Apart from RwandAir, one of the new African airlines I am very proud of is Ecair, the national transporter of Congo Brazzaville. Headed by a super intelligent woman, this airline has grown into a regional transporter opening recently its 12th destination.
Today, they pride themselves with seven aircrafts, 136 weekly flights and close to a million passengers. They have recently launched a direct flight from Brazzaville to Beirut, Lebanon’s capital after Paris and Brussels.
Ecair, like many other African airlines has many challenges, but I am regularly impressed by the level of customer service they try to offer. When I asked why the two pilots and head cabin personnel are always “white” rather that Congolese, I was told that Ecair has hired a Swiss company to manage some parts of its operations. “Well, I understand why they have such good service,” I quipped. I was ashamed to hear myself pronounce such an empty sentence. However, as I reflected on it, I realised how relevant that stereotype is. We live in an environment where most people believe that “good” and “quality” things can only be done by “whites”.
You are probably among those who believe that westerners have a better understanding of “quality” than Africans? Believe me, we are surrounded by stereotypes that things done in Africa or by Africans are always lacking “something”…maybe a sort of professionalism or accuracy.
As a proud African, I have come to dislike shoddy work done by our folks as it usually confirms that Africans cannot be quality-oriented. I am a strong believer that we have the same capacity as others to do extremely well in any field we chose to be in.
I remember one of the first remarks I received some five years ago when we started publishing the ServiceMag: How can we put such quality in a free magazine? And my answer has always been the same; “If it must be done, then it must be quality”.
I am aware of the challenges of maintaining quality standards in our environment because we rely on so many external factors. But no matter the business we find ourselves in, it is paramount we set standards and adhere to them.
Operating without standards is like sailing without knowing exactly where you want to go. Obviously, we cannot set standards if we do not have a clear image of where we want to go. Setting standards can be personal or organisational as it helps to refuse to compromise.
Organisational standards are very important because they guide managerial decision-making. They also help you define how you should act to create an effective business strategy.
One example of setting and maintaining standards for your enterprise is to define systems of getting feedback from customers. Do you understand, for instance, that a customer’s complaints are free suggestions for you to improve your services?
Some years ago, we went to try out a new restaurant that had just opened. Unfortunately, we were very disappointed and had to meet the owner to voice our experience. Rather than being thankful for our feedback, she took this very badly. I was not surprised when I passed there some months later to find the place had closed down and another brand had taken its place. The new Indian owner knew exactly what he needed to do to maintain clients.
Most African enterprises die within a short period of time because they do not always take time to evaluate themselves. A tool like the ‘SWOT’ analysis (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) usually helps to understand where a business stands.
As Africans, we should always have values, beliefs and goals and learn to promote a positive brand image in all that we do. Let us set standards for our work, behaviour and dealings with one another. No matter how challenging it is, let us stick to the values that define us as excellent brand names for our countries and continent.
The author is customer service consultant and the founder of The ServiceMag