Consumer experience in Nigeria and the way forward (a critic of customer service experience in Nigeria)
To evaluate anything it is necessary to have some kind of yardstick for comparing, an absolute or an ideal if you may. In the case of consumer experience in Nigeria, consumer experience in other countries will have to be used and this is why it appears almost non-existent in our society. Abroad all services are tailored around the idea that the customer is king, even when the customer is wrong he or she is right. There are laws to protect consumer’s rights like return polices of exchanges or refunds spanning as far as 21 days. The option of a wide range of service providers offering immaculate customer service gives the consumer a choice of where to take his or her business to and also works to encourage the development of customer relation. In Nigeria the same cannot be said of our goods and services providers. For the upper class citizens, as is to be expected, places exist to cater to their needs with a good experience, but for the masses, the service industry remains almost completely ignorant of the concept that is Public Relation.
I have seen Nigerians outside the country shout and even threaten to sue employees for what they perceive to the bad service. Ironically, when they are in our home country they don’t even come in with same level of expectation. So low is our expectation of good service that we consider it a favour very much worthy of tipping when we get good customer service in Nigeria. I will recount a personal experience on an Aero flight I took from Abuja to Lagos. I do not exaggerate when I say this flight was delayed no less than nine hours. At the check-in desk the staff did not issue as much as a warning that the flight would be delayed, an apology was out of the question. In fact they didn’t even attempt to smile for passengers. As we waited there was no update from the airline, no apologies, talks about compensation was out of the question. Finally, when it was about 11pm a customer lost it and flew into a fit of rage that gave me the shock of my life. Believe it or not the aero staff at the gate actually ended up taking off his shirt to physically have a fight with the customer. Such is the deprived level of customer service we have to go through in Nigeria on a daily basis. Considering that the Airline industry is known around the world for hospitality you can only imagine the regard for customers in other sectors.
Fortunately for many providers of goods and services, there is a very small minority of good experience providers so the motivation to develop this aspect of customer service is little as there is no reasonable alternative. I will site some examples. The notion that the customer is always right is one the Nigerian service industry is almost completely unaware of. Time without number I have seen bouncers at Nigerian nightclubs blatantly reject girls on the suspicion that they are prostitutes because they have not come out with some men to accompany them. There is almost no day voices are not raised in Nigerian banks due to customer dissatisfaction. Some of this is even down to high staff turnover rates that constantly break down existing customer relationship. When it comes to goods returning policies, the best I have seen is a same-day return for exchange, a refund is out of the question.
Unfortunately, the current position is unlikely to change as it has become a culture in our society. Even police officers will bow down to the rich but will drive a bus driver out his vehicle and consider beating him half way to death over nothing. As long as the mentality exists that good service is only for the wealthy, there would be no need to improve the average Nigerian consumer experience because the average Nigerian is not rich. We will need a complete reorientation on our value system towards customers to change how customers are perceived in places of business. Training for staff and company policies to reflect a ‘customer-centric’ attitude would also be necessary to enforce this new culture.
As things stand today the solution towards better consumer experience is held back by an unhealthy level of self-interest with businesses. There simply isn’t enough money being invested in staff development. The only feasible solution hence lies with the rising of new companies or the decision by present companies to improve their services to have an advantage in competition with the current players. It is baffling that as Nigeria continues to grow in affluence with more and more people travelling outside the country and the internet interconnecting cultures, companies still fail to understand the importance of consumer experience. The future of the service industry definitely belongs to those businesses that give good experiences to their patrons. With social media becoming the new word of mouth all it takes is one positive tweet to grow a business, or a negative one to dent the reputation which is bad for branding.
Simple attitudes like a smile, phrasing of questions like asking ‘how can I help?’ instead of ‘what do you want?’ will also go a long way. And perhaps a pay raise to make people enjoy their jobs a little bit more.
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