I applied and got the job. At that time, my zone Kenya-Re – Kajulu had the biggest customer base,” says Eldah.
Two years later she moved on to customer care manager at KIWASCO, edging out many of her equally qualified colleagues.
Currently, she is in-charge of the customer care office as well as the commercial offices as they await the appointment of a new customer care head.
True to her warm nature, the two customer care assistants working under her greeted her with ease as she came in from a meeting as I waited on her for a one on one, to this she responds by debunking a long held myth concerning female bosses.
‘I know a lot of people believe women can’t work together or that female bosses are impossible to work under. I have made sure to treat my colleagues with the utmost respect and we work well together irrespective of gender,’ she says.
This quality for expertly knowing how to manage the diverse multifaceted personas must be more than just a skill she learnt on the job and she elaborates further as to what else may have contributed to her management skills.
‘My grandfather the late Akuku Danger may have passed on to me some of his management skills because managing numerous wives ,210 children and many more grandchildren is not a small task and to this day, there have been no tussles for property since his death in 2010, ‘ she says.
Like father like son, her own father had three wives and eight children, and they are still a close knit family even after her father’s demise.
Much as she enjoys her job, there have been difficult moments she has experienced in her line of work.
“Earlier this year, I noticed a customer I was assisting had difficulty breathing. I instructed the staff to open all the windows but she collapsed and was rushed to hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. That was a very surreal moment for me and my colleagues,’ she recalls.
As for the current water problems within the county, she says KIWASCO is doing all they can to address them.
“Even with the issues of drought and water hyacinth, we have tried to ensure that we supply quality water to all households and as regularly as possible. We are also involved in tree planting, more recently at the World Water Day we planted over 4000 trees and gave out around 2000 to the community,” she adds.
In a bid to serve customers better, she advises that all queries and complaints should be sent to their short text code, 20880. This makes it a permanent record within their systems and is easier to follow up on.
What about the bad rep customer care agents receive and in general government workers? She says to approach these workers as people and not as an institution.
“You must realize we are also employed and although the system may not be working at full capacity, we try to serve with the tools available to us. We are also human beings and just as you may have a bad day so can we, a little understanding goes a long way”, she concludes.