Why the customer is not king
Sometime next month the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) will launch a major campaign countrywide to improve customer care and service delivery.
The campaign will be aimed at influencing behavioural change both in the public and private sectors, but it is not the first such effort.
In 2009, the Government realised that something was not quite right in the service sector, and as a result, the economy was losing millions of dollars in revenues; it was poor customer service.
According to a study released at about the same time by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR), the country was losing as much as US$40 million annually due to poor customer care.
As a result, several initiatives and policies designed to cure the problem in both the public and private sector were initiated by the government, all aimed at revamping the service sector and customer care in particular.
The government was keen to give Rwandans the competitive edge in the East African Community region. And as a country that seeks to build a knowledge-based economy, customer service was always going to be an important and, indeed, an integral part of the development agenda.
On March 4, 2009, the Cabinet appointed a high-level national customer care taskforce to spearhead what many believed, was as a major revolution in the way Rwandans go about their work.
The Chief Operating Officer of the RDB Claire Akamanzi, was named chair of the team, but three years down the road, the jury is still out on whether there has been any improvement in customer care particularly in the service delivery sector.
But any improvements made can largely be attributed to the government’s consistent call for better service delivery, with the subject becoming one of the most talked-about issues in the past three consecutive annual Leadership Retreats, as well as the annual National Dialogue (Umushyikirano).
Whereas there has been some slight improvement in the private sector, it is believed that the country still has a long way to go in delivering reliable customer care.
During the National Thanksgiving Breakfast last month, President Paul Kagame, again, pointed out that despite the country’s progress on many fronts; customer care remained a big hindrance to doing business.
“I have received dozens of tweets from different corners of the world saying we appreciate the cleanliness, the good roads, the stability, but there is one thing missing - good customer care,” he told the gathering, adding, on a light note, that it was one problem prayers could not cure.
It was reminiscent of when, a few years back, he chided clients for paying for poor services or settling for unjustifiable service delays.
According to the taskforce, the behavioural change and awareness campaigns, which are ongoing, are expected to build on the previous one called ‘Gira Ubupfura.’
The head of the Customer Care Unit at RDB, Yves Ngenzi, says this year’s campaign is aimed at improving customer care, which despite some improvement in the last couple of years, still remains poor according to surveys carried out.
“This year, the priority is creating channels through which we can initiate public dialogue in order to create more awareness about the reality of customer service in Rwanda and how it impacts on economic growth.
“This way, we will be able to get feedback from the public on how to address the issue, therefore creating home-grown solutions in the long run,” he told The New Times.
The priority areas targeted in the new campaign include the hotel industry because of the interaction between visitors and the service providers, and local government offices because it serves a variety of clients.
RDB, in partnership with the private sector, has developed a set of tools to address the problem. They include a Service Toolkit which can be customised to suit any business and a Customer Care Handbook.
As part of this campaign, the tools will be customised to meet the needs of the hotel industry and local government offices.
Complaints about the quality of services, particularly in the hospitality industry, continue to surface on social network sites such as Facebook and Twitter as well as mailing groups like Kigali Life.
Complaints such as “cold food”, “delayed service”, “lack of customer attention” and “poor room service” dominate the conversations. But the RDB and other experts in the service sector insist there has been some improvement.
RDB believes that the improvement in customer care is a long term process which requires more than two years for people to change their behaviour and adopt it as part of their culture.
Ngenzi said that the first campaign was mainly geared on creating awareness, which is the initial stage of a long process. This is where people are made to understand that the services they provide have been found wanting.
In the first campaign, he said, selected staff from the public and private sectors were equipped to train others in the use of the toolkit developed by the RDB, while several road shows, radio and TV programmes targeted the wider masses.
The Workforce Development Authority (WDA) and the Rwanda Institute of Administration and Management (RIAM) trained 18,000 in the service industry.
Ngenzi said that the journey remains long and more intensive trainings and mass awareness campaigns will be carried out to tackle the problem.
According to Dennis Karera, the Chairman of Rwanda Hotel and Restaurant Association, there has been a general improvement but not to the desired levels. He said there was need to create more awareness if Rwanda has to compete with the rest of the EAC region.
“We still have a long way to go, but I can say that we have so far taken a good step in saying that something is indeed wrong and we need to do something about it, right from the highest level of leadership to the grassroots.
“The Head of State has talked about it; last week we (hotel owners) met the Prime Minister and we agreed on the drastic measures we need to take to collectively address the issue,” said Karera.
It was agreed that immediate actions be taken to create the change needed in the sector in the next six months and a team of people assigned to address specific tasks will report the progress to the PM every three months.
Karera noted that starting from today, a team from his association will undertake a national inspection of all hotels to encourage owners to take responsibility of the customer care attitude change process.
“I am optimistic that during my two years in office, we will see major changes taking place. We want to see service delivery reach levels comparable to our neighbours in the region.” he said.
In an interview with The New Times, Sandra Idoussou, a customer care consultant and publisher of the Service Magazine, said that there has been “commendable improvement” since the campaign began, but agrees that more needs to be done.
“There is need for more urgency but the good thing is that most people, for example in Kigali, understand that when they don’t give good customer care, people will talk about it.
“It’s time for people to act and talk less, but I can confidently say there has been improvement both in the public and private sector,” Idoussou said.
Contact email: edmund.kagire[at]newtimes.co.rw