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Opinions of Sunday, 11 May 2008

Columnist: Adu-Gyamfi, Kwaku

Ghanaian Consumers Need Value, Not just Low Prices

Can we build a Hospitality Industry without customer service?

“This is Ghana, we don’t do that”, a comment by a friend of mine that got my attention…..

If you would like to get into restaurant business in Ghana I can almost guarantee your success. The fact is there is nothing like customer- care, at best anything goes. We’re used to inefficiencies in delivering goods and services.

A friend had an encounter while in Ghana sometime ago and came out with the notion that customer care was never practiced in Ghana. I thought he was over stating his case. But my own experience in the hands of two Ghanaian women which I want to share with you is enough to concur with my friend that customer care is as scarce in Ghana as dredging alluvial gold in Offin River at Dunkwa.

I visited Ghana for CAN 2008 games and out of curiosity I embarked on journalistic expedition to drive- test the Ghanaian hospitality and customer- service prowess. I used ‘customer-service’ loosely here because it’s not part of the Ghanaian vocabulary.

My first stop was a restaurant sited at the Rawlings’ Park in the Central Business District of Accra. I forgot the name of the place but it is the only restaurant in the park---you can’t miss it.

At the entrance of the restaurant was a middle aged- lady in her late forties, who positioned herself as waitress. She wore a face which was so scaring that I chose to proceed to tilapia and banku stand and ordered my food instead of attempting to seek her assistance. I tried to weave around the self- obsessed lady to look for a table while waiting for my food. The waitress who was supposed to assist me found a suitable place rather impeded me to access the eating apartment of the restaurant. I begged for her mercy for a chance to enter. At this point she got enraged that I could feel the fume from her nose like motor cycle’s exhausted smoke. She was literally “smoking” with anger.

After I waited for several agonizing minutes this lady who was not perturbed by the arrival of other clients turned round and groaned at me,”what do you want”? “What about, may I help you”? , I murmured to myself as I stood there. I was dumb founded by the strange behaviour of this waitress woman. I said nothing but timidly walked passed her to look for a table. I could still hear her complaining about my order and how she couldn’t stand ’burgers’ and their “too- known.”

What was my crime? I later realized that I had naively and unknowingly ordered my food without her input. The convention was that, if she had ordered my meal she would have made some few cedis by quoting a higher price other than the actual value of the food. Oops! My action has pissed her off and that was her way of paying me back----so to speak.

As I sat there impatiently waiting about thirty minutes for my Banku and Tilapia to be delivered, none of the other so-called ‘waitress’ said a word to me. The table I chose was filthy, with food debris all over, but no one seemed to care. In fact other tables were equally dirty. As if that was not enough for me, a bowl of water, hand towel and liquid- hand soap were delivered and placed on the dirty table. I don’t really know the logic behind serving a bowl of water, towel and soap when the food was not ready. I thought a better option could be to hide this parcel until the food was on the table. The truth was that the presence of water, the towel and the soap rather made me hungry the more.

After waiting impatiently for several unbearable minutes the food was finally delivered to my dirty table. At this stage, I demanded the waitress who delivered the food to clean the table. I least thought the worst was waiting for me, “I only serve tilapia and banku” she retorted. I guess that was another way of saying”I don’t clean tables.” It wasn’t the right time to argue with her so I went ahead and ate my food reluctantly.

I left there with a sour taste in my mouth. And I registered my distastefulness with my surgically implanted smile; which wasn’t very pleasant—to say the least. Am I going to eat there again? I ‘m not sure!

Nevertheless, I wonder why the owner of this restaurant hired waitresses who were not only self-destructive but persons who have customer repelling attitude at such a strategically sited restaurant. I didn’t meet the owner, but whoever owns that place must be insane to hire these waitresses who lack all the fundamentals of serving their clients --- “hungry” persons. Whatever reasons these unmotivated waitresses had they must be told that customers (in their case hungry persons) are very self-centered individuals. They’re interested in what a service provider or a product can do for them.

As consumers we should be extremely value conscious. For us ‘value’ is not just the price. It includes other connotations such as; quality, convenience and loyalties.

My second encounter is more intriguing if not strange.

I was in a taxi heading towards Accra when we had a flat-tyre right after the roundabout before the Airport. The driver pulled over at the right edge of the road to mend his deflated tyre. I could not tell whether it was by fate or sheer coincidence, nevertheless, we packed the car next to a spot where a lady in her late twenties was selling phone cards under an umbrella. She had displayed several used- up cards from different phone providers.

For me that was a perfect opportunity because I needed some credit for my phone. But, the idea of buying a card from her was discarded when her attitude---not to mention her demeanor betrayed her miserably. She warned us not to change the tyre in front of her spot. She showed her meanness by refusing to acknowledge our presence.

The sad aspect of this poor lady’s action was that she did not know that the shoulder of the road is meant for motorists for purposes such as changing tyres or for emergency stops other than selling phone cards. At that point she lost GHc 75.00 from me because I wasn’t going to spend my money on her card.

I don’t know what she is doing right now, but I have the feeling she‘ll be selling cards for the rest of her life. No, I’m not by any mean trying to down grade card-sellers who are making a living in the old-fashioned way. But, one can’t make a head way in life or any endeavor if one doesn’t know how to deal with people some of whom could be prospective clients. With that kind of attitude and unwillingness to treat people with respect and civility, I don’t expect her to make it anywhere or make enough money from the card business.

In this day and age the key to getting what you want is to think value, instead of “right” because wealth is value creation. Giving others what they want or need motivates them to give you what you want or need. Why should I buy from her when she was nasty to me?

Keep this in mind: if you were involved in selling a product you had better convinced people in a hurry that you care. Think of yourself as a product and recognize the fact that a product with an enthusiastic good attitude has great value in today’s marketplace. A person who turns out quality work has great value in eyes of the customers. Similarly, a product that meets the needs of the customers has a value in the marketplace—even if the marketplace is in the cave, selling phone cards under an umbrella or on a “tro-tro bus”.

There are many lazy, obnoxious persons masquerading as “business men or women” who have no incentive to ‘serve’ others for what they want.

Those two individual ladies mentioned in this piece passed up a great opportunity to serve me and perhaps thousand other customers to get paid for it. Being in business—no matter how small --- and displaying unpleasant personality like the characters identified in this piece will repel clients, deter happiness, and sabotage any financial gain or business success.

Ghanaian attitude about the customer-service, customer -satisfaction or whatever you want to call it, is a pathetic one. It is more a matter of ignorance than arrogance—though the two seem to go hand in hand. But, until we ingrained customer service in our business culture and other endeavors of ours, the quest to cash in on the world’s service economy will remain a dream.

Kwaku Adu-Gyamfi NJ, USA

*The author is a social commentator and the founder of Adu-Gyamfi Youth empowerment; Scholarship and Apprenticeship foundation, at Asuom, E/R


Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.