Columnists Features

Frustrating customer service situations: Service providers’ perspective

LAST week, I had a few experiences that almost annoyed me but somehow I decided not to react too quickly and first put myself in the shoes of the service provider.
It must be appreciated that every genuine service provider, while interested in profit, would also like to make the experience for the customer as smooth as possible.  We have seen service providers make investments into improvement but maybe, we the customers have failed to rise to the occasion.
One of the most frustrating experiences service providers face is that they deal with customers who are at different levels of enlightenment and sophistication, and therefore the levels of comprehension and appreciation differ.  Some customers read notices easily while others do not, even when they are literate.
How many times, for instance, have you been to a bank or a bureau de change and asked what the rate of exchange between the Zambian Kwacha and United States dollar is on a particular day when the display electronic board or white board is staring at you?
My first experience was in a boutique where I was looking at different outfits with an intention to buy something.  I picked one suit and asked the shopkeeper how much it was and she rudely answered: “There is a price tag on the suit, you can check.”
She obviously assumed that I could read and even though she had a point, I thought she could have given a more diplomatic response.  I put myself in her shoes and could only imagine how many customers came into the boutique every day and looked at items, asked questions and probably walked away without buying.
That can be quite frustrating, but being in that kind of business, one has to pretend that they are not irritated by customer enquiries even for things that appear obvious.
My second experience was at Airtel when I sent my son, Quincy, to deposit cash into my Airtel Money account.  He came back and said Airtel were not allowing deposits by third parties.  I found that hard to believe but confirmed it when I went to Airtel myself.
Upon interrogating them, they informed me that they had received a lot of complaints from account owners on deposits made into wrong accounts. I wondered how that could be possible when Airtel had particulars of all account holders since cell phone numbers were used.  This was a retrogressive step which would work against both Airtel and the customer.  I felt sorry for them and hoped they would find a solution in the shortest possible time.
My third experience was in the washroom at Cross Roads Mall in Lusaka.  I noticed some stickers next to the liquid soap dispensers labelled ‘press gently’.  At first, I felt insulted as a customer and asked myself how the Cross Road Mall management could assume that we the customers do not know how to use dispensers.
But again, they wouldn’t have put the notice there if there wasn’t any need.  Several dispensers must have been damaged in the process.  It reminded me of a notice I HAD seen on some elevators stating ‘press only once’.
And also reminded me of another notice that I had seen in the washroom at Arcades Shopping Centre before the new washrooms were built.  The notice at the taps on the handwash basins stated “place hands here, water comes out automatically.”
The last one was at Multichoice, Alick Nkhata Road in Lusaka.  I was going to pay for my subscription and as I entered, I looked for the electronic queue control system and could not see it.  Someone then directed me to a lady who was operating it.
I could not help laughing as she asked me what service I was looking for and punched the details into the machine.
“I thought this a self-operated machine?” I asked. “It is supposed to be but some customers press on too many buttons and others simply do not know how to use it,” the lady replied.
Customer training is a necessity by most service providers rather than withdrawing some services or sticking embarrassing notices.

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