Our customer care problem

Everyone who is reading this knows that Rwanda has a chronic customer care problem and has had one for a long time.

Whether you are at a restaurant, a bank or a public institution, it’s fairly obvious that there are severe challenges related to our sense of professionalism and hospitality in workplace environments.

The reasons why are outside the scope of this article but it remains fascinating to me how deeply entrenched the problem is and how deeply it contradicts how generally hospitable we are in our social lives.

Of course people often have a different work persona from their social persona, but this disconnect strikes me as being very significant because it goes to such a core element of behaviour.

However, what is also fascinating to me is the unexpected places where good customer care flourishes. I used to utilise moto taxis regularly until quite recently and I still occasionally use them.

What has always surprised me is that I’m far more likely to get good customer care from those riders than I would get from, say a decent hotel.

They will usually greet you, listen politely to whatever you have to say and say thank you when the transaction is done- all things which should be basic courtesy, but are too often missing in our workplace environments.

They will also be patient with you if you are unsure of your destination or if you change the itinerary and will be open to feedback.

And yet they have no real incentive to do so since they don’t rely on tips from their passengers and they are usually not going to benefit from repeat visits from each passenger.

There are plenty of other unexpected places where you receive good service- for example there is a certain bank in town where a security guard greets every customer with enthusiasm and makes them feel welcome as soon as they walk in through the door.

Additionally, you are also more likely to get good service from bars and restaurants which fall on the lower end of the fancy scale in addition to barbershops which also have plenty of lessons to teach other places about how to handle clients.

Their economic incentives to provide good customer care vary in strength, but they do it anyway.

But on the other side of the ledger, you have all the upscale and popular restaurants that have zero understanding about how to treat customers.

I heard of one case where the owner of an establishment was notified about the consistent poor service from staff but he wasn’t the slightest bit bothered about it-“I have my loyal customers- if others don’t want to come, I don’t need them” was what he said.

Another infamous case involved an upscale restaurant which responded to social media complaints about its poor service with a joke that was in poor taste and made light of the complaints.

Needless to say, the service of both establishments has remained abysmal.

Meanwhile, anyone who has visited a hospital in Kigali will know that they are probably the worst of all- hospitals with zero hospitality are the norm. And due to the ‘mwihangane’ principle, most of us put up with terrible service without complaining publicly.

Is there any way out of this situation? If institutions and individuals don’t respond to incentives (tips, institutional reputation, personal dignity etc) then what hope is there for the situation to be reversed?

At the end of the day it can only come down to the customer to challenge poor service wherever he/she sees it even though it’s unfair to ask them to carry that burden.

We should not allow themselves to settle for less than what we are worth. And, at the end of the day, we can always ask the moto-taxi riders to educate the rest.

The views expressed in this article are of the author.




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