Who will save the Customer?

the customerThe Inspector General of Police

Force Headquarters

Abuja – Nigeria

 Dear IG,

I write to you sir with heaviness in my heart. I don’t know whom to turn to seek redress and repair for the injustice that the customer has suffered in the hands of residents and people of Nigeria. Who then can save the customer? To whom shall we turn for the long awaited emancipation of the customer? As the customer is being battered on all sides by service providers, regulators and products, to who then shall the customer turn for salvation?

The perennial perils faced by the customer in Nigeria are enough to make millionaires out of customer service-consulting gurus. One had thought that going to university would solve the problem. Wrong. For the disease, called customer-mishandling plagues both the polished-British-English-speaking service provider and the Mile 12 market iru seller who no go school. One would have hoped, as we had all hoped, that the fact that a company is a foreign company would insulate them from the temptation to defraud the customer. Wrong. Someone will say, “OK he must be talking of Indian, Lebanese, and Asian firms”.

Wrong. Everyone is a culprit; Lebanese, Indian, Asian, South African, European …One again would have hoped for better days for the customer because of the large number of Nigerians who have traveled and continue to travel overseas, to great customer service centers all around the world.

Wrong again. Is great customer service a myth in this country? Is respect for the individual too much to ask? The other day a man bought a product and paid for it to be delivered to his house. On asking when it would be delivered, he was told it would take a certain number of days. He objected, requesting that it be done that day. They said that wouldn’t be possible. He requested that his delivery money be returned, saying he would have it transported himself. They told him he couldn’t get his money back. He was stunned! He only got his money after he threatened to call in his lawyer.

Time and space will not permit me to speak of the market woman who not only verbally assaults the customer but also almost starts a fight. Or when you have to return a good and you’re told, “goods sold in perfect conditions cannot be returned”. Or is the local airline that delays you for hours without any explanation or with just an explanation. Or is it the shop that says it is doing a ‘sale’ only for you to enter and be given an explanation. Not to mention the cyber café where the advert says you can browse for N60 per hour but for you to get in and it’s otherwise.

No need to mention overnight price changes that we’ve become accustomed to. Don’t even bother with, “ cars are parked at owners risk. Or “the destination you’re trying to call cannot be reached “. Not to mention times when one complains and one is treated like a plague, “Oga nobody has complained since morning but you”. The bus service said it has air-conditioners and it will charge N50 per fare. The bus service doesn’t use ACs but still charges N50.

Please don’t let’s even mention overnight increases in fuel pump prices – the customer has gotten accustomed to that? In another case the airline lost your baggage – you can either forget getting an equitable solution or go through the long process – which ends in you at best being given a micro-faction of the worth of the luggage. Sir, in this man’s case his air ticket was downgraded. However, they were kind enough to give him ONLY an apology.

The embassies … I refuse to speak of the embassies. I reject the temptation to download on you the inhumane treatment customers get in the embassies. Really there isn’t space to express the crass, blatant and wanton mishandling (abuse preferably) that customers face at British, American and other embassies. I refuse to speak on these.

Sir, the question is that where exactly is the problem? How did we arrive here? Is the problem black? Is it third world or is it Nigerian? Our institutions aren’t even insulated – the Federal and State Government, the Parliament, tax collectors, revenue collectors, regulatory agencies, the academia …Isn’t there even a silver lining in this dark, black and hideous cloud? I have continued to ask, “What is the root of this problem?

From my observation, the problem rests on a few fundamental prods.

1. Dignity and respect for the next individual.

This is one screw that is missing in the mind engineering of most people in Nigeria and other parts of the World. Were we to send out hordes of your men, the Armed forces and medical practitioners into offices, shops, institutions and the market places; with a mandate to arrest everyone plagued with a disease called “insufficient or lack-of-dignity-and-respect-for-the-individual”, even the President won’t be spared! In the best of instances, there’s selective respect for the individual.

If he’s dressed in a suit or in an agbada, we bestow on him more respect. If he’s in a uniform, he’s also accorded much more respect. If he has a lot of money, (at least when we know or think so) we literally pay obeisance – we give warm smiles, easy laughs and great service. Is one human really less than the other?

Thank God that we’ve crossed the age where it was believed – even supported by science – that one human is less than the other on the basis of skin colour. Dear IG, is one human worthy of less respect than the other? Doesn’t even a child deserve a measure of respect? Human dignity … lack of human dignity is at the foundation of customer mishandling.

2. Who is a customer?

Secondly, sir, there clearly is a well-developed misunderstanding of who the customer is. Does each of us really know who the customer is? Now this question may sound simplistic. We cannot really know the customer and mishandle them. The customer is that person that keeps you in business or in operation. Any activity that involves the interaction of two or more people is a business.

When you set up an operation that serves other people then you also have customers. But what if I am a not-for-profit organisation, am I a business? Insofar as you are set up to cater for a need, then you are a business. Therefore, the customer is that person that keeps you in business. The customer puts food on the table. He is the soul of the business. The customer is the only true measure of the success of ANY human interaction. He alone keeps our doors open.

3. The opportunity in every encounter.

Most of us lack understanding of the potential, the possibilities, that reside in every human interaction. What are the uncountable possibilities that lie in a person who walks into your office or shop? What are the uncountable possibilities that lie in a person who mistakenly walks into your office or shop? On the face of it, she may come in and look like a nuisance. He may look like he can’t afford your products and services.

Don’t they sometimes walk in and it seems they’ve even missed their way. Or is it the one who seems to be abrasive, uncouth and asks too many questions. Mr. IG, people need to know that regardless of initial impressions, each person that walks into our premises is not just a potential sale but a door into a not-yet-imagined world of opportunities – both positive and negative.

He has the possibility of becoming your ADVOCATE. There are two kinds of advocates – one is desired, the other is a plague. We all desire that client who patronises us and ‘sells’ us to others. They sell us, they sell our unique differences, and they sell us – passionately too. Every encounter is the beginning of a chain reaction.

4. Prevalence of ‘Sellers’ markets (lack of genuine competition).

For a long time now people in Nigeria have become accustomed to markets that are dominated by the service providers. That is, the customer, over decades, has remained in the claws of producers. Where genuine competition exists and thrives, the customer is much better for it. We have had the prevalence of sellers markets in almost every industry.

The Nigerian people have mercilessly been battered (and tattered) over the years by the major Oil & Gas players – Federal Government, NNPC, explorers, marketers, politicians, etc. Just imagine what would happen if we had other sources of energy, thereby make petrol, kerosene and diesel options.

Boy, that will be the day of true independence! We had hoped for a different treatment from the telecommunications industry, probably due to the international nature of this industry. Weren’t we so wrong? For the uninitiated, they would think that there exists some competition amongst Vmobile, MTN, Mtel and Glo. Wake up brother! Sir, where sellers market exists, service providers have this air of doing customers a favour.

5. Lack of information and enlightenment.

Some people are not adequately aware of self-inflicted harm created by mishandling the customer. This may account for the increase in customer service skill development programmes being run all over the nation. We also hope that this missive will help bridge some of this gap.

Then the awareness many people need is to the options open to them in this global economy. The more we are all aware that our services/products are been supplied through multiple routes, the more we’ll provide legendary service to customers.

IG, also prevalent is a dearth of legal knowledge. People are not aware of the rights they have in a business interaction. When we all know our rights and know that the next man knows his rights, customers will receive uncommon service.

 I hope you will use your good offices to intervene in this matter that is threatening the continued existence of the customer.

Thank you.

 Yours in-service of our Motherland,

 Aruosa Osemwegie