When you don’t know that you don’t know…

Service, especially customer service is a popular topic. Improving customer service is talk of town. There has been training after training on this. ‘Maintain eye contact’, ‘give a firm handshake’, ‘smile’-secrets of good customer service, we are told. Very good but though the jury is still out on the results, the customers are not smiling just yet. So what is the problem?

Service, especially customer service is a popular topic. Improving customer service is talk of town. There has been training after training on this. ‘Maintain eye contact’, ‘give a firm handshake’, ‘smile’-secrets of good customer service, we are told. Very good but though the jury is still out on the results, the customers are not smiling just yet. So what is the problem?

The answer is multifaceted, in the words of the Greek philosopher Socrates, ‘You are smart when you know that you don’t know and you are stupid when you don’t know that you don’t know. I have dealt with a few organizations on this matter and I have observed some very interesting things. First, a lot of us are just moving with the flow. We really have not taken our time to know our customer needs. We would then analyze our business operations vis-à-vis the customer needs then talk of improving customer service.

Secondly, people are playing the proverbial ostrich and burying their heads in the sand. We think it is not our problem. It is other people’s problem. Each person thinks that their company/organization is fine and it is other firms being spoken about. It is human nature to externalize problems but it stops us from taking ownership of the solutions to our problems. Thus, our problems are never solved. We are still ‘too shy’ to confront the problem head on and so we give it lip service.

Thirdly, those of us who want to sort out the problem are looking for a formula for a quick fix. We want instant solutions that can be switched on and voila! Unfortunately, customers come in different shapes and forms so ‘one size fits all’ cannot work.

Fourth, that stem from these is a marked lack of leadership in the private sector in solving this problem. A lesson from the animals. The most successful are the ones that operate in groups. It could be a pride of lions, a herd of elephants or buffaloes or a pack of the African wild dogs.

The leopard and the cheetah that operate alone are always losing their kill to the hyenas. I am talking about the trade/business associations. They are woefully weak. They must be strengthened.

I have a few thoughts: What is customer service, anyway? Organizations have customer service departments; what do the other departments do? Are they not about customer service? The whole organization should be about customer service, no less, if profit is the motive.

It is true that Rwandans are typically good hosts.  So how come in business we receive people in a not so good way? I think it is because we are always trying to be someone else at work from our natural selves at home.

We should start by being ourselves first. Be natural and helpful and get real. The second thing that we should do is be the questioning professionals who strive to improve their abilities always. It is nice to ‘smile’ at your customers, but for heaven’s sake, at least know why we are doing it and when to do it.

The desire to serve should be the driving force. Our professionalism and all else is of no consequence if it does not lead us to serve. You are as important as you are significant; as significant as you are needed; as needed as you are useful and as useful as you serve.

Fourth, we need to influence our colleagues (both peers and subordinates) to ‘adopt’ the service culture through our actions and through our words. This leadership in customer service is important because the message of the unreformed reformer never gets far. All this should be done from an entrepreneurial approach whereby we are constantly seeking out opportunities. Put simply, seek out new customers/ opportunities but also seek to benefit more from your current customers/opportunities.The agony is when we don’t know that we don’t know.

Sam Kebongo is skills and business advisory services consultant. He teaches entrepreneurship at Rwanda Tourism University College.
 
sam.kebongo@gmail.com

 

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