What’s the point?

Everyone has their pet peeves, mine is poor customer service. In Rwanda, we are just starting to understand the impact of good service. We have a magazine dedicated to the topic. Ministers respond to inquiries via Twitter. We are slowly but surely catching up to the region and the world.
Nathalie Munyampenda
Nathalie Munyampenda

Everyone has their pet peeves, mine is poor customer service. In Rwanda, we are just starting to understand the impact of good service. We have a magazine dedicated to the topic. Ministers respond to inquiries via Twitter. We are slowly but surely catching up to the region and the world.

However, I sometimes get the impression that we don’t understand the point of it. Someone along the line said, “If we want to make money, we need to occasionally smile, and give them what they want quickly.” And we equate that to customer service.

Let me give you an example of excellent customer service. If you’ve never been to a Starbucks, take it from an addict, they are on another level. They know that they are selling more than coffee. The Starbucks experience is as much about the people you meet to the conversations you have to the space to hang out. Employees become friends. The company places high value on people skills as much as technical skills. Also, they have a Starbucks tailored customer service training before employees start.

I am a loyal customer. Loyalty is one of the reasons great customer service is necessary. You don’t want a customer to come once; you want them to make a decision to stick with your brand over another. Loyalty makes the customer your cheapest PR agency. It’s simple, if you love a brand, you tell the people about it.

I take my drinks extra hot and several times I had to go back and ask them to make them hotter and each time I gauged reaction. It always amazed me that no matter which Starbucks it was, they were like, “I’m really sorry it’s not hot enough, I’ll make you another. Have a muffin on me.” It isn’t a kind heart so much as the realization that once I’m a loyal customer, I will spend enough to pay back that free muffin I was given. It’s called good business strategy.

Here are few things I noticed that local companies can do better. Consider it my professional opinion.

• Make customer service a priority. If you don’t, why should your employees?

• Create a customer service manual (big companies) or cheat sheet (smaller companies) tailored to your business that emphasizes the importance of creating loyalty. Get your star performers to teach the course BEFORE employees start work and mentor afterwards.

• Listen to employees. It is hard to sell a product you don’t believe in. It is also hard to give your best when work conditions are less than ideal. If you want employees to give their skin and back for the company, consider them your first customers. If you provide competitive benefits and remuneration, I promise, only bad apples would provide bad service.

• Lead by example. If you own or manage a business where interaction with customers is key, lead the way. Come out on the floor and interact with customers. Use it as an occasion to feel out customer satisfaction. It is cheaper than hiring a consultant since customers most likely don’t know who you are.

• Create a tool to rate both employees and products. The former will help you encourage the good and correct the bad, and the latter will help you figure out if your products are appropriate for the given market and if things like prices can be hiked and so on.

I know there are some cultural barriers. People have this pride thing that makes them look at you like have offended them by asking for the price of butter. The word in Kinyarwanda is “agasuzuguro”. I personally believe the people who hide behind it are trying to mask incompetence, low self-esteem and sometimes depression.

We all have personal issues. You might be thinking ‘this stupid lady can’t read the bottom of the box herself, when I have bigger issues like a sick husband and children to feed’. The person asking might have just been laid off.Issues are no excuse.

The question to ask yourself is this: if I was a brand, what would people say about me? Little miss grumpy? Always late? Never gets her facts straight? Arasuzugura?In any case, that annoying customer is your bread and butter.

 In a few years, given the influx of regional companies that figured out the customer service thing years ago, we will be left behind if we don’t adjust. It’s more than language by the way. I don’t mind a heavy accent that is telling me the right information and trying their best to help me out.

It’s an attitude thing. If you don’t do it for the joy of it, do it for the money because very soon, slackers won’t make the cut.

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