October 7, 2013

Customer Service: Let’s Think Service

By Allwell Nwankwo

The Customer Service Week (CSW) is here! You probably know that the first full week in October is celebrated as the Customer Service Week in a number of countries. It’s a time to beam the spotlight on customer service issues and appreciate those who serve customers. Ever since the International Customer Service Association (ICSA) came up with the idea of a customer service week, the celebration has gained acceptance across the globe. In 1992, the US Congress formally recognized it as a national celebration.

I am not aware the customer service week has gained any form of official recognition in our country. But that doesn’t matter much. What matters is that there is a dire need to focus on customers and the quality of service we render to them. Just as in most things, we have much to complain about, as far as service in our country is concerned.

Without talking politics, we realize that we all are customers to people in government and we can safely say that the kind of service Nigerians receive is simply appalling – hence our roads remain un-motorable, most of our public hospitals are worse than mere consulting clinics, power supply remains epileptic and no year goes by without any strikes. For the same reason, the National Assembly fails to pass enough bills that address the needs of the people and our president doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to deliver service although his customers are tired of waiting!

We could go on and on. In a few months, another round of elections will come up and politicians will expectedly make tongue-in-cheek promises, knowing that they don’t plan to keep many. Sometimes, I think that politicians also need customer service training!

Perhaps they don’t really see us as customers although whenever they seek votes they make mealy-mouthed references to “service” as their motivation.

At the risk of sounding simplistic, I dare say that most of the problems we face as a nation can be traced to a culture of poor service. Whether in business or in government, many of us see service as something beneath us. Rather than serve, we seek to be served! For this reason, a local government chairman expects other citizens to kow-tow to him. Some men of the uniformed services think their starched clothes make them superior to those whose money pays their salaries. And a governor demonstrates his divine immunity from traffic jams by blaring sirens and terrorizing innocent citizens whose tax and votes gave him the paraphernalia of his exalted office!

In the private sector, the story is just a little better. But, generally speaking, customers are not treated with the respect they deserve. Frontline people have little or no power to resolve simple issues. Managers keep creating rules that make serving customers virtually impossible. Organisations advertise things they don’t do. Top officials think they have outgrown service. Of course, there is some silver lining in the cloud (of poor service) but it looks so thin that you sometimes need to strain your eyes to notice it.

As we celebrate the customer service week, let’s focus our thoughts and energy on serving customers better. Whoever you are, whatever you do, whether you are in the public or private sector, spare a thought for your customers. How can you serve them better? How can you make life easier for them? How can you support those who serve if you are not on the frontline? What can you do to motivate your colleagues?

Share your story

Have you received exceptional customer service anywhere in Nigeria? Can you share your story in about 100 words? As we celebrate the CSW, I invite you to share the story of great customer service you have received in Nigeria. The best 10 stories (in my estimation) will be published in this column to motivate our readers and show that great service is possible here. For their effort, the writers of the selected stories will each receive an autographed copy of either How to Serve & Keep Your Customers or 20 Universal Laws of Service Excellence. Start writing now. Email your story to: [email protected]. Story submission ends on Friday. Happy Customer Service Week!