OPINION: Can good customer service be achieved by public servants?

Some weeks ago, the Ministry of Local Government organised training for local authorities about good governance. I was asked by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) team to make a presentation on Customer Service.

Some weeks ago, the Ministry of Local Government organised training for local authorities about good governance. I was asked by the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) team to make a presentation on Customer Service.

There was an interesting question on how best government and district authorities could do customer service, which made me realise that many people still think that customer service is solely destined for businesses in the private sector.

Maybe as a civil servant, you are also thinking that you don’t have “customers” in your line of work.  Think again about this.  Everyone has someone who needs their help at some time; whether in a post office, at the tribunal, at the hospital, at the district sector.

According to the TenSteps definition, customers are defined as “The person or group that is the direct beneficiary of a project or service. The people for whom the project is being undertaken (indirect beneficiaries are probably stakeholders)”.
In this case, it is not necessarily a buying person who is a customer and customer service is a requisite even in government institutions and in the public sector.

There are people who probably do not deal directly with outside customers. If you serve people, they are your customers. If you have to take care of people’s land issues, they are your customers.

Even though these customers might not be paying you directly, you are there for them.  As a public servant, your salary comes from the tax payers (the local people you serve).

We can recognise the efforts that are being made today in many companies to improve on customer service in Rwanda. Almost everyone is aware of the need to change our mindset and attitude.

But much as the private sector is trying to raise the bar for customer service, citizens and people coming to Rwanda are expecting the same level of service from government institutions. We all want to be able to navigate through the complex bureaucratic maze to obtain services without too much hassle.

In most public institutions, customers today are often treated like a nuisance. Most of us have come to believe that outstanding customer service is just a dream impossible to realize especially in the public sector. It is high time this changes.

Some tips that should help civil servants offer a better service include treating the citizen “customer” with respect because they pay your salary, respect the opening hours of the administration.

If you have to go out for an outside assignment, let your people know the time you will be back. You should also take time to understand the citizen’s issue and offer suggestions for resolving issues, be patient and compassionate while remembering you are there to serve.

“Never stop serving your customers. They’ll love you for it.” Be empathetic and try to come out from your “boxes” so that you can understand the need of your customers. Sometimes, you are just too stiff with rules and this may prevent you from helping a customer.

Also with today’s electronic capabilities and widespread internet facility, government institutions can have many more opportunities than ever to provide good customer service. They can provide useful websites with downloadable forms for instance.

A good example of this is the internet system at the Immigration service that allows customers to track their visa applications directly on internet. With just a click, you can follow up your visa application.

This prevents one to have to spent money, time and energy to go to the immigration to check. Achieving customer satisfaction is a key priority for any good service provider and Rwanda’s civil service should be no different.

Customer service has the objective of ensuring that all clients – the public – receive the best customer service possible. And remember customer service is not just destined to foreigners or the “Bazungu” visiting Rwanda. It is a sign of care to all your fellow Rwandans and in that matter to all your customers whether black, white, small or tall.

The author is a Customer Service expert currently working in Rwanda.