Fighting grumpy grocers and other such nuisances
Poor customer care has long been a major grievance in the country. The Rwanda Development Board and the Private Sector Federation have finally decided to declare war on client neglect.
Poor customer care is nothing new in Rwanda. What is surprising, however, is that we seem to have agreed to put up with it to the extent that we simply accept this is the best we can get. What most people, especially those in business, apparently do not realize is that if customer care is not given more attention, then the target of becoming a service-based economy is unlikely to be realized.
This is of course particularly true for the hospitality sector. Who hasn’t been through the experience of going to a bar or restaurant, where you sit for ten minutes twiddling your thumbs before somebody takes notice. Then you wait for another hour for your order, not because it takes so long to prepare it, but because the waiter at first forgot to inform the kitchen. And forget about him coming to check whether in the meantime you have finished your drink and want another one, because he is too busy gossiping with his workmates.
It is a pathetic example of the bad customer care, yet not uncommon in our country. Indeed, according to research by the consultancy OTF among global travel agents and tour operators, Rwanda is ranked the worst in the region when it comes to quality of customer service. And according to surveys, one in four tourists report negative customer experience due to poor service.
Several reasons are cited to explain this sorry state of customer service, the first being a lack of skills—less than 30% of the staff in the service sector have the required skills in customer care.
Added to this is the negative traditional perception of serving, where waiters are regarded as low people and their job as dishonorable.
The lack of recognition of the importance of customer care also leads to ‘incompetent’ people opening a bar or restaurant, because they think that all that is required are some basic cooking skills; thus, if the business grows, the substandard service stands out even more.
Yet the problem is not limited to the hospitality business; the entire service sector suffers from poor customer care. Unnecessary bureaucracy, most common in the public sector but also prevalent in private enterprises, is one of the main frustrations of clients. For instance, the delivery of a simple document can take ages because several persons are involved in an operation that could easily be handled by one man.
And what to think about those shopkeepers whom you find doing nothing, yet who treat you as a nuisance? Or bus drivers who wait for ages at a bus stop because they think about their wallet first, instead of their customers who expect to get to their destination in a reasonable time? The teller at the bank who thinks his phone call is more important than your money? Or—and this is not for the squeamish—the sweaty taxi-moto driver who clearly hasn’t touched soap for several days, and in whose back you are forced to put your nose for fifteen or more minutes? That, too, is customer care.
The stakes should not be underestimated; with the regionalization of business, poor customer care could end up robbing Rwanda of a lot of money. Research conducted by the Institute of Policy and Analysis Research (IPAR) indicates that improved customer service could generate an additional US$ 40 million by the year 2012.
“We do not claim to have an immediate solution to the problem, but talking about it and making it known is a good start,” says Rosette Rugamba, the deputy CEO of the Rwanda Development Board (RDB) charged with tourism.
Rugamba adds that poor pricing aggravates the problem, explaining that compared to regional competition, especially in the hospitality sector, pricing is confusing and leaves tourists with a feeling that they might have been cheated.
“We will soon introduce classification and standards, which will solve this issue,” she says.
It is not the only initiative to deal with sub-standard service. Both the private sector and the government recognize the need to revamp customer care in the country and are set to change the current mentality among businesspeople. A national campaign, organized jointly by the Private Sector Federation and the government, is being planned to ensure that all Rwandans are sensitized on the importance of good customer care in their day-to-day lives, as well as on its vital economic importance.
The campaign is designed to ensure that the message is finally hammered home and that nobody escapes it; for instance, customer care will be the focus of the April Umuganda during which local communities will be sensitized on how to treat customers. RDB also plans to enlist local authorities, businesses, NGOs, churches and other stakeholders who could be influential in the fight against grumpy grocers, wallowing waiters and dreary drivers (amongst others).
So as to entice businesses to clean up their act, the first national customer care awards will take place this year to recognize public and private organizations that really take care of their clientele.
Concerning skills training, the ministry of education, RDB and the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) will join hands to integrate customer care into the curriculum of all universities, secondary schools as well as technical and vocational schools.
WDA will also offer specific training on customer care and communication skills, including industry-specific English language training that is already underway in Kicukiro. Other training centers are expected to be opened countrywide, especially in tourist destinations such as Nyungwe and Gisenyi.
However, the deputy CEO of RDB charged with business development services, Claire Akamanzi, remarks some customers are simply troublemakers who complain about anything. “Our campaign is a two-way street, and we want to educate not only the service providers, but the customers as well.”