By Chinwe Kalu
Excellent customer service is a thing of the heart for me. Guy Kawasaki says that people have different motivations for being in business, one of which could be ‘righting the wrong’. That is where I pitch my tent when it comes to customer service. All my efforts, as regards improving customer service, is to right the wrong.
In one of my classes, a participant told us a very interesting story. She went into a fabric store to buy a birthday gift for a friend. An attendant came up to her to assist with her purchase. “How may we help you?” the attendant asked, she responded: “I would like to buy a piece of fabric for a friend, how much are they?” The assistant shows her fabric ranging from the lowest price to the most expensive, and at the end of the tour, the customer decides to buy from the cheapest range. Guess what the shop assistant asked her. “So why did you make me show you everything when you intended to buy the cheapest?” Can you believe that? I am committed to righting this wrong, in whatever way I can.
In our part of the world, customer service is a nice sounding cliché. The other day, my last child wanted me to get a debit card for her teenage savings account. We were kept outside the bank for almost two hours, standing in the sun, waiting to get in.
Yes, all banks are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this bank was the only one that had people standing in the sun for that long. Meanwhile, platinum cardholders were allowed in. Anyone who had a good story was allowed in, while the rest of us waited.
Apparently, the bank only opened a few branches and there was no thought to the fact that customers would be negatively impacted. On getting in, we had to deal with queues that were not moving. That took another hour. All to simply request a debit card for an account. It was just chaotic. We must right this wrong.
The sad thing is that most organizations are committed to excellent customer service on their websites, in their adverts, in their business pitches, in newspaper publications, everywhere but with the customers. What that tells me is that we all know there is a need to right this wrong. But we seem to lack the will to address the issue effectively.
It is common to all sectors. We will not talk about the public sector, let us just focus on the real business world, where people set up a business to meet customer needs and make a profit. I honestly think the problem is that the real sector that drives our economy does not have depth. There is not enough competition, so businesses do not really suffer loss as a result of customer dissatisfaction.
Take the health sector for example. Just yesterday, I read a story about a young mother who had a premature baby because the situation was mismanaged by the doctors, and she lost the child. She was asking the group what to do about her pain. She said she had been crying for quite a while.
It reminded me of what happened to me many years ago when I lost my first child due to medical mismanagement. They told me, “Kelegbe o fo, omi lo da nu.” (The jar did not break, just the water spilled). In other words, since I was healthy I would have another child and that was the end of the matter.
Our stories are 25 years apart but it was the same negligence and only God knows how many people we have lost simply because nobody really cares how patients and their family members fare. The medical world calls their customers patients. Does that explain their indifference to satisfying their needs?
Stories abound from all the sectors, even the sectors that cater to hospitality where customer service should be top-notch. We really must right the wrong. I honestly believe this contributes to the business failure rate in our part of the world. We may have all the other issues that make doing business difficult, but this indifference to customer expectations is the no 1 killer. Customers will pay for a good experience no matter the price, you will find the niche that will pay.
Where do we even start to right this wrong? First is to redefine who a customer is. According to Wikipedia, a customer (sometimes known as a client, buyer, or purchaser) is the recipient of a good, service, product or idea, obtained from a seller, vendor, or supplier for a monetary or other valuable consideration. This is how many businesses see their customers- as a cash cow, the one who pays for what we do.
This probably explains why the famous cliché “Customer is King” is very popular. However, we need to distill this definition and cliché further. The customer is the reason businesses exist. Businesses are created to meet customer needs. So when people leave home to get to work, it is because of the customer. It is not just to earn an income but primarily to serve the customer.
So when that one customer comes through the door, you should be excited because he sustains your business. Even if you are busy when the customer comes in, you will leave what you are doing to attend to him or her because he or she has just done your organization a favor by walking through your door. He should not be treated like he is an interruption, he is the reason you come to work, to serve him, to make sure he enjoys doing business with you.
Sometimes, people have all sorts of heavy emotional, or psychological burdens they bring to work. So when a customer comes in, it feels like more weight. Nevertheless, the customer is also a human being with issues, burdens, emotions, and prejudices. He should not have to deal with your issues. You should be able to put your issues aside and serve the customer right.
A customer is more than the person who spends money on your business. Instead, he should be treated as a friend and partner. He is really crucial to the business. Without him, there would be no business. The customer is king indeed.
I believe that the basic definition of who the customer is should be clear to all parties-business owners, staff, vendors, shareholders, all stakeholders. When that foundation is laid, then we can progress this discussion. We really must right this wrong for businesses to really thrive.
• Chinwe Kalu is the Chief Executive Officer at Customer Passion Point Ltd, a Customer Experience and Learning and Development professional with decent years of experience spacing Financial Services and Consulting.