Customers should be treated better

Having expressed reservations with appalling customer service levels from an array of service providers in the country in previous articles, my attention was drawn to a post on Facebook last week by a chief executive officer of one of the international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) based in Lilongwe.

In her post, which attracted comments from several people who equally shared experiences on their frustrations with some customer service officers, the executive decried the treatment she underwent at a shop of an integrated mobile phone network and information and communications technology service provider in Lilongwe.

To cut the long story short, the officers did not seem to notice her presence as they were so engrossed in a conversation planning their day’s lunch: “Mpunga ndi ma ofozi or mpunga ndi nyama [rice served with beef offal or beef stew].”

From the comments, hers was not an isolated case. Many organisations in the country invest in customer service, but, sadly, some bad apples still exist and dent their images.

I have previously shared similar experiences of poor service mostly resulting from bad attitudes. You walk into a service provider’s premises and no one greets you or attends to you. In this era of social media, you find some front office staff so engrossed in their smartphones, probably chatting up their ‘baes’ or posting some status updates.

Following her post and reactions that followed, the Lilongwe top executive made a follow up post that the service provider paid her a courtesy call where some of its representatives apologised for the bad experience.

Now, this is where I have always had a problem. The top executive, just like myself, is in a privileged position and an emancipated soul who can freely express themselves; hence, drawing the attention of the service provider to apologise, as it were. But, there are many other poor souls out there who suffer in silence.

The point I am driving home is that service providers should not be reactive. They should have a standard in terms of handling their customers. The other day I shared an experience I encountered at a commercial bank in Blantyre central business district (CBD) where a bank teller was serving customers without exchanging basic pleasantries in form of a greeting and allowing some customers to be filling withdrawal/deposit slips right at the counter.

In yet another incident, I met a bank manager I personally know in a crowded banking hall and he offered to give me some preferential treatment. I politely turned down his offer and told him that if anything, he needed to improve the queuing system and assign more officers in the empty cubicles to serve customers better.

The hospitality industry is not spared either. Several years ago, a friend told me of the treatment he got at one top hotel in Blantyre where, upon placing an order for a drink, the bar tender, before serving him, sacarstically said: “Ndi K400 umodzitu! [It’s K400 per bottle].” That time, K400 had value and the country’s highest denomination bank note was K500. The tone in the bar tender’s voice was like to tell him “hey, can you afford!” Do not judge a book by its cover…

In customer service, they say that a “customer is king”. In the spirit of gender equality, I may add that the customer is a “queen”. Whoever coined this statement had in mind the fact that in whatever businesses and individuals do, the focus should be to exceed expectations of the customer or consumer.

Many businesses have brilliant brand promises which, however, tend to be betrayed by the quality of the services they exist to offer.

If customer care is defined as a system in a business venture that seeks to maximise customers’ satisfaction in terms of service and customer service is the process of providing goods and services to consumers, then I dare say that in Malawi many businesses are developing a culture of “customer-scare” and “customer disservice”.

Passion and positive attitudes nurture good customer service. n

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