A Few Thoughts about Service

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Customer service and care remain a challenge for many institutions in the country, be they private or public. The image of Namibians as a friendly and warm people is not wholly reflected in the way some of them provide service to customers at times. One visitor to Namibia recently confided in us about the quality of the service she got at a local restaurant where a waitress serving her apparently did not know a thing about items on the menu. According to her, communication was difficult at times. That may be one minor incident that happens anywhere in the world any time, but who says similar problems are not widespread especially in outlying areas where skills are hard to come by? Spot checks on customer service at some institutions and public places by our reporters have revealed mixed results – there are those who are doing fine such as the Windhoek City Council, according to some of its customers, and those who are not doing so well. President Hifikepunye Pohamba has, hand in hand with what has become his trademark anti-graft stance, emphasised the importance of efficient and effective service delivery. Consequently, ministries are now coming up with strategic blueprints on how best to improve service delivery. This is good news which some in the private sector need to emulate for they too are no holy cows when it comes to providing good and efficient service to their customers. Poor customer service and care manifests itself in many forms in this country. It does not matter whether it is in a bank, shop, a parastatal or government office. Sometimes the symptoms are the same. In some instances, factors such as one’s skin colour and social status determine the type of service that one gets and again, we emphasise that it happens all over – at banks, restaurants, shops, government offices or private businesses. Somehow this is to be expected in a country that has just emerged from the legacy of apartheid. In others, it is about whom you know – a comrade, friend, relative or any other. Worse still, there are those who would base their service on the language group that the customer comes from. In other words, if you speak the language of the person serving you, the service is different from the service given to a person whose language group is different. Our random checks have revealed that there are shortcomings in the area of service delivery and customer care at many institutions and offices, especially in the capital. An example was given of bank clerks who would greet a customer with “big” money in the bank or “big” name in society by name but the same clerks would only refer to a pensioner as “Oupa” or “Ouma” not so much out of respect but simply because they do not bother to know the pensioner by name. This also applies to those with little money to show in their accounts. It has also come to light that service by the same institutions differs in terms of quality depending on locality. For example, customer service at a bank in the city would be super and good, whereas service at the same bank in Katutura would not be up to scratch. One chain supermarket in the city has clean and neatly packed items on the shelves but not so with the same supermarket in Katutura, where shelves are in disorder and sometimes perishable goods like apples and bananas are not worth buying. We say this not because we feel Namibia trails behind most nations when it comes to customer service. Of course, Namibia is far better than many countries in the world. Tourists who come to Namibia generally appreciate the service they get here. Many visitors appreciate the hospitality and friendliness of our people. All we are saying however is that we could do better. We have to aim high and become the leading hospitable nation that provides utmost customer service, care and efficiency. One of the problems we identified during our spot checks is that supervisors do not seem to ensure that customers are served promptly, efficiently and with passion and love. Some supervisors are in the habit of neglecting their frontline staff that work at own pace without leadership being provided. It is also clear that institutions are putting less money from their profits into training of staff. There are business people who deliberately pick people on the streets and use them to perform tasks for which they have not been trained just because it is cheaper to do so. What they forget is that one has to invest money in order to make money. We can achieve so much in terms of efficiency if we set certain standards and inculcate the necessary work ethic.