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Customer service: Does it matter in Zambia?

THIS is the question that a good friend of mine asked last week on one of the social media platforms. I immediately loved it and thought of writing a piece about customer service.
What is customer service?
To be of service to a customer is to listen, provide attention and solve their problem, inquiry or request with utmost courtesy and satisfaction. One can also say that customer service is what we do as employees to serve or meet our client’s needs either on face to face basis or through indirect contact, for example, via telephone, internet and so on.
The basic principle of customer service should be of “master” and “servant”. Our customers are our “masters” and we the service providers are the “servants”. And of course the service is provided at a cost.
What is exceptional customer service then?
This is giving your customer extra attention, giving them what they can’t get elsewhere or doing something unexpected for your customer. Taking an extra step or throwing in something extra, like an incentive. For example a boutique that has a Saloon may offer their customers free manicure for a purchase above K500.
“If you go a mile for a customer, they will go a thousand miles for you”.
Exceptional customer service causes a ripple effect, especially with social media, once a customer talks good about our service, all friends and relatives will know about it at a click of a button. Therefore, doing your work is not enough, but going beyond your task to make your clients happy is exceptional.
What is also enlightening is that the customer determines whether your service is good or bad, and not you. It is always important to have the customers’ needs in mind when delivering a service for it to be exceptional.
Does exceptional customer service matter in Zambia?
Let us get back home and really try to see how we as Zambian private and public organisations have fared in this area of customer service. Every organisation that is people based must strive to adopt a culture of exceptional customer service attributes. We are now alive to the fact that the world has become smaller and competitive, hence most organisations have given attention to customer service issues, but “what is going wrong?” “why are customers still complaining?”, “Where is the missing link?”.
Customer service provision varies from one employee to the other. This is because it is linked to an individual’s personality and personalities of our staff differ. And this is what most organisations have missed.
Internal customers (employees) are just as important as external ones. You cannot have a “one size fits all” approach. First of all, “are organisations giving their staff all the tools needed to deliver?”, “Are the staff satisfied?” Richard Branson said, “Clients do not come first, employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of clients.” I agree! If your employee is satisfied, they will automatically give exceptional service.
However, there are certain employees with personalities that just don’t get it, and these must never be in the front office. Organisations must, therefore, identify qualified staff to handle customer service. Customers are the reason for work, not a disturbance of work. When clients come to my office and say, “Sorry to disturb you madam”, I quickly correct them and tell them that they are not disturbing me, but that I am there to actually serve them. This makes them feel comfortable and welcome.
Our customers are not “beggars”, but are the reason any organisation exists and the reason you as an employee goes to work.
So, yes! Customer service matters; it is only that the puzzle pieces have not been put together.
What’s the secret to exceptional customer service (ESC)?
You cannot separate customer service delivery from the one providing it to the one receiving it. If it is an automated service, then the interface is between man and machine. Most challenges are however, between “man’’ and “man’’.
So, then, how do we get beyond just giving our clients basic attention or service? Customer service must be made as a standard practice in an organisation, a culture, and every employee must adhere to it. Customer service training must be constant to keep improving and reminding staff why there are there.
Besides, the customer pays their salaries or puts food on their tables. Any employee who interacts with customers MUST be well trained in customer service. Excellent customer service is a serious strategic investment that requires attention and precision.
Would it be true then for me to make this assumption, that for an organisation to achieve exceptional customer service, it must treat good customer service as a culture, a way of working or the same way as we treat religion? Each religion follows a set of principles to live by and is identified by that, called doctrines. Then it is also possible to identify organisations by their behaviours or traits. An organisation must employ some cultristic behaviour in its employees that supports exceptional customer service.
The author is University of Zambia Institute of Distance Education, marketing manager.