“The customer’s perception is your reality.” Kate Zabriskie. In Africa at large customer service is fast outpacing innovation as the differentiating factor and organizations are ready to take up available channels and spend resources to offer the best to their customers. Often, in Kenyan speak, we will hear customers say “Customer care yao ni poa” (Their customer care is good). Does it end there or is there more to this oft-used phrase?Is there a difference between service and experience?

The answer to that question used to be that customer service forms the basis of customer experience. That a customer’s main interaction with a business was a personal exchange, by visiting, speaking to employees, voicing complaints, submitting enquiries or bargaining for price reduction. And that staff have the opportunity to wow the customer by providing a great customer experience.

Recently, however, Bruce Tempkin (2009) described service as an organizational function like sales or marketing, while experience is the perception that customers have of their interactions with an organization across all touch points.

Imagine this scenario – a customer walks into a spic and spanbanking hall during the festive season. There are no customers as most people are on holiday. After waiting six minutes in a cubicle, their patience snaps and they ask the Customer Service Officer to have someone attend to them. A brief moment passes before a teller beckons and exchanges pleasantries before carrying on with his business. No apology surfaces! Wouldn’t one have come in handy and gone a long way in redeeming the situation, given the customer had waited that long at an unmanned till? But……..none comes forth!

The teller returns the customer’s cheque and mumbles inaudibly saying “Kumbe hata huja sign nyuma, ebu sign nyuma” (so you have not even signed at the back, just sign.) The customer complies and gets their money. They then proceed to politely ask for an envelope in English and the teller responds in broken Swahili “hakuna zimeisha labda uchukue hapo customer service.” (We don’t have any left, probably check at customer service.)

The customer marvels at the attitude the teller exhibited. The long wait…….. The teller’s communication………… The broken Swahili…………

Wouldn’t this service leave a bad taste in the customer’s mouth? Was the service provider perhaps doing the customer a favour? Heck, the customer has given them business!

The same customer enroute to another bank to wire the money elsewhere animatedly goes over their experience in an internal dialogue, keen to see if the same standards will be replicated. Here the teller sits silent in the cubicle. With no word, just a blank stare, quickly grabs the deposit slip and money, and counts the notes by hand… hundreds of thousands by hand. The customer wondershow long it would take to finish.

The invention of note counters, intelligent enough to detect fake notes to make the banking experience easier, crosses their mind. Halfway, the teller’s mobile phone rings and they leave the cubicle. Two minutes later they return and start recounting owing to the disruption, and resignedly finally run the money through the note counter. With the same blank stare, they pass the deposit slip and say “sign, give me the copy and keep the original”. The customer leaves, equally speechless. The same story.Theteller’s silence……The disruptive phone call….. The blank stare………

Whilst taking into consideration that not all financial institutions serve customers this way, in these two instances, the tellers thought they had done their job. No initiative towards making even the most basic attempt at connecting with the customer. Service was delivered but the experiences were horrible.

We often have very neat premises, great products, manpower, surplus budgets to put up ads and do a lot of Corporate Social Investment (CSI) to show that we’re in constant touch with our target market. All these albeit not bad, make no business sense when the customer is not appreciated and the touch points not customer centric.
To accomplish this here’s a guide to giving your customers an experience and not just a service.

Service or Experience-page-001

Written by:-
Carol Kigome, Customer Service Manager
Gulf African Bank.