Customer Service Weak

Customer Service Week, well thank goodness that is over.

A noble concept, to celebrate the people who make customer service happen. It was proclaimed an official event by the U.S. Congress in 1992. In a country where high standards of service are demanded, and many workers depend on tips to earn a living wage.

According to the ‘official home’ of the project, the first full business week of each October is now celebrated by organisations across many industries around the world. But the further away from the US you are, the less relevant and more irritating it seems to be. The bank that spent the past 12 months frustrating your every move; the intermittent Internet Service Provider; the garage that returns your car with a novel set of additional faults. They all send you messages of gratitude for your custom! (And thanking customers is not what the week is meant to be about.)

At least they are getting into the spirit of things. Putting them head and shoulders above organisations who think that it’s the only week of the year you need to offer customer service!

The retail sector, for example, still seems to view customers with distrust. A view no doubt dating back two centuries to the first dukas on the corners of Nairobi’s dusty streets. Supplying an itinerant population of foreign adventurers who built the railway and then used it to disperse, they could be forgiven for not parting easily with goods or services.

Then, as the sector expanded to serve ordinary Kenyans, the walls went up. Or, to be precise, the big counters with wire mesh on them went up. And the sector developed the view that a customer was just a thief looking for an opportunity.

In the midst of Customer Service week, I experienced just such treatment from a company I had entrusted to build some garden furniture as a ‘once in a decade investment’. Although I had been prepared to pay a 50% deposit upfront, they weren’t prepared to deliver the goods until the second 50% had been paid. Not one of the week’s sunniest days.

But to end on a lighter note, because people who work in customer service in Africa do put their hearts into it, I did have one moment of delight. Before boarding an internal airline, having filled in a simple customer service questionnaire, we were treated to an impromptu speech by ground staff and then each passenger was presented with a bar of chocolate to eat on the plane. Thank you, Safarilink, that made your customers smile.