One of the most frequent questions I have been asked in the past few weeks is whether customer service is improving in Rwanda. When answering the question, I often start by describing the type of service I received in a restaurant when I first came to Rwanda six years ago.
As our kitchen was not yet completed, we decided to have dinner at the nearby restaurant the first evening of our arrival in Rwanda. It took 10 minutes for the waiters to notice us and to take our order. The waiter, who could barely speak either French or English, finally took our order and disappeared. After waiting for over 25 minutes without receiving our drinks, we tried to call him but he was busy laughing with someone on phone. After that long phone call, he joined his colleagues at a corner of the restaurant to chat. We just left. Funny enough, no one even noticed as the waiters were still ‘busy’ chatting.
Six years after this experience, I am delighted to see how things have improved. Yes, we are still far from international standards of operation in most sectors of the service industry. However, but we can boldly say that we are on the right track. The customer care sensitisation campaign is surely paying off.
Offices do no more close between 12:00pm and 2:00pm, most banks now have queuing systems, workers no longer wear flip flops to work, telecom companies now use social networks to communicate with customers, health practitioners know patients would report them if they receive poor services, and customers now understand the need of complaining when the service is poor.
It is also true that many organisations do not respond to correspondences, while many still make empty promises in adverts, which they do not honour. Though service is still very slow, hygiene in certain restaurants and bars is still poor, we are definitely heading to the right direction with all the sensitisation going on.
One afternoon, I was invited for lunch at a newly-opened hotel in Kiyovu and I was impressed with the wonderful service they offered as a new establishment.
Safi, the waiter who took care of us, knew his game, doing all the right things like someone who had come from abroad. But no, he is from here. He simply knows and loves his job. The starters were served within 10 minutes. The main dishes were well dressed and even when one of us requested that his meat be cooked for a longer time, he apologised and served him what he wanted. Though they did not have the Tiramisu we wanted, they convinced us to try an alternative dessert.
While the food quality and cleanliness of the restaurant are important for customers, service levels have the greatest influence on the perception of clients. With this memorable positive experience, I will definitely recommend it to all my friends and to you dear reader.
Whether it is a restaurant, bank, district office or hospital, good customer service is important and needs the involvement of everyone, from the top to bottom.
Good customer service is not only about the smile of front-line employees, but also depends on systems put in place.
If you are a business owner, a supervisor or a manager, ensure that everyone in your team understands the importance of customer service for your business. Build and maintain a service-oriented spirit in all your work processes and systems.
You also have to offer your employees a conducive working environment that constantly challenges and motivates them.
If we think that mediocre service is fine because we are in Rwanda or Africa, we should be prepared to see our businesses crumble and our institutional image destroyed.
One of the positive impacts of competition is that it drives everyone to do better than the others. Customers now have choices.
The only option service providers have is to keep the momentum and continue improving on their services daily, and they will see the results on their bottom line.
The author is a customer service consultant and the publisher of The ServiceMag