Why Customer Services for African SMEs Matter:
“If you do build a great experience, customers tell each other about that. Word of mouth is very powerful.” ~ Jeff Bezos, CEO Amazon.com
Whilst visiting Nigeria and Ghana at the end of 2012 I was struck by the breadth and scope of enterprise in both countries. There are so many fantastic businesses being set-up and that are growing quickly. But despite this high growth one thing concerned me greatly and that was the lack of attention to customer services. I was often informed that it was something that is expected and perhaps to some extent accepted; however I know for sure that customer services is a crucial part of marketing. Here I have given some reasons why customer service skills are essential in a growing African economy:
Quality Customer services are the most visible and often the most significant part of an organisation at every step of a business journey.
Whether you are an established business owner or a new business owner, selling a service or a product ensuring that customers are appreciated and cared for is crucial and yet so often it is neglected. Retaining customers through excellent customer service produces many positive benefits for the organisation aside from the obvious revenue and profit results. I want to see African businesses flourish in such a way that the negative stereotypes that are all too often directed at the continent are significantly reduced.
Make sure that the team or the boss is always ready to receive a client/customer.
Customers do not necessarily know or see what goes on behind the scenes, they only know how they are treated and are principally concerned with that as a point of reference. No matter how busy a business is, a client/customer needs to know that they can be “received” in a positive manner. This was sometimes overlooked in some of the businesses that I came in contact with. It is crucial that the team is always ready to communicate be it face-to-face, on the telephone, or through e-mail—there needs to be a clear channel of communication with customers. An investment in the skills and knowledge of these employees is very much an investment in the customer experience. It may take time but slowly and surely West African business owners are investing in customer service training for their staff.
Make sure that the team is happy doing what it does!
If employees aren’t satisfied on the job, they’re usually not motivated to demonstrate a high level of customer care; at best, they’ll do just enough to get by. So it is essential that the team is happy! Studies have shown that a strong link exists between employees’ job satisfaction and the quality of customer service those employees provide. Many have stated that employees in some African businesses are only concerned with their pay cheques but there is scope for motivation in other areas. Again it takes time and training but a happy team leads to happy customers!
Always appreciate customers, show customers they’re valued; don’t assume they know it.
The most important aspect of showing customers that they’re valued is to take care of their needs or requests in a timely, efficient, and correct manner. At each and every customer service stage, employees should maintain a mind-set of earning the business and trust of customers, never taking it for granted. They want to be appreciated and respected. They want to feel that the company’s customer care philosophy is truly about them and not just about their money. Take the time to let your customer know how much you care, either by email, face – to-face, on the phone or via social media.
Keep developing customer services skills.
It shouldn’t be taken for granted that employees know what goes into good customer service. They may have some good instincts and they may each take certain measures that they personally feel will provide good service, but this hopeful approach isn’t enough. Providing training in both the company’s customer care philosophy and in their job-specific service skills is a huge and all-important first step. Once employees have been trained, it’s essential for them to be held accountable for putting their skills into practice on the job, which means continued personnel support and coaching.
The above principles are of course relevant to all businesses not just those in West Africa, but hopefully this will provide some guidance on what can be done to enhance the customer service experience in the region.