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Opinions of Thursday, 25 August 2011

Columnist: Abdallah, Tijani Kassim

Redefining the Customer in Ghana

Tijani Kassim Abdallah, the author

If there is just one reason that affects the scope and the market share of organizations today, it is the question of how best to manage customers. Just last week, I visited a well reputable internet café in Accra with a friend; there was some loud music in the café which drew our attention. Suddenly, the attendant raised the volume of the set. My friend quickly approached the attendant and advised him to lower the volume of the loud speaker. “Mister”, the attendant raised his hand, this is my father’s internet café and therefore my kingdom. Either you enjoy your service and stop interrupting other people’s affairs or I have a good mind to drive you out’.

We looked surprised, and I at once realized that a stranger is almost always underrated. The question I asked was: Is it that employers employ without proper monitoring and supervision, or systems are designed to suit employer’s interest other than the customers? To me, this is an unfortunate circumstance and an ordeal I would not wish any customer to experience. However, this is a broad generalization to most organizations in Ghana. While there are significant exceptions, this is for the most part true. Again, organizations that misconstrue the customers of yesterday as customers of today have gotten it all wrong and must better think again. This is because customers of today are very discerning, selective and discriminatory and could not be treated as customers of yesterday. Moreover, it is very important to acknowledge the fact that, satisfied customers patronize your service again and again. They become “customer evangelists” and tell others about their good experiences. However, dissatisfied customers often switch to competitors and disparage the product or services to others.

As the Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton wisely pointed out. “There is only one boss – the customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else”. It means that there is the need to show respect and love for our customers. It also means that customers need to be treated beyond their expectation.

A lot of the time, most organizations generate their revenue from existing customers and would strive hard to attract new customers to expand their market share. So one would think perfecting or being familiar with the art of customer service excellence and keeping both existing and new customers elated would be a keen priority on the heart of most organizations. But that is not the case, forgetting that the customer is our reason for doing business. Realistically speaking, my observation reveals that most organizations in Ghana treat customers not because they want to provide quality services, but their knowledge of the customer. This is harmful to today’s competitive market, where every well-meaning company would want to retain the most profitable customers and establish customer loyalty. In fact, one of the many reasons why the Asian countries are moving our world today is about their customer service excellence. Here in Ghana, it is very inconsistent to take a bank brochure without talking about their commitment to customer service. The question is: Do they really provide good customer service or is a mere of rhetoric?

In fact, in some of the banks they have what they call Prestige Service, meaning that if your money is small or inadequate like Me, you have to join a long queue for hours whiles the Rich Man can easily walk to the bank manager for his service. It appears that is not only limited to our financial institutions but our public institutions like the hospitals, ministries, the telecom industry, transportation industry, head dresser saloons and many others. These are just some of the few examples that I want to mention.

Also, in some organizations, the front desk reception is so poor and hostile. For instance, in a situation where a front desk officer frowns and is being rude to customers, this raises some concerns and I know every well meaning Ghanaian would also be concerned about it. They often think that they are doing the customers favours, but they seem to forget that the customer pays their salaries and bills. Another thing that reduces the effort of employees in most organizations in Ghana today is the attitude of unnecessary name calling amongst them. For instance: if an employee is seen to be diligent, they start to call him names like “workaholic”, “Muchimudu”, “Chriife”, “Apejuma”, Is it your fathers work? Why? Kill yourself for government. And etc. My advice is that, employees should avoid using languages they would not use in the presence of their pay masters or employers.

What can we do about this cancer that is destroying or impeding the growth of our nation?

First, we should train our customer service personnel or staffs with technology and management practices. Also, it is important to acknowledge that dealing with the customer has to do with a specialist craft. It means that employees require a lot of investment both in human resource and in technology to be able to offer an excellent service.

Second, in order to stand tall amongst compatriots, the organization must have employees who are very passionate about what they do and about the business, and must possess a sense of ownership.

Third, organizations should eschew paying a lip service to customers by providing quality services. Again, Customer service must be an integral part of every corporate strategy: for instance, if an accountant refuses to pay staffs on time, it goes down to affect the innocent customer. We should be conscious about that.

Finally, it is inappropriate to receive customer’s complaints and dismiss it outright. However, it is widely true that some of the complaints coming across are very uncomfortable and unpleasant.

Therefore organizations should acknowledge, apologize, and take remedial actions in handling customer complaints immediately.

Consistent with this, someday, if all these are considered, I’m convinced that our country Ghana would get to the stage of properly defining the customer. Author: Tijani Kassim Abdallah/