Time to rethink the approach
Addressing poor customer service in Rwanda has become a national concern, for both the public and private sectors.
For a nation that, in her vision 2020, aspires to become a service based economy, it is imperative its citizens and institutions are customer focused.
Two years ago, poor customer service in Rwanda came into the limelight when President Paul Kagame deplored the situation.
Research on customer service n Rwanda first done in 2009 by the Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, an indigenous Think-Tank, titled: “The Impact of Poor Customer Service on the Economy of Rwanda” revealed the shocking finding that the country was rated worst in the region for customer service delivery.
The report concluded that if nothing was done about it the realization of the vision 2020 was in jeopardy.
In an attempt to remediate the situation over the last year the Government, through the Rwanda Development Board (RDB), has invested a lot of effort and resources into attempts to improve the situation.
Significant resources have been put into training staff in the service sector in customer care and media campaigns have raised awareness of the importance of customer service.
It has been acknowledged that this is an important issue and that it is essential that customer service delivery is improved as a matter of urgency.
However, a research conducted by IPAR between November 2009 and January 2010, indicates that if poor customer service is to be addressed in the country, the right root causes NOT symptoms have to be tackled.
IPAR comprehensively reviewed what institutions have been doing to address poor customer service in Rwanda, reviewed what other countries are doing and most importantly carried out a qualitative study of the financial sector as a critical study.
The study, carried out in the three districts of Kigali, involved in-depth interviews with managers, staff and consumers of banks, insurance companies, insurance brokerage firms, forex bureaus and microfinance institutions.
The findings clearly demonstrate that the root cause of poor customer service in Rwanda are organisations that are not customer centric (focused) and thus fail to put in place policies, practices and procedures that are aligned to providing good customer service.
Contrary to the general belief that the main cause of poor service delivery in Rwanda is a problem of mindset, research by IPAR reveals that root causes have to be seen in the context of a more general lack of commitment to quality enhancement in organisations.
“Change in the business environment is occurring at accelerating pace, the message for companies in the 21st century is crystal clear: If you don’t drive your business you will be driven out of business.
Responsive organisations will emerge as change winners while reactive organisations will become change victims” according to Victor S.L.Tan, the CEO of KL Strategic Change Consulting.
This applies to public sector as well because efficiency and effectiveness require a change of mindset.
As the research further reveals, Rwanda is characterized by contextual challenges that are common to most developing countries.
Like; lack of competition; lack of qualified and experienced employees at all levels in organizations; poor time management that relates to cultural and historical aspects.
However, this should not be an excuse to providing poor customer service because in the earlier research done by IPAR countries in the region with similar contextual challenges emerged better at providing good service.
This research concludes that training staff to be nice to clients is a wonderful idea but if the organisation is not customer focused with appropriate practices, policies and procedures in place then, as one quoted manager said: “there’re no guarantees that the staff will behave the same way”.
This culminates into a tendency for employees (including managers) not to take responsibility for delivering a good service.
Managers blame front- line -staff and front-line-staff blame poor and inattentive delivery on the attitude of customers towards them.
In the case of financial institutions, however long they open for or however much they increase the number of tellers to solve the problem of long queues there is no guarantee that clients will be happier if staff do not know what it takes to satisfy a customer or the banking infrastructure is not up to standard.
In the case of hotels, training staff to greet and smile is insufficient if the service quality at the end of the day is not worth the money.
In the public sector, increasing working hours may not necessarily yield results if poor working practices are maintained.
This, according to the IPAR research is addressing symptoms other than the root causes. To ensure total satisfaction of a client, the report concludes that organisations and businesses need to focus on both the quality of the product and value for clients’ money.
To achieve this, emphasis has to be put on what is delivered (core quality), how it is delivered and the perceived value by clients.
The IPAR research has also revealed that customers are vaguely aware that they should be treated better but have few ways of demanding better services or being able to express their discontent to service providers.
They are, however, generally undemanding of the level of service delivery they expect and often resign to take what is delivered.
Visitors and Rwandan’s who have experienced service delivery outside of the country are especially critical of service delivery in Rwanda, the research reveals.
The research indicates that the Government has to play a central role by encouraging, regulating, empowering, facilitating and put in place the right infrastructure across all sectors to enable service providers to deliver better services.
Poor service delivery by any given sector or provider is negatively impacted on by the poor service delivery they get from suppliers, the research also indicates.
Meanwhile, IPAR has proposed a national customer service strategy to the government comprising concrete recommendations and a roadmap to address poor customer service in the country.
In addition, IPAR is developing a generic toolkit with monitoring and evaluation options that institutions across different sectors can adapt and tailor to their respective needs.
As President Kagame said during the December 2009 meeting with private sector investors: “The issue of customer service is a serious one – for government and private sector and unless we overcome it, we are wasting a lot of time and therefore, we will not achieve the kind of development we want to achieve”.