Customer Service a Jibberish Taught In Good Business Schools
And The Guidelines Followed by Excellent Companies
“There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down,
simply by spending his money somewhere else.” Sam Walton
Ask any naive business school graduate and he/she will testify to the best of his knowledge that this is the universal truth. Ask an accomplished business man and he will put his wealth and reputation at stake to the validity of this truth. The sovereignty of the customer in business survival is one of the business faculty’s fundamental lesson and the only commandment followed by exceptional business gurus.
As a loyal student of marketing, a future business executive and an ambassador of a good business school I have learned to expect to see this commandment being observed in complete devotion in the world beyond the character prints on the several pages that I had to master. It was to my great dismay when this truth came crashing down like the blocks in ‘Jenga’.
Last week I was on a trip from Kilimanjaro to Dar Es Salaam (both cities in Tanzania) accompanied by my sister and a friend. I arrived at the Dar Express ticket office (one of the most reputed bus networks in the region) around 8:30 a.m. The office was in complete chaos. It was not clear who the staff were and there was no clear ticketing procedure. People just cut in line in more than one occasion in what appeared to be a poor excuse for a queue. I finally got my chance and walked over to the counter with a cheerful smile and a warm morning greeting. I was met with a sullen customer service assistant (CSA) who made no effort to pull a smile, not even a robotic one. The transaction was simply a give and take relationship. And so my travel experience began on a sour note.
At 8:45 a.m I boarded the bus which departed at 9:00 a.m. (amazingly on time). My expected journey was going to be around 8 hours long and I spared no effort to make sure that I was sitting comfortably. About quarter way through the journey and the bus was brought to a halt, the driver and his conductor hopped off and disappeared to some place. 30 minutes on the clock and I still had no clue what was going on. The bus driver and conductor felt no urgency to keep the passengers informed. It was getting warmer and I was getting soaked. I looked over at my companions who had now awoken from their little slumber and I noticed the same kind of frustration. Fade up of waiting in the heat some passengers began to walk out of the bus and make inquiries. I was one of them. when I quizzed the staff to find out the problem I was told that I was being a nuisance and was asking too many questions why didn’t I just wait in the shade like every body else, get lost! Unfortunately for me being in the middle of no where I could not exercise my power to forfeit and there was no guarantee that I could claim my money back in protest of the poor service. Like all the other passengers I had to swallow what I was served.
After almost and hour of waiting we were finally on the move but our AC situation was hopeless and we were to complete the journey with out it. I was petrified. I had paid extra for what was deemed a luxury with the promise of comfortable seating, air conditioning and refreshments. So far it had been a torture and I was yet to receive any refreshment.
Toward the end of the journey we were informed that there was an accident on the road and we had to go through a diversion. At this moment not only was I full of rage but I was thirsty. It came to no surprize when Iwas told that there was no water in the bus because it was all gone (I later found out that it was served on a first come first served basis.) When I finally arrived at my final destination I vowed not to travel with ‘Dar Express’ ever again.
Fast forward 1 week and my trip in Dar had come to an end. My companions had left the previous day and I was going to mak ethe journey back in solitude. I found my self standing at the Dar Express terminal in Ubungo (the bus stand in Dar Es Salaam) once again, loading my belongings and receiving a harsh tell off from the luggage porter. On me was my single back pack and a plastic box full of books. The bus boot was full and I was being a nuisance once again demanding that my box be put on board as part of my luggage because after all I had paid the fare. I was duly informed that my fare only covered for the cost of my seat not extra luggage and given the option to either pay for my box or take it back home. I asked for my money back but tough luck that was not going to happen. There was no alternative bus as they had all left the platform 30 minutes earlier (the time it took the porter to try and solve the box issue). I put my foot down with the resolution of holding up the bus until my crisis was resolved with out any extra money from me. So why was I once again at the mercy of the business?
I can not attempt to rationalize the failure of the service industry in Tanzania but one thing is clear, for the CSA and many other Tanzanian businesses the ideas of ‘customer service’ and ‘going the extra mile’ are alien concepts, ideals of the developed nations and the idea that the customer is king is just a mirage. The business commandment in Tanzania is simple; You want my service and I want your cash so lets not beat around the bush and get this over with.
“People expect good service but few are willing to give it.” Robert Gately
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