A few months ago, I entered a Liberian-owned shop and met a young lady sitting behind the counter asked about a product being sold. She was so engrossed in the African movie on the television so I again asked if they had the product I wanted and the cost. She brusquely replied “no” and quickly turned her gaze back to the movie. I stood there for several seconds, not sure whether to throw a tantrum or just leave. I decided to leave. I went across the street to a Guinean-owned shop where I asked the Owner if he had the product. He smiled and said “Sister, my supply is finished, but just sit down for a minute let me run across the street and get it quickly for you”. I left his shop feeling good and promised myself to always patronize him when I could. I later explained the story to a few friends and asked them “Next time I need to buy this item, which store do you think I will rather go to?”
According to the CMS website, customer service is defined as “the commitment to providing value added services to external and internal customers, including attitude, knowledge, technical support and quality of service in a timely manner”. Sadly for us in Liberia, good customer service is actually a rare find, a scarcity and I even dare say a privilege. This is an issue of national concern as it affects every sector of our society. We all continuously complain about it but aren’t taking any significant step towards correcting this epidemic. You drive around town and you see many marketing gimmicks like “we value our customers”, “our customers are our number one priority”, and I wonder if management really mean what they say. I wonder “Is it that employers aren’t providing employees with proper training in customer service or that the employers themselves do not know better and as such cant teach what they do not know or they just do not care? And if it is the case that employers and/or business owners not caring then how can they genuinely hope for their business to grow and obtain more profit. If customers steadily stop doing business with them, won’t they see a huge reduction in sales and eventually have to close shop?
There is a common joke around town of the owner of an entertainment spot who would go from table to table asking customers “only one beer you buying whole night, please leave”. Customers listened and left. Today, that business is no more.
Good customer service is not limited to small business owners. Banks, hospitals and our public organizations also need to be more “customer” friendly. It is quite frustrating at times when you have to conduct basic matters and come across employees at these public institutions who just aren’t interested in answering your questions, or who give you that dead look that effectively says “why are you giving me a hard time?” Walk into the banks and you almost want to pull your hair from frustration. Exceedingly long lines and when you peek up ahead, you see the teller is either more engaged in the juicy tidbit with another teller or so engaged in following some television talk show that is being played for customers to view while waiting their turn at the window. Simple mistakes are rudely and loudly handled, so when you are sent off the line to correct that mistake, you leave with the feeling of being back in high school having been openly chastised by your teacher.
Good [LINK=http://sbinfocanada.about.com/cs/marketing/g/custserv.htm]customer service[/LINK] is the lifeblood of organization. It helps to increase customer loyalty to your business or organization, increase profit, and sustain your growth. Your customers are often your number one source of reference and promotion. Sadly in Liberia, many employees in the service industry behave as though they are doing you a huge favor by serving you when you enter a restaurant. At times, they are so slow in responding to orders and even behave as if they are being forced to serve you. These employees forget to know if that if all the customers boycotted the business that day or month, it may mean no salary. Ironically, these same employees go to other entertainment places and severely critique others for “poor customer service”. Ha!
I think it is about time management (employers) who hope to see their organizations grow take this bull by the horn and put in corrective measure to improve customer service nationwide. They can start by conducting trainings for their staff on how to handle customers calmly, effectively and patiently. Teaching them that a simple smile when the person enters the place of business goes a long way; giving your undivided attention to a customer; doing your utmost best to ensure that every customer leaves the business satisfied with the service provided. At times, it may require you asking people to wait patiently while you deal with the person before them, etc.
Simple things. Managers can tie good service to rewards as an incentive for better customer services. It can be small cash, or just recognition to others by having “best customer service employee of the month” recognition, providing incentive to encourage speedy processing and provide opportunities for feedback from customers and genuinely try to address some of the complaints. Sometimes it doesn’t even require much, just speaking to people respectfully, calmly answering questions or just pointing them in the right direction to who could help if you cannot.
Additionally, many people do not know that within the organization, we are also each other’s customers. Customer service within the organization is how we respond to other departments or sections in our daily workflow. If they need information to get their work done or we provide a service in order for them to complete their work, we need to be able to promptly respond as by not doing so, our action could cause a ripple effect that could harm the organization’s workflow and productivity. I actually didn’t know this side of customer service till few years back, when I joined an organization and realized that there were yearly ratings on the internal customer service and how each department related to its internal “customers”. This meant the HR team was rated on how speedily they filled positions (without reducing quality) so as to not cause a backlog of work for those who may have to cover for the vacant positions, etc. Drivers were rated on how well they responded and drove; secretaries to how well they dealt with people coming into the office requesting information, etc. This meant we all had to be more conscious on how we did our work because in a lot of instances, awards and bonuses were tied to how good or bad a rating your department got that year in customer service.
I was in Ghana recently and was among the last customers in the supermarket and I saw one of the cashiers frantically gesturing to me to come to her, so I assumed she was closing and wanted me to hurry up so I went there slightly peeved that I was being rushed, but then she smiled and said, “Thanks for coming to my stand, I want to win the prize this month for highest number of customers served and if you had gone to the other guy, he would have been leading me by two persons.” I was pleasantly surprised, decided to tip her and said to myself, “that is something we could try back home”.
The benefits of instilling good customer service in your employees are so many. Not only will you realize you may not even need to spend money on advertising and marketing (because your customers will gladly do that for you by spreading word) but the increased sales will mean more revenue for the business and probably even more bonuses and salary for employees. It is my fervent hope that in time, indeed customers in Liberia will be the “number one priority” for all businesses.
Originally published on FrontPageAfrica on November 6, 2012