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Customer Week 2013: Are Nigerian Customers Happy?

By Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola.

Yesterday, a text message from my network service provider and financial institution wishing me a ‘happy customer service week” caught my attention. I know certain days or weeks all-round the year are usually marked to celebrate a cause, event et cetera annually but customer service week isn’t one Nigerians are used to. It was quite interesting receiving these messages from these companies – the question begging for an answer was “what was/am I really supposed to happy about?” Perhaps it is/was just a fad to fall in line with the event the same way we say “Good morning” as a greeting even if we were mourning.

For starters, the Customer Service Week has its origin from the United States when the country’s lawmakers asked George Bush (Snr) to issue a proclamation that October 4 – 10 1992 be declared a national event to recognize the “importance of customer service and to honour the people who serve and support customers with the highest degree of care and professionalism”. Since then, the event has been celebrated annually and gradually, it became an international event. This year, October 7 to 11 has been earmarked as days to observe Customer Service Week with the theme “think service”.

A popular saying goes thus that “the customer is king” but in Nigeria, across public and private organisations, the definition of ‘king’ is questionable. From a finance professional’s viewpoint, the essence of customers being kings and queens is a necessity for a healthy financial position for any business, hence the consequences of treating end-users of services as slaves (instead of kings and queens) can easily make them a competitor’s ‘meat’ which is a ‘poison’ to sales and revenue and consequently, profit margins. However, do employees/employers really think about this? Do they ever think of the effects a displeased customer could have on the organisation (and its reputation)?

Usually, when a business first starts out, it pays most attention to its few customers because it wants to grow but along the line when it begins to expand and has bigger clientele, it becomes a situation of a ‘Slumdog millionaire’ who becomes affluent after so many years of struggle in the slum but suddenly treats members and allies of his clan in the slum with disdain – what a way for ‘levels to change’ and forget one’s roots!

The complaints are numerous – I would bore this piece if I were to recall bad customer service experiences from government Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), small and large businesses. While some companies do have quality control checks to ensure bad eggs don’t break the value chain, sometimes a mail, call or even asking to see the ‘Oga at the Top’ could yield instant rectifications for businesses that sincerely do care about customers however, when this fails, consumers have to turn to regulators like SON, CBN, NAFDAC etc. This is the very essence of government – to look after her people and protect their interests hence these agencies were created for such purposes. Unfortunately, even the public sector is really no better off so the multiplying effect is that private companies and capitalists tend to get away with bad customer service since “anything goes”.  Artisans are no different; their lack of honesty and shabbiness as regards dealing with their clients has pushed Nigerians to opt instead for citizens of neighbouring countries like Benin, Ghana, Cameroon and Togo amongst others. It even got so bad that the government of former president Olusegun Obasanjo in March 2004 after noticing the numerous bottlenecks and indifferent attitudes of civil servants of MDAs introduced SERVICOM, a service compact with Nigerian citizens to improve service delivery in Nigeria.

Ultimately, the onus lies on organisations (both private and public) to adequately train and monitor employees who could bring in their personal issues (ego, emotional issues) to conflict with their duties to customers whom want Value For Money or satisfaction in a situation where the service does not involve money. It is not enough to publish adverts, send mails and claim customers are important stakeholders in your organisation – the organisation must be seen to take steps to please customers ALWAYS. The natural law of Karma is enough advice – treat someone else the same way you want to be treated otherwise you may be served in a cup of tea much bitter than yours.

The call also goes out to our regulatory agencies to further sensitize Nigerians on getting better service delivery and seeking redress from private organisations and public institutions – this way, foreigners will not come into the country and ‘play ball’ along with the bad system. It is my hope that in line with the 2013 Customer Service Week, Nigerian organisations and MDAs sit down, assess, reflect and “think service”.

Mustafa Yusuf-Adebola is a professional accountant in a Lagos-based consulting firm.

14 October, 2013.


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