Over these past years in Rwanda, many of us have been involved in the campaign against poor service delivery in both public and private institutions. Though the level of service we often get is still very far from what we should be expecting, the good thing though is that many now talk about customer service. I still remember how unusual it was years ago to hear complaints. Today, The ServiceMag social media platforms have become the place for many to complain and compliment service providers.
While it is good we all get to talk over a drink about this issue affecting us all, it is paramount to clarify that customer service is not only about the smile of the receptionist or waiter. Customer service goes beyond the first contact.
The speed at which some people render service is still annoying I must admit. I have often met people who visit Rwanda for the first time to appreciate the hospitality but wonder about the low speed at which certain things are done with customers. You probably have a better explanation on this than I do.
It is sad to note that today; we still have many people who do not understand that responding to official letters and mails is business etiquette. Just ask anyone who has dealt with some of these big institutions we often think are examples of good customer service practices, and you will be amazed to hear that the majority, especially people at the top level are the ones who often have no customer service etiquette.
What then is customer service? Can we talk about good service when the waiter is smiling and yet takes an hour to bring a simple tea? Can we talk about customer service when the entrance to an office is immaculate clean and green and yet no one seems able to get back to us when we have issues?
Whether in Rwanda or in any other part of the world, Customer service relates to the service provided to customers before, during and after a purchase. The notion of “before” is an important element because it implies that we have put things right even before the customer comes in. The “before” also requires that standards, trainings, procedures are defined, set up and have employees’ adherence. Do you have any written standards of operation (SoP) in your institution? How many take their new employees through their procedures of service?
Customer service is also what happens while the customer is there but often, we have an issue with the “after” of this provision of service. What tools are put in place to hear customers’ complaints? Does your institution still have that archaic suggestion box that no one uses in this modern age?
Needless to say that no matter the size of your business, excellent customer service needs to be at the heart of your business model if you wish to be successful. And we all know that with the objective of Rwanda being a service-based economy, we have no choice but to improve on our processes. This will require that we go beyond the smile of front-line staff and invest in procedures, systems, standards and trainings.
For any business to strive, it is important to provide good customer service to all types of customers, whether black, white, local, foreigner, potential, new and existing customers. The day we take customers for granted, we start losing it all.
Yesterday, I was happy to see the many innovative ways some companies put up in celebrating Valentine’s day.
Though, I am not personally a fanatic of this celebration, I was marvelled to see that some companies went the extra way in offering roses to their clients. Recently, I saw the immigration service offering a signed birthday card to a citizen who was filling for a passport the day of her birthday.
Though these little actions take extra resources, time and money, we can all agree that excellent customer service can generate positive word-of-mouth for any business and keep customers happy and loyal.
In Rwanda today, it is high time service providers treat their customers respectfully, accepting feedback, whether positive or negative, but most especially handling efficiently their complaints. Things can go wrong but what is important is finding solutions to complaints and instilling a service excellence culture that accepts critics.
The Author is a Customer Service Consultant and the Publisher of www.theservicemag.com