Have you ever wondered how Customer Service Experience would be if you visited the west? Do you imagine it to be excellent or poor? Well! Angela Rarieya, a Customer Experience Specialist and ICS Kenya Board Member tells us about her own experiences in in the Republic of Ghana, West Africa, where she has been working…

As a first time visitor to Ghana last November, I was charmed by the warm and very welcoming manner of Ghanaians which would seriously rival the friendly nature that Kenyans pride themselves for. The local cuisine is delectable for the visitor with a palate for pepper and spice and served in generous portions at affordable prices. Accra and several other towns that I visited in the country are refreshingly safe and the common scenes of petty thievery of mobile phones and other valuables from unsuspecting motorists and passengers alike in our capital Nairobi are virtually unheard of here.

During my four month stay in Ghana, I have had the opportunity to sample several hotels across the country as well as utilize the services of a leading mobile service provider, retail outlets, taxis and a major hospital in Accra. I experienced challenges similar to those I have had in Nairobi such as customer service agents with poor knowledge of their products and services and lack of telephone/email etiquette.

However, the 3 things that particularly contributed to my pain as a customer in Ghana were:

Attitude: Paradoxically, the genial and courteous nature of Ghanaians is not reflected in their customer interactions. Apathy towards or a defensiveness in response to complaints voiced by customers (most of whom would be foreigners) are common. Ghanaians have a very strong sense of brotherhood and this egalitarianism has yielded a culture where locals tolerate mediocre service delivery rather than ruffle feathers by expressing discontent.

A past characterized by military coups in which products and services were generated by state-owned monopolies and stock – outs and shortages of even the most basic commodities became the order of the day may be partly to blame. In such a scenario the balance of power favoured suppliers as opposed to the consumers to the detriment of the overall quality of service rendered. Although Ghana’s progress towards democracy over the past decade is noteworthy, the mindset persists.

Speed: Undoubtedly, service delivered with speed is critical to any delightful customer experience. Yet, there exists a passive and pervasive casual attitude towards time and punctuality among the citizens of Ghana in general. This ultimately translates into a lack of urgency in processing customer queries, requests and complaints. Further, the inability or unwillingness of service providers to offer alternatives or solutions to problems experienced by their customers only intensifies customer frustration.

There have been many instances when I have walked out of a retail store or restaurant because either the specific item that I went to purchase was unavailable and none of the bored – looking shop attendants could be bothered enough to offer me an alternative (assuming that one existed); or I simply got fed up of waiting for my order to be taken.

Transactional versus relational: As a long term strategy for customer retention, businesses that build relationships with their customers in which the mutual interest of both parties is taken care of can look forward to sustainability and growth stemming from loyal customers. Transactional on the contrary is short-term in its effectiveness. The unemployment rate especially of the youth is significant in both Ghana and Kenya.

However, in the former, a general “profit now” attitude at the expense of longer term relationships seems to characterize the retail experience. Perhaps the severe electricity load sharing/ power cuts which has ushered in the dearth of self-employment has left in its wake a short-term approach by smaller businesses. In contrast, the budding SME sector in Kenya has spurred entrepreneurship adding to the basket of suppliers that Kenyan consumers can choose from. Many businesses are waking up to the reality that unless they can create delightful experiences, the cost of customer churn and acquisition will continue to erode their bottom line.

In a world of technological convergence and dynamic Internet technologies, customer experience is the differentiator businesses the world over are seeking to embrace. Both Kenya and Ghana are a long way off realizing world class services similar to those in the United States of America. Firms in these two countries need to get the fundamentals right by investing: in the training of customer service agents, infrastructure that enables an end to end seamlessness on all multi-channel touch-points and giving customer service leadership its rightful position in the boardroom.
Angela Rarieya
Customer Experience Specialist
Board Member, ICS Kenya