Over a year ago Clare Akamanzi Deputy CEO in charge of Business Operations Services at Rwanda Development Board (RDB) was named as chair of the National Steering Committee on new customer service care campaign. This committee was mandated to improve customer service in Rwanda. While the steering committee has made tremendous progress, it has now emerged that Rwanda can earn an additional $40 million every year by 2012 just by improving on its customer service orientation. This has further raised the stakes. Ms Akamanzi talked to The New Times’ Fred Oluoch-Ojiwah on what has been done while painting the future outlook of the campaign. Excerpts.
It has been quite sometime since you spoke to print media about this campaign. What has been done and what needs to be done.
About a year ago, the Government prioritized customer care as a key area that both the public and private sector was going to look at in terms of improving it. At that time a national customer service steering committee which I chair was established.
It comprises of several representatives drawn from both the private and public sectors. So for the last one year we have had this steering committee operational.
The Government wanted two key areas looked at by this committee. One was changing the understanding or the awareness of customer care which was not the case before.
By doing that attention had to be directed at changing the mindsets or the culture or behaviour that served as impediments to good customer care delivery.
We are going to do that by mounting customer awareness campaigns. The second one was training. For instance we have to ask ourselves-how do we improve the skills rather than just being aware of customer service? It is equally important to improve skills after sensitization. Hence I can say that our terms of reference was centred around those two broad aspects of this programme.
So what has happened ever since you kicked off the campaign?
We started off with several campaigns, awareness workshops as well as media engagement plans. We have had over 25 reports on customer care highlighted in different media outlets over the last one year.
We have also had about 46 column articles on this topic written. We have mounted several discussions on TV and on Radio.
These media outlets have covered different aspects of customer care. So I must say that a lot has been done in terms of customer care awareness. Secondly on training, we had a target of training 4,000 Rwandans on customer care.
And in partnership between RDB, The Workforce Development Authority(WDA) and The Private Sector Federation(PSF) we have actually trained over 5,500 Rwandans on customer care.
In this we have had several cross cutting workshops organized by WDA. We have engaged directly those in the financial sectors, hospitality and tourism. We have also trained members of the motorcycle taxi operators ASSETAMORWA.
We have also had tailor made modules for specific organizations. For instance we had a training package for Social Security Fund of Rwanda, The Rwanda National Police, The Civil Aviation Authority and many more. So yes, that is what has been done.
But in addition to those two elements, RDB in partnership with PSF worked together to come up with the first customer care handbook. The handbook gives the basics of customer care, ready reference for people to learn the ABCs of customer care. We had also promoted customer care at the last National Expo together with PSF. We also developed videos which could be used for training.
How do you monitor trends?
We also did a strategy paper with The Institute of Policy Research and Analysis (IPAR) which is going to serve as our road map for the next year as we embark on implementing reforms.
In relation to that we have undertaken a baseline survey with Over The Frontier (OTF) consultancy firm which came out last year 2009. This should be the basis of tracking progress registered as subsequent surveys will be carried out. That way we will be monitoring whether customer care is improving. In this survey we are targeting clients rather than service providers.
Sandra Idossou the customer care expert says that improving customer care is about focusing on developing positive attitude and training. What is being done in this regard?
One of the challenges we had to tackle to enable us have good customer care was changing behaviour or mind set of those in this line of duty which is really about changing attitude.
And we found out further that one of the main causes of poor customer care has been lack of not appreciating the link that customer care has with personal growth.
The link that customer care has with the company’s growth has not been given due attention. This is to say that the better customer service given, the more clients an organization attracts which ultimately translates into more earnings for workers.
That link has been missing. It has not been fully appreciated. And also when good customer care is given there is this link with boosting the earnings of the larger economy.
It is thus directly linked to having visitors and tourists to appreciate our hospitality. Also when you save time and costs it is a savings of money as a scarce resource. So that kind of attitude that has been lacking most of the time due to lack of appreciation of that importance.
So in order to have a positive attitude we have seen that creating more awareness, more assessments, more training for the purposes of showing the importance of making this shift had to be stepped up.
That is on the part of attitude. On the part of professionalism focus is on training. This is to complement sensitization. This training is not only going to be done by RDB and its partners. While we will continue with playing our part-we have to tell companies and other stakeholders that effective training must be a continuous effort.
It is not done only once. It should be spearheaded by the institutions. What we are promoting right now is that we want to see every company come up with its own specific programmes for training for customer care including assessment methods they will use to track outcomes.
By so doing we think there will be a change of attitude and more professionalism will be attained.
Sandra contends that many people still do not have access to either formal or informal training. What is your response?
About a year ago there were very few institutions focussing on customer care. We have now seen consultancies coming in to open up in Rwanda.
Sandra herself being a perfect example. We have seen companies coming from the region setting up in Rwanda to do customer care training. We have the WorkForce Development Authority (WDA) that has had a customer care component within its programmes.
We think there is room for more. We have had people coming from abroad saying ‘we want to be part of the customer care campaigns-How can we participate?’So while there has previously been limited access for training, the situation is clearly improving.
Has RDB focused on low cost intervention targeting the masses?
We have just started a campaign known as “Konjera Ufura” which had started with the print media. However we want to scale it up through radio. Along with the scale up we are also encouraging Rwandans to come up with like minded ideas through mediums like music, drama, theatre etc.
For instance one young lady started the waiter’s race-which we supported. It was interesting. It served its purposes right. So we are encouraging these sorts of inputs apart from those being spearheaded by the national steering committee.
Let us talk about those teaser campaigns in the papers and how they are going to change the mindsets.
The teaser was only step one-an introduction to hundreds of steps that we are taking. It was just to create curiosity. To grab people’s attention. Which we believe we did. Right now we have started conveying the messages. The next step is to scale that up.
You will agree with me that change of mindset takes time. So how will you track its changing patterns?
To do that we will have to look at how good services have been manifested across board. So improvement of customer care is the only evidence that there is mindset change.
What we are doing with the survey that we carried out with OTF is that we are tracking people’s mindset by continuously asking questions on whether clients have seen a change in the provision of services.
Even those giving those services we are set on asking them about what they see as the importance of giving improved services. The OTF survey has five key indicators which are internationally recognized that can assist in tracking the situation.
What is the way forward in terms of enabling an out reach throughout the country?
We want a much wider coverage in terms of reaching out to all the districts in the country. We would like to see all Government institutions having client charters.
We would like to see private businesses continuously having individual programmes to train on customer care programmes. In this scale up programme we are saying that it would be much better to have trained over 50,000 in a year. That is our vision by 2013.
There are those out of the ordinary things that stakeholders can or are capable of doing. Like that waiter’s race you have mentioned. Do you have a programme for that?
We are encouraging such moves. In fact one of the achievements we will have made is- if the national customer care steering committee becomes more overshadowed by such private initiatives so to speak.
So the more we have people embarking on such things the more we know that we are attaining success. Apart from the waiter’s race we have had the southern province coming up with a customer care award ceremony.
There are different kinds of activities happening in that regard. We have had universities inviting us to attend some of such events. So we are really encouraging these creative ideas. When they come to us we are open to them. We will support such moves.
What does the future hold?
Well, the Government including The President of Rwanda has made it very clear that service delivery is going to be a key factor in what we are going to achieve as a country if we want to be a service hub of the region.
We want to stand out among nations as a country that is committed as capable of delivering good services. All these efforts are to enable us join hands together so that in the future we can be a true service hub of the region.
That is what the future holds. It is very achievable. I see it happening. We just have to keep on working very hard as we move forward.