Why Customer Services for African SMEs Matters

 

Business in Africa

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 to be 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 it is 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 organization 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

For example, when entering your premises or calling your company, customers won’t necessarily know what goes on behind the scenes of your business; their only concern is with how they are treated. This is their main point of reference from which they will form a judgement of you as the business owner and your business.  No matter how busy a business is your customer needs to know that they will be received in a “positive” manner.  (Unfortunately this was overlooked with some of the businesses that I came in contact with whilst in West Africa).

It is crucial that your staff are always ready to communicate positively whether it’s 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. I am glad to see that West African business owners are now starting to invest in customer service training for their staff. It will take time to change but it’s so worth it plus it’s the perfect marketing tool to make you to stand out from your competitors.

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!  Job satisfaction is directly linked to increased quality in customer service.

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 that 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 philosophy around customer care 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. By focusing on providing excellent customer service (at all times!) you will not fail to enhance the positive experience your customers have when engaging with your business. Decide to have this as your competitive advantage, stand out as the company that people like to use because they know that they will ALWAYS be treated well by you and your staff. 

rlawal

Guest Post by Ronke Lawal – I run a marketing & business development and consultancy firm RSL Management. I have a passion for business but essentially I have a passion for the world and making a difference. I love working with SMEs and Small business owners in all aspects of their marketing journey, from the development of their marketing plan through to the active marketing engagement in their businesses. 

Follow me on twitter or connect with me on LinkedIn

 

  • Mak

    Well said. You did the piece justice. It is about companies in Ghana to be specific accepted that customer service is the new competitive advantage. We should team up to provide customer service training :)

  • Eknor

    Thanks for your feedback! Training is definitely essential in this scenario!

  • Alain

    Very interesting to emphasize this skills for African SMEs. but looking at it closely, it is a problem even in the developed world and particularly here in the UK and by more than SMEs entreprises; how many times have we been held over the phone trying to report a problem to O2, E-on, BT and others? We got to recognise that the modern business model is new in Africa and that it will take a lot of time to understand the role of such an asset as customer service. Maybe we’ll also have to redefine work as value creation rather than clocking in to actually get co-workers understand the well founded of customer service in creating long term value which in turn brings customer loyalty and help sustain lasting brands and organisations. Yet i may be wrong. good contribution