We as customers must also take on some responsibility in improving customer service in Rwanda. The issue of how our customer service providers are lacking and discussions about what they need to do to improve has been discussed extensively in our domestic news lately.
Yes, how we solve this issue is important because tourism is one of Rwanda’s primary sources of foreign exchange revenue and it is projected to grow more than 3% in Africa this year.
Yes, there needs to be national and firm initiatives to improve service if we are to compete successfully with our neighbors for valuable tourism receipts.
And make no mistake that we are competing because, according to a survey conducted by OTF Group in 2007, international tourists rank us far behind Kenya and Tanzania when it comes to service and getting the most for your money is all the more important in these difficult times.
My problem is that we, as domestic customers, are part of Rwanda’s tourism cluster and we are not doing our part. A country improves its competitive advantage through a demanding and sophisticated local customer base that encourages better services.
We have shown ourselves to be demanding through our complaining and advice but we have not encouraged change. We need to communicate our needs in order for them to be met. What if instead of complaining we:
1. Provided useful information? –Remember that your idea of a great night out might not be the same as your server’s (let’s call him Pacifique from Cyangugu who thinks it is rude to interrupt your conversation to see if you need another drink).
2. Gave constructive criticism rather than shouting? - People will do more for others who are kind to them than for someone yelling at them. It is true that you catch more flies with honey.
3. Treated the person waiting on us with respect? - Our previous bad experiences make us antagonistic towards any server but try to remember that it’s not Pacifique’s fault that your last server was apparently deaf and blind. Treat Bob the way you’d want to be treated.
4. Complained to the right person? - Throwing a tantrum with Pacifique because your fries are burnt is going to make him run for the hills and you still have burnt fries. Let the supervisor know your problem and what he can do to make you happy (new fries, free dessert, etc.)
5. Rewarded good service? - Customer service might not be a part of Rwanda’s service culture but neither has appreciation been part of the customer’s culture. A respectable tip and a simple thank you would make Bob value his job and motivate him to improve.
As a good customer who wants to improve Rwanda’s customer service, you should be demanding but remember that you also need to encourage change.
OTF Group interviews have revealed that wait staff tend to see their job as demeaning because of the way people threat them and would rather have a different career.
By changing the way we treat those in the service industry, we will be contributing to a necessary mindset change where working in service can become viewed as a respectable and valuable career that people can take pride in.
So, please, let’s stop just complaining and do something productive to help our tourism industry excel and compete better.