A smart phone in the hands of an insensitive public officer whose job involves interaction with members of the public can be annoyingly disturbing for people seeking public services.
I know the words ‘customer care’ don’t exist in our public service delivery systems, but the advent of cell phones and the myriad social networks that have followed seem to be worsening matters.
Recently, I walked into one office at the Immigration Department in Blantyre where an officer seemed to care more about her phone than attending to me and other people who had come to seek services.
When I walked into the office, she was sitting on a chair with her fingers busy pressing the phone buttons. She didn’t look up until I spoke to her by way of a greeting. She behaved the same way towards another customer who followed me.
Her eyes shifting from the phone and us, she asked, impolitely I must say, why we had come to the office.
As we explained, her mind and attention were divided between us and the phone. This made her miss some elements of our statements, prompting her to ask questions whose answers were contained in the information I and my fellow customer had already provided.
A few weeks later, I encountered another phone-distraction at the Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (Escom) offices where I had gone to buy electricity units.
It was evening and I was in a hurry to return home where I had left members of the household in darkness.
The recurrent network challenges in other selling points left me with the option of purchasing the units from Escom’s head office.
But like the officer at Immigration, the man on the counter had a cell phone in his hand. He noticed me approach the counter, but whatever was making him smile on the gadget made him oblivious to my presence.
Then, eyes still on the phone and the smile still playing on his lips, he greeted me absent-mindedly. It was another 30 seconds before he completely shifted his attention to me to collect the money I had in my hands.
As he punched the customer identification numbers on his computer, he still had to steal some moments to attend to his phone messages.
What is it about social networks that users sometimes don’t know when to use their gadgets or when to put them down? Even without a boss or supervisor watching, isn’t it obvious that one cannot attend to people—especially in an office—while looking at their phone?
The service delivery in most public institutions is already pathetic, why worsen it with this awful behaviour? The sooner we drain this poison from our public systems the better for us all.