Most of us have been there; that moment you walk into a restaurant, café, bank, or public office, and all you want is to receive a service that comes with some enthusiasm and with a little bit of dignity - after all, at the end of that encounter, your wallet is likely to weigh much less than you first entered.
Instead, more often than not, you receive a lousy service from an establishment which in my opinion should be doing everything possible to make your visit a memorable one for the right reasons.
Recently, while in Rwanda, I had three different experiences as a customer. The first one, I was meeting someone for a working lunch. We walked for about three minutes to a nearby restaurant – the setting was fantastic, the décor excellent, and the service, well - we were told:
“Today we will not be providing the buffet service. This is because our in-house chef didn’t come in because he isn’t feeling well. Mwihangane, sibyo…/” Yes, there were no contingency measures in place for what to do when the chef (I say the chef because it appears the restaurant operated with only one chef) is not feeling well enough to prepare a buffet.
No chef, no food – no food, no business.
The second experience was at one of Kigali’s upmarket hangouts - beautiful views, splendid décor, everything you want to enjoy a summer afternoon save for the grumpy staff. The entire experience of asking for a menu, ordering for beverages and food, and paying for the order was as if the staff member who served us was being asked to do so at gunpoint.
She offered no greeting, threw the menu to our table, and actually, at one point we overheard her argue with a Burundian couple who were at the next table.
Leaving the best for last are two excellent services I received, first at Serena Hotel in Gisenyi, and second at Camellia Tea House at the Makuza Peace Plaza building in Kigali. Patrick, a waiter at Serena in Gisenyi is one that most waiters can learn from.
From the onset, Patrick was friendly and displayed a genuine effort to acknowledge and assist my friends and I during our entire 2 day stay at the hotel, and he did it with a smile. He even offered to take photos of us as we soaked in the beauty of Rwanda.
Guevara, a waiter atCamellia Tea House is another one whose customer care should be an example to many in the hospitality industry. Not older than 25 years old, this young man made my visit to the car-free zone one to remember as he took time to welcome us, offer us a place to sit, and regularly update us on the status of our order. His service was simple but impeccable.
You see, from the above three experiences I have mentioned, there are three points to note. The first experience exemplifies a business that has a genuine lack of planning. It is difficult to imagine that a restaurant with an established base of regular customers doesn’t provide a service simply because a chef is ill.
A chef, like any other human being, isn’t immune to ill-health – contingency measures for continuity must be in place to allow business to carry on. As for grumpy staff members, there should be an understanding that when entering a place of business, what most customers want to see is a staff member making a genuine effort to acknowledge and assist them.
Customers want to hear words of greeting and to see a simple smile as they enter a place of business. If the staff member at the entrance appears grumpy and disinterested, it is likely that the entire customer experience will follow the set mood.
In Rwanda, service delivery has for the last few years improved significantly, and in fact, according to Yves Ngezi, the customer care division manager at Rwanda Development Board (RDB), Rwanda was ranked 37th out of 138 global economies on the level of customer orientation in the private sector on the most recent World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, which assesses the competitiveness landscape of economies, providing insight into the drivers of their productivity and prosperity.
In the same way, government through institutions such as RDB has made it a priority to improve service delivery as this is seen as a key pillar of economic growth and thereby positioning the country as a regional service hub.
This explains why this week RDB has led way in celebrating for the fourth time, Customer Service Week, which runs in the first week of October and seeks to raise awareness of customer service and the vital role it plays in successful business practices, and I must add the growth of our economy.
You see, the key to good customer service is building good relationships with your customers. It requires preparation, attention to detail, and a clear understanding that the survival of your business depends largely on the way you handle your customers.
It all begins with the basics; greeting, acknowledging, and thanking your customers. A positive, helpful and friendly environment will ultimately ensure that customers leave with a great impression of your business and the possibility of returning. The opposite is also true.
However, to ensure that efficiently, first, businesses should strive to know what customers consider an excellent service experience - take the time to find out customers’ expectations, follow up on both positive and negative feedback, and more importantly, continuously look for ways to improve the level of the service you deliver.
In the end, as a nation with very little natural resources, the only way toleapfrog from being an agrarian economy to becoming a service-oriented economy is to invest wholeheartedly into the service sector.
But, in order to achieve this objective and position ourselves as a regional service hub, we must abandon the often nonchalant and sometimes lazy attitudes we portray as ifwe are being forced, and yet, service delivery remains our only gateway to achieve a service-oriented economy that is competent enough to challenge for opportunities from even far afield. Remember, if you don’t take care of a customer, someone else will.
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