Customer Service in Nigeria

I remember travelling back to Lagos for holiday in June 2013. After my routine of familiarizing myself with the heat, traffic and NEPA; I agreed to meet with a close friend of mine at Ikeja City Mall, one of the most popular malls in Lagos. As I waited for his arrival, I decided to browse the boutiques to see what they had to offer. I entered a particular clothing store called Grey Velvet which sold bespoke pieces made from African lace and print. While browsing, I noticed another customer looking at a dress on the other side of the small store. Shortly after glancing at a few dresses, she called out to the sales assistant and the conversation went as follows:

Customer: “Excuse me madam, how much is this dress?”

Sales Assistant: “Don’t worry, you can’t afford it.”

Customer: “Excuse me, what did you say to me?”

Sales Assistant: (As she starts laughing) “I said you can’t afford it!”

Customer: “You’re talking to your customer like that? I want to speak to your manager!”

Sales Assistant: (At this point laughs hysterically) “Come and take the number, I’ll write it down for you.”

Out of frustration, and really not knowing what else to do, the customer stormed out of the shop leaving me gobsmacked. I had never experienced such outright disrespect or disregard towards a client before. And because I didn’t want to risk being embarrassed in the same manner, I immediately left the store. This experience solidified the often-expressed viewpoint that generally customer service in Nigeria is basically non-existent. But what issues tend to cause this culture of disregard towards customers?

No Concern or Understanding of how to Establish Customer Loyalty (or pretending not to understand):

The thing I fail to comprehend is how Nigerian businesses can project any form of longevity without the satisfaction of their clients/ potential clients as the core focus. The equation is very simple:

Customers = Business

If the heart of your company is to create a lasting rapport with your clients; one that allows them have the best possible experience you can create as they patronise your service, and one that makes them glad they chose you as opposed to a competitor; complacency will become a sin (all emphasis on this word). You will see the value in the relationship you try to build with every single potential client you come in contact with. This means creating a culture within your organisation that brings the message to all members, that the clients are the business and that without them there is no organisation. For example, a friend recently told me about a conversation he had with a representative from one of Nigeria’s up and coming e-commerce businesses. During this conversation he asked the agent what kind of customer research they had adopted, to which the representative responded that they hadn’t conducted any because they believe Nigerian consumers are very fickle. Least to say his answer cost the company a customer in my friend, and me, once I’d been told about his experience.

If you have created your business model based on the ideology that your customers are fickle, definitely the service you provide will never send the message that you value them. So when the next best thing comes along with better service it is likely they move on to patronise that business.

Time:

Generally speaking, many Nigerians have little regard for keeping time. That attitude is evident in the way businesses conduct themselves. Promises of delivery are not kept; customers are not responded to as committed; and, even if due to unforeseen circumstances this happens, customers are not shown their value through quick response to rectify the situation.

I flew with Arik in March. Our 12:45pm take off time turned into 16:15pm. Along with this, passengers were not kept up to date as to what caused the delays. When we eventually got onto the flight; on-air entertainment was not working, the toilet doors were broken, taps were non-functioning and the staff were extremely rude. But, to be fair, they at least provided stale cakes and a cup of warm juice to simmer us down just before boarding. The airline, besides the other ridiculous elements of the service provided, made it obvious that they had no regard for the time of their paying customers. Several customers expressed their annoyance at missing key appointments due to the delay.

We Accept Mediocrity:

Before we eventually boarded the plane, I listened to other customers lament about previous times they’d had similar terrible experiences with the airline. As they went on, I kept wondering why they just didn’t stop flying with them.

I made the decision there and then that I would rather pay the extra £150 for the sanity that came with Virgin Atlantic or British Airways than put myself through the trauma again. This is not to say the other airlines are perfect, but they at least make the effort to rectify negative situations promptly. This however is just me in a small pool of people who have most likely made the decision to boycott the airline because we believe we deserve better for our purchase. I’ve read and heard many terrible stories about Arik’s customer service. This included overnight flight delays leading to customers sleeping at the airport and customers being kept on board a stationary plane under the hot sun without any air conditioning. Yet customers still patronise them in large numbers with the expectation of their below par service. Unfortunately, the idea of experiencing terrible customer service and deciding to grin and bear it (what we Nigerians term as “suffering and smiling”), is another reason companies do not see the need to buckle up. If we complain but will eventually keep quiet and still purchase, then why should they bother to do better. We need to demand better because if we pay for good service, we deserve it, and it’s just that simple.

You Buy at Your Own Risk:

Another problem is the lack of law enforcement for consumer protection and the adoption of product liability in favour of consumers. There are no active consumer protection organisations which push the culture and place the pressure on businesses to provide excellent customer service. Customers are directly purchasing at their own risk a lot of the time; which actually enables the business to be as complacent as they wish.

Although it seems easier to look for a pin in the ocean than come across decent customer service in Nigeria, there are some companies who have decided to fight the good fight and go against the grain. Uber Lagos (a mobile app-based taxi service) has been doing their best to establish a trademark of putting their customers first. I’ve come across a few stories of customers praising the company because their drivers have returned expensive items they forgot in their cabs. As well as the service being as efficient as it can be, especially considering the difficult traffic situation in Lagos..

Another recently established start-up, GreetingsWorld (an e-commerce store providing personalized greetings cards and gifts), is pushing the culture of offering heart-warming service through their hands-on method of interacting with their customers. A friend of mine who works there explained that the business is passionate about not only providing quality products for customers, but quality service as well. He expressed a situation that occurred where a customer had placed an order for a card. She had initially sent a note with the message she wanted on the card but later sent a follow-up email for it to be updated. Due to a minor mix up; the update wasn’t made to the card which had already been delivered to her. The day of delivery was the day she wanted to present the card to her loved one, and she called to inform GreetingsWorld about the error. As a courtesy and an acknowledgement of their mistake, the business, within the few hours she needed it, created another card for her with the update free of charge. They then delivered it on time for her to present it to her spouse. This is an occurrence that is almost impossible in Nigeria.

This kind of service should become second-nature to every business, no matter what services or products they offer. After all, if it wasn’t for the customers; no matter how great, innovative or fantastic the business is; it would eventually (sooner than later) die out. Hopefully, the others catch on to this nugget of wisdom soon enough.

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