A collection of articles written by Customer 1st

Service Matters to Nations, Not Just to Businesses

12th August 2011 | Posted in Global Service

Service, whether good or bad, affects not only customers and businesses but also nations. Five years ago, I met a lovely man, Sam Ochapa, who made contact with me because of my involvement in everything to do with customer service. He had read my Best Practice Guides and some of my articles, and he thought that improvements in service could have a huge, positive effect on people in his much-loved home country of Nigeria.

Sam spoke passionately to me about his country: "My people experience bad service every day. They have a right to clean water, power, food, and education. They are tired of being deprived of these basic necessities of life. The people of Nigeria have a right to be served, to receive good customer service, but, at present, there are only pockets of good service, and it is not enough."

Sam's passion to make his country a better place to live really made me feel humble. We all take the provision of services from our public sector organisations for granted in the Western world. We complain (justifiably, I believe) about instances of poor service. As customers, our expectations are rising daily, and yet here was a very passionate man, desperate to make things better for his people and his country. He was positive that good customer service was the foundation for change in his nation.

Profit was never part of Sam's agenda, but respecting every person, every customer, and providing transparency and integrity were key aspects. Sam believed that treating everyone in the way we would like to be treated and putting ourselves in the shoes of the customer could create a highly charged, customer-conscious atmosphere that was infectious and would make life and work generally happier for all of us.

Sam is not alone in his thinking. Documents from the Nigeria Public Sector Reform Programme (PSRP) indicate that former President of Nigeria, Olusegun Obasanjo, shares Sam's concerns about the corruption and inefficiencies of public offices and that the government hopes to do better for its people.

I can confirm that service in that country is poor—not everywhere, of course, but generally, and especially within the country's large public sector. During my visits to the country, I have been overwhelmed by the passion and enthusiasm of its people and yet simultaneously depressed by the lack of even the basics of customer service in the public sector.

Of course, the changes required to make significant improvements in Nigeria, and many other such countries, will take time. My good friend Sam understands this, and he recognises that it is through education and training that we can begin to change mindsets and behaviours for the better. We also know that change on that scale has to start at the top, with a commitment to improve the life of the people.

Nigeria's newly elected President, Goodluck Jonathan, has made a high-level commitment to improving service, according to a press release from Nigeria First, the official website of the country's office of communications. When President Jonathan presided over the first session of the Executive Council of the Federation on July 20, 2011, he called on members of his new cabinet to "make service with integrity their watch word as they take effective charge of their ministries and ensure that their actions are guided by their consciences."

These are wise words, but where will the new government start? There is definitely a commitment at the top, and now a strategy has to be put in place that, as we know only too well in the West, includes educating and inspiring people, as well as developing seamless processes that will support the people in their daily challenge to achieve outstanding customer service.

Customer satisfaction leads to customer loyalty, creating ambassadors for brands and financial success for businesses. People who are equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide great service tend to stay loyal to their organisation, too, and so better service standards can benefit everyone. I believe that these principles apply just as much to Nigeria as a nation as they do to an individual business.

The issue is that Nigeria has such a long way to go. However, I am sure that huge strides can be made towards acceptable service standards, given a commitment to service at the top and an understanding of how service improvements can be achieved, combined with the passion and enthusiasm that seems to be part of every Nigerian's make-up. Nigeria has a national Service Pledge, which is a great commitment to all Nigerians. This initiative was launched successfully by Ad`Obe Obe, National Coordinator of SERVICOM (Service Compact with all Nigerians)and promises, in the public sector, to provide a deep commitment to both internal and external customers, confirming that every single individual is special and will be treated with respect and dignity at all times.

Delivering on that promise is the first and most important step in ensuring that Nigerian citizens receive the services that they deserve and that they receive the best service they have ever had. Developing individual employees' attitudes and motivations for giving customers excellent service, and also deepening their understanding of how their own behaviours affect interactions with customers, are critical for Nigeria.

Perhaps we should all reflect on the bigger picture and rethink our own pledge to customers. We should ask ourselves, have we become complacent? Are we doing enough, and if not, why not? Nigeria is a developing country that has recognised the impact service can make on all its people's lives. Personally, I have no doubt that it will become a country that we will all want to do business with. The only question is now, how long will it take?