Customer care is growing steadily in Nigeria, especially in big cities like Lagos and Abuja, where there are more corporate bodies, and both the customers and the service providers are more educated. In many parts of Nigeria, customer care is most times pitiable. In such places, the customers have become so used to mediocre or outright poor service that they cannot recognise good service anymore. A bank that has relatively good customer care in Lagos may have poor customer care in other states.
But even in the big cities, the quality of customer care is still mediocre. Customers are most times treated as if they are irritants or people who are being done a favour.
Any business that does not have the customer at the heart of its activities is doomed to crumble. When you lose a customer because he or she is dissatisfied, you have not lost just one customer; you have lost thousands of potential customers. If many people knew this, they would perform better in their handling of their customers. Lose money, but don’t lose a customer.
Michael LeBoeuf has some fantastic statistics in his great book, How to Win Customers & Keep Them for Life:
“A survey on ‘Why customers quit’ found the following:
- three per cent move away
- five per cent develop other friendships
- nine per cent leave for competitive reasons
- 14 per cent are dissatisfied with the product
- 68 per cent quit because of an attitude of indifference towards the customer by the owner, manager, or some employee.”
A member of staff of a company who makes the company lose money could be pardoned, but one that makes the company lose a customer due to poor customer care should be sacked. That may sound too harsh but if such people are allowed to remain in the employ of the company, the entire staff will soon not have a place to work, neither will the shareholders have a company to call their own.
I have met some people with great customer care but I always remember one experience from unusual quarters. I like to patronise entrepreneurs or start-ups. So when a lady opened a provisions shop in my neighbourhood some years ago, my wife and I decided to patronise her instead of the big and older supermarkets in our neighbourhood, where there was no personal touch. The lady has good customer care and her staff have been trained to treat their customers well.
But we were blown away one day we walked into the shop and a boy of about 12 years came to attend to us. His looks showed that he was a son of the owner. The schools were on holidays, so he had come to help out in the shop. He walked up to us, greeted us and took a basket after us. As we shopped, the boy – in a soft and sweet voice – told us about the products that were running promotions, the new products that just arrived and the advantages of one product over the other. Once in a while, I would turn to look at him to confirm that he was not an adult that looked like a boy. Surprisingly, as he spoke or showed us these products, there was no smile or frown on his face. There was no sign that he was trying to make us buy what we didn’t want. The impression we got was that the boy was simply trying to help us make good purchases. By the time we left, we had collected some new products and spent more money than we budgeted. But we did not feel bad because we were grateful to the boy for introducing us to some new products or their new variants.
Before we left, we told the mother good-humouredly that she was good, but her son was great.
When we got home, I noticed that a product we bought from them was not okay. The next time I passed by the shop, I dropped in to complain. The boy was in. He took his time to check all the other products they had. They all had the same fault. He said that it was obviously a factory problem, and asked if I wanted my money back or wanted to pick up something else. I picked up something else and went away satisfied that someone (a minor for that matter) was treating me like a human being; something a majority of adults don’t know how to do.
Any time I see that boy in that shop, I never want any other person to attend to me, even though he may end up making me spend more than I planned to spend. I wonder what that boy will be in future. But one thing I am very sure about is that if he continues the way he is into adulthood, whatever profession he gets into, he will have customers and clients flocking around him. It is a fait accompli that he will succeed in life.
Customers are like the palm tree. A palm-wine tapper needs to take care of the palm every day, morning and evening, to get bountiful yield. When he gets to the top of the tree, he does not just collect the palm wine and come down. He takes some time to tend the channel through which the sweet sap flows. As long as he does that, palm wine will ooze out from the tree for many years. But the moment he stops tending the palm, the wine flow ceases.
What always beats me is why a person who runs a business should be so concerned about making a kobo profit even if it means losing a customer. That is why some businesses which should have grown from the level of a shop to a conglomerate remain in one shop and on one spot year after year. And yet such people would be looking for the witches and wizards that are holding them down. They would attend all religious crusades in the land, looking for God’s blessings, looking for open doors. But God has already blessed them; they are the ones chasing away their customers, believing that if one customer goes, another customer will come.
Why is good customer care so easy to give and yet so rare to get? Three reasons: Ego. Complacency. Ignorance.
He is a fool who competes with his customer. He is a greater fool who exchanges a word with his customer. He is an irredeemable fool who allows his customer to walk away in anger and dissatisfaction or, worse still, tells the customer to get away with his miserable money.
On no occasion should a person exchange angry words with his customer, no matter how impossible the customer is. If it is absolutely impossible to meet his demands, appease him with kind words and allow him to leave with some dignity. No matter how irrational or raving mad he is, he may come back tomorrow to patronise you or recommend someone to you. Even if he cannot patronise you now or in the future, you are better off if he goes away without spreading negative advertising about you. No matter how big your business is or how sure-footed your organization is, it does not need any negative vibes around it. Such can be potentially dangerous.
If you interface with customers and cannot keep your evil tongue in its scabbard, buy a padlock for your mouth. A customer would prefer to deal with a mute who simply smiles and gesticulates when asked questions than a man or woman whose words pierce the heart.
Quality excites a customer; sound customer care thrills him; a combination of the two sweeps him off his feet and he is hooked for good.