• August 5th, 2020

Customer care a question of survival even now

Prof. Dr. R. Trede

Why customer care is essential during lockdown?
Several entrepreneurs may ask this question. Without customers during the current lockdown customer care is not required. This is true, but every entrepreneur has to plan for the future. Running businesses often told me: “We don’t have time for new approaches. We must concentrate on making money.” Now the entrepreneurs have time. Use this time to make plans for growth after the crisis, including necessary improvements of customer care. Look at the most affected tourism sector where even bookings for the end of this year have been cancelled by international tourists. 

This is more than serious but cannot be changed. Look at the future as this is for instance done by Marula Cottage, a small tourism enterprise in Swakopmund. Local and international tourists, who booked and paid already for the service, received without request gift certificates in the value of their advance payment to be used for future bookings. This is customer care! 
Importance of customer service

Nowadays successful companies worldwide are aware that customer care is the basis and most important marketing strategy. Where does Namibia stand in this regard? Generally, not on route to the Harambee Prosperity Plan or Vision 2030, but on the status of an underdeveloped country!

The lack of customer care can be observed daily in all sectors, from small shops to large international retail chains, at government departments, at parastatals, at hotels and restaurants and so on. 
Even if you are the only customer in a small shop you may have to wait for any service until the employee has finalized playing with the cellphone. Nowadays at often empty petrol stations employees were busy talking to each other than to serve their customers. My latest experience: I bought a copy of New Era at one of the largest supermarket chains in Windhoek. Instead of just taking my N$5.00, the cashier started reading my newspaper! Or look at restaurants: You may have to wait long to place your order; you sometimes get the feeling you are unwelcome and you have to wait longer for your bill. 

I could write a whole book about bad customer service in our country, and I am not alone. International tourists complain continuously about the lack of customer care in Namibia. This is underlined by the Minister of Environment and Tourism, Hon. Pohamba Shifeta. Also, President Dr Hage Geingob mentioned that Namibia lags behind other SADC countries when it comes to customer service. He appealed: “I would like to aspire to maintain a strong customer service culture, to ensure quality of service delivered within the confines.” 

Despite this situation, hardly any improvement is visible over the last years. Several Namibians do either not believe in the importance of customer service or do not understand it. Namibia has a free market economy. National, and with the globalization international competition is steadily increasing. Customers can inform themselves via social media. If they are dissatisfied, they order from a competitor. Namibians have to understand the customer is the king. He or she has the power. Without customer service a lot of businesses will not survive and – in my opinion – they deserve to die. Consider that an elephant in Kenya is the same as in Namibia; only the service can assure that tourists visit us.
What is the reason that customer care is often not taken seriously in Namibia? I discussed with numerous entrepreneurs and heads of government departments. The vast majority blame their employees, who are not motivated. Who is responsible for the behaviour of the employees? The entrepreneur or supervisor! They have to ensure their personnel are properly trained in customer service.
However, I am also aware of several examples of excellent customer service in Namibia. Just to mention a few on different levels:
In the restaurant of Hansa Hotel in Swakopmund there is always one person, who seems to do nothing. He is the most important person. He supervises the waiters. He assures excellence of services. This is common internationally, but not in Namibia.

When I immigrated to Namibia more than 20 years ago, I stopped one day at the road to buy New Era. Only after I got the newspaper, I realized I forgot my money at home. The seller Matheus Amwaalwa said although he did not know me: “Don’t worry you can pay tomorrow.” This is excellent customer care! Since that time, I always buy from him whenever possible. 
Everybody complains about customer care of public authorities. One exception is the police station in Klein Windhoek. They are always friendly and as quick as possible, if you need certification of documents.

Lexious – one solution for challenges of customer care
Lexious is an emerging business offering specialized training and consultancy for customer service. Lexious is driven by the passion of inspiring service excellence, of helping their clients to satisfy their customers with delightful service through practical and consulting solutions.
The business was co-founded and is run by Helena Shigwedha. She stated: “Since high school years, I had a vision for my life as a business owner. This led me to study Marketing Management. To finance my studies and to get experience of the real business life I worked as a student as cashier at a retail chain. This was the time when I realized my passion to work with people. There I also learned about the importance of customer service not only for the business and customers but also at personal level. With a positive attitude I realized stress from customers is significantly reduced. Customer service is increasingly being complained about, so it fueled my courage for training others on customer service skills and attitude.”

This made her decide to register “Lexious” in September 2016. During four years of further research Shigwedha identified continuously new challenges of customer care in Windhoek. 

I advised her during the mentoring that her vision is extremely ambitious and risky. Her market research revealed a demand of 40-50 000 people requiring improved customer service in Windhoek alone. But – as mentioned above – most businesses are not aware of the importance of customer care. Furthermore, when entrepreneurs are approached to improve their customer care, they often feel personally insulted. This is one reason Shigwedha conducted so far only a few training programmes for institutes, two larger private businesses, a church and SMEs. Although this is just sufficient to survive, Shigwedha never considered giving up.
It is a major strength of Lexious that the training is not standardized, but adapted to the clients facing different challenges and requirements. Therefore, the programmes are conducted in the following steps: 

Step 1: Study of client’s working environment and staff to identify their challenges.
Step 2: Preparation of tailor-made training based on findings in step 1.
Step 3: Execution of training.
Step 4: Unannounced site visits to client premises to identify improvements and implementation of the new skills. 
Step 5: Recommendations, possible adjustments or feedback on step 4’s observations.
Currently Lexious offers four different programmes on basic customer service for people with no prior knowledge, mainly for micro businesses and individuals intending to increase their chances to find employment, SME customer service for owners and staff of small businesses, advanced customer service for individuals or sales teams of enterprises and business culture development targeting mainly medium/larger businesses intending to plan to improve customer service.
Not only the content but also the timing of the trainings can be adapted to the requirements of the clients. Lexious is prepared to conduct the trainings (duration 16 to 50 hours for the different programmes) also after work or at weekends.
National and international organisations assisting Namibia in the economic development should consider to offer training in customer service together with Lexious for SMEs. The business community should use the current time to seriously consider improvements in customer care for a brighter future. 
Shigwedha is reachable at, 0817911093, 0813692141 or at lexiousbm@gmail.com 

*Prof Dr. Rainer Trede is the Managing Member of Development Consultants for Southern Africa (DECOSA) CC  which for 20 years has been involved in SMEs training and mentorship in Namibia. His former professorship at  a German University included marketing and thus customer care. 

Staff Reporter
2020-04-30 09:59:16 | 3 months ago

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