Ezinne Ajoku: The Customer Service fail [NEW VOICES]

2016 will be remembered for many things, and one of those things it will definitely be remembered for, thanks to falling oil prices, is the launch of the hashtag, #BuyNaijaToGrowTheNaira.

As oil prices continued to fall, and forex vehemently refused to be found, Nigerians remembered that instead of kellogs conrnflakes, Nasco will do just fine, and what’s the point paying $400 for a bag, when Obi leather is still alive and well. 2016 will therefore, to my mind, be remembered as the year of the entrepreneur, because everybody who could do one hand work or the other jumped on the #BuyNaijatoGrowTheNaira bandwagon with glee. Messages such as these below began to flood our timelines.

Instagram was not left out of the movement. A flurry of IG pages advertising some businesses – hair, make up, event planning, locally made bags, shoes, art work – buzzing our feeds, all in a bid to inform us, in case we were not aware, or remind us, had we perchance forgotten, that what we can get abroad, we also can get here in Nigeria. This was great for these homegrown companies because revenue more or less became assured and they no longer had to compete with foreign brands, and their more trustworthy and reliable services.

And therein lies the rub, for whilst it may be that Nigerians make goods as well as foreign brands, our services – customer services – leave a whole lot to be desired.

These are a few areas entrepreneurs are yet to get right in Nigeria.

1. Courtsey: Courtesy is polite behaviour that shows respect for other people. It’s simple greeting. It’s acknowleding a greeting. It’s that email you send that carries “Dear Sir” as a salutation, regardless of the age of the recipient. Courtesy is responding to messages soon as you receive them. It’s quite annoying to have someone, whether in person or electronically, ignore this simple rule of polite behaviour. I had the opportunity of reaching out to one of these IG entrepreneurs recently, and it struck me that after I’d greeted, there was no corresponding acknowledgement. These little misbehaviours say a lot about you, about your brand and you cannot afford to be careless about it.

2. Attitude: For example, you go to a tailor to sew a dress, and rather than be attended to with some level of decency, what you get is attitude. God forbid you show up during wedding season or Yuletide, you can almost hear an inner groan, because they are thinking “Oooooh. Not another one”. If your sixth sense fails to pick that up, they will not hesitate to inform you that they can’t do it. But it’s not so much what they say, but how they say it- with attitude, with heat, as if it’s a quarrel. Which is funny because these people pray night and day for their businesses to flourish and when God answers their prayers, they, by themselves, show the money away rudely.

And this is the thing. You can be sure that when these persons first started out, they were latching on to every Jegede and Osinachi, constantly singing their abilities and perhaps even giving out goods for free (or less) just to show that they were actually as capable as they swore. Then they get 50/100 customers, who include one or 5 celebrities and immediately, attitude shows up because they reckon they now walk on water. Please.

Watch your attitude. You never know who people are, and you sure as hell do not know what business they can bring your way. Do not undermine them because you’ve done the calculations and reckon they cannot pay what your services are worth. They might not be the ones who can pay you your worth, but they might just be connected to people who can. How you attend to them will determine whether they call you back for business or not and whether they will refer you to their “big friends” or not.

Most importantly, watch your choice of words, the responses you give, how you act when you think someone needs you more than you need them. I once reached out to someone or a service, and the money she called had me spooked. I wasn’t ready to pay that, but I was torn, and simply needed an explanation for why the service was billed that high. So I chuckled and said, “Hi, sorry o, but I don’t understand, why is it this expensive?” And she said, “what’s there not to understand?” and went on to explain her charges, but I was stuck on ‘what’s there not to understand.’ I couldn’t move beyond that for a time, and it was then I made the decision not to bother with her service anymore, no matter how highly recommended it came. Rudeness is costly, it will cost you the future.

I know of someone who approached a number of banks for a loan, when he first started, and two of the banks treated him with disdain: kept him waiting from morning till evening in their reception, then eventually refused to see him. After he was able to get loans from elsewhere and make a great success of his business, those same banks sent their marketing officers, scurrying after him, asking to bank with them. Guess what his response has been? Hell no! Because he vowed that such mistreatment he received at their hand will not go unpunished. He vowed that those banks will not smell a naira of his, and they haven’t.

3. Business is a favour: A lot of entrepreneurs act like they are doing you a favour. Don’t get it twisted, folks. If I am forking out money for goods or services, what it is is a transaction, not a favour. So don’t act out like it’s the latter. It’s not. Customer care officers need a whole lot of unlearning in this regard. Their company shafts you, and when you reach out to the company through these agents, they speak to you like they are King and you are the subject. This mentality is wrong.

Delivery: It’s one thing to cry on people’s timelines and feeds, asking for business. It’s another thing to execute your service to the latter, with high level of professionalism. Nigerian entrepreneurs seem to be clueless about this concept. They figure once they collect the money, that’s all. It’s not. You owe me and you should feel uncomfortable until you have handed the goods to me at the time you said you would. That’s basic integrity.

Keeping your word is fundamental. This is how trust is built. This is how brands are built. You cannot tell me that you will deliver my goods at so and so time, and the time comes, then it passes and you have delivered nothing and have communicated nothing to me, your customer. This is so wrong. Do not wait for me to call you to inquire. You should be on top of the matter, informing me at every step. That’s how you retain customers.

You cannot promise a McDonald’s burger, and serve me a Wendy’s. That’s the point of recipes, isn’t it? I told you I wanted a shift dress. You take my measurements and money, but when I come to collect, it’s a bodycon dress. How?

Consistency and execution are a big deal, and entrepreneurs need to get that right.

What happens when you let these things slide is that what few clients you have will leave you, the referalls will stop coming and your business will hit a rock. Afterall, what’s a business without clients?

As we move into a new year by midnight today, let these bad businesses practices go. They will neither serve you nor your generation well. Build a business to last. Build a good name. Build a generational legacy.

Happy new year in advance.

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