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Customer service is not negotiable

Victoria Ruzvidzo

My instalment a fortnight ago - ''Not with my Dollar" - had my inbox jammed as consumers went into a trance expressing their disgust at the poor service delivery that has afflicted this country. In both

the public and private sectors, consumers are being subjected to poor quality service that has reached horrendous proportions.

What touched me most from the feedback was the reminder that in a few months' time Zimbabwe will be hosting the UNWTO General Assembly and it would be a sad day for our country were the visitors to go back with a poor impression of Zimbabwe's products and service delivery system.

Globally, this country is known for its hospitality but this accolade is being threatened by the take-it-or-leave-it attitude that is rapidly creeping into many organisations. Such an attitude will not take the economy anywhere.

Local authorities, parastatals, private companies and individuals alike have become more interested in the dollar and not the one who bears it and yet common business sense would tell you that you get more customers and hence more dollars by providing exceptional service.

This week I have dedicated space to some of the responses that have been streaming from readers here and in the Diaspora.

One irate reader, who identified himself as Tawanda, was really miffed by the standard of service in this country and had this to say:

"Thank you very much for that article. I have always thought customer service and appreciation in Zimbabwe is more than poor, it's disgusting.

"When our economy peaks and we get all these international businesses who have a good appreciation for customer service coming in, I foresee most of these local businesses going bust. "As a matter of fact I have had such terrible experiences with these local businesses that I actually hope they flop. They can come back when they are serious."* * *

CAJ News Head of Africa News & Marketing Mr Savious Kwinika based in South Africa weighed in with his observations:"Thank you so much for writing this article 'Not with my dollar'! It touches on things that I observed when I came home sometime in December for the Christmas holiday."Your article also explored a lot of options in dealing with these shoddy dealings. Instead of only focusing on criticisms, you also came up with suggested solutions thereby bringing the much needed awareness to the nation, consumers to be more precise.

"Keep up the good work. Journalists are always there to educate, inform and entertain the public about good and bad things befalling our beloved country or individuals* * *Pedzisayi Matipano was also not amused by the poor customer service in this country and wrote:"Anodiwa Victoria, nyaya yawataura ihombe pakuti customer care ndiyo inofanira kuumba kana kuputsa business rese rese under a normal, functioning economy/population," "At the moment Zimbabwe is not a normal population because of the following reasons:

Politicians are not representing all the rights and freedoms of individuals.

They should go out there and educate the electorate on their rights and help them identify and prosecute fraudsters. At the moment people actually applaud people whose deals reward them illicitly especially from state funds.

The media shies away from reporting stories like you presented here and if they report at all for some strange reasons they avoid a name and shame approach. look at your story its a personal experience but you are protecting whichever business. It follows also with our political leaders, they would rather be found on the business' side and in most cases they are part of the corrupt business community.

You need a dedicated forum in your media reporting on consumer issues without fear nor favour and also you need to follow through on these issues.

Most people are looking at bargaining the other party so in that set up one is bound to come out the loser. Look at the farmers getting below market price for their produce yet we cry foul when it's time to import maize at above market price because of the risk our economy presents. The business media should revive the hard work philosophy as the only way to economic success.

* * *The Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe executive director Mr Rinos Mautsa had this to say: "Your recent article 'Not with my dollar' was spot on. We shared the link on various social networking platforms."Thousands of colleagues and followers on various groups on Facebook sent us comments sharing experiences which showed that customer service in Zimbabwe has reached alarming levels than what any policy maker and ordinary citizen can imagine. So heart-wracking were the stories such that one wonders if the adage that customer is the king still exists.

"The feedback we got was so emotional with many citing shoddy service, unprofessional frontline staff, over 10 minutes in a queue, bad quality products, unclear terms and conditions, non-replacement of damaged/expired goods, unclear airtime deduction, the list is long . . . this is what an average Zimbabwean consumer is going through on a daily basis. "In many instances I have personally come across catching phrases by various corporates as their motto for customer services but reality will prove otherwise. What amazes most is that thousands of dollars if not millions are being spent on adverts and promotions but in most cases there is little or no top team commitment.

Priority is not given to customer service issues. A culture of mediocrity and lip servicing is prevailing in most organizations in our beloved country.

"We have too often seen organisations with these two cultures attempting to implement customer improvement programmes without much success. They say, 'We are all about the customer' but at the same time they allow these negative cultures to remain in their organisation.

"Coming from a shortage environment various organisations are still busking in the former cultures where the provider was a king. This challenge, coupled with the fact that Zimbabwean consumers are meek, they don't complain.I am also guilty of this sin of tolerating mediocrity and shoddy services, so guilty that I continue to pay my monthly water bills despite the fact that I last got piped water three months ago in Mandara were I live.

In this case failure by the City of Harare/Zimbabwe National Water Authority to supply water is one thing but failing to communicate or even apologise is another pathetic and unforgivable sin that service providers are committing.

"As if that's not enough, consumers face a torrid time to make payment considering that the service halls are characterised by very long queues.

"There are various aspects that are contributing to poor customer service, just to name a few, no Consumer Protection Bill, Lack of competition in the market place, little awareness campaigns to educate consumers on their rights and lastly customer service and business ethics training of all employees in the consumer facing industry and public services.

"As a way forward we can learn from our neighbour South Africa which last year enacted a powerful piece of legislation: the Consumer Protection Act. If we are to adopt this it will also assist in some way."However a culture change will remain key if Zimbabwe is to be a preferred global tourist destination known for its hospitality, love, care and service delivery.

"Customer Service Week and Service excellence awards will be one platform which Government, private sector and other stakeholders can join hands to promote a culture of service excellence."Rwanda is one country which has taken customer service seriously with the head of state on the lead to campaign for a culture change towards customer service. To date, Customer Service Week and service excellence awards in Rwanda are being spearheaded by the government.

"Continuous customer service trainings remains a powerful ingredient which will go a long way in moulding a culture of legendary service. Lastly, there is urgent need to craft a national customer service framework with standards and indices for each sector.

"There is no better time than now for all stakeholders to team up and work towards creating a culture that cares about people. As the Contact Centre Association of Zimbabwe gears up for the Second Annual Customer Service Conference in May, the highlight will be our nation's customer service status quo ahead of the UNWTO General Assembly.

"The idea is to make sure that we have impeccable customer service across all sectors, with the hospitality sector at the core of it all.

"Other stakeholders that augment the sector also need to embrace service excellence. This then applies to the whole private sector and Government departments including but not limited to immigration department, local authorities, Zimra, etc.

"Lastly the customer service landscape is changing and organisations will never have a product or price advantage again for they can be easily duplicated, but a strong customer service culture can't be replicated."

Wow! Zimbabwe needs to think serious about giving back the crown to the customer.

In God I trust!

(Inappropriate report?)

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