03.04.2016 Feature Article

“Frontline Staff cannot deliver what they do not know” – National Customer Service Advocate

Frontline Staff cannot deliver what they do not know – National Customer Service Advocate
03.04.2016 LISTEN

Episode #68
Season 4, Ep.3:


Dr. Benonia Aryee(L) flanked by Edem Senanu(R)

“Frontline Staff cannot deliver what they do not know” – National Customer Service Advocate

(soundcloud/PODCAST available on )

ACCRA, Ghana – National Customer Service Advocate Dr.Benonia Aryee believes delivering what world-class corporates believe to be an “insanely customer-centric culture” in Ghana may sound “fluffy and far-fetched”, but it should be possible.

Speaking to E.K.Bensah Jr on the “Africa in Focus Show”, which commenced a series of discussions on delivering world-class customer service in Africa, in Season 4, she said that, “it is very easy when you make it you aim that everything within you as an organization is to find out the needs of your customers.” She continued “if I know what you want, I should be able to meet those needs, satisfy those needs and make you happy. If for any reason, there are processes within that delivery, and I am not able to communicate that to you”, you, the customer-service provider, should be able to say.

Dr. Aryee, founder of Omansi – a business and training consultancy that seeks to improve customer care service delivery within the Ghanaian service industry – believes that, the fact that a customer service provider has been able to serve a client and explained how far they can deliver that service will normally put the customer “in a very happy place”, because the customer will believe that “you care for me, and you are mindful of my needs. You are there to assist me.”

In Aryee’s view, “once you have that, then you start looking at the processes involved in being able to deliver this service or the needs of the customer.” This might involve a number of processes, and one might find that one or two processes overshadow each other -- possibly there is no synergy – but one can seek to improve it as one goes along.

For his part, Management & Development Consultant Edem Senanu believes that as we are tightening our belts in the economy, customer care becomes “an important keg to ensure you keep your business going”, for which reason it remains important to pay a great deal more attention to it than we do in Ghana.

Ghana’s policy on customer care
Speaking briefly to the policy side of customer care, Senanu started the discussion explaining that, if policy is articulated by institutions of the government and private sector, then in Ghana, customer care delivery “does not pervade” the entire sector of the private sector. For Senanu, while there have been public sector reforms – exemplified by client service Charters and Units – customer care remains at a “fledgling level”. Despite UNDP’s sponsored work in this sector, there are challenges.

As part of his development consultancy work, Senanu is concerned with public participation policy. His specific area of concern revolves around how Ghanaians are comfortable complaining, but not translating their anguish into engaging institutions. For him, customer care includes the recognition that the supply-side is responding to demands, all of which “is enshrined in the Constitution”, he adds. He continues “once we have services and facilities, only guaranteed when citizens know they must be eternal vigilantes to the extent they demand a certain quality of standards.” This is where “the customer-care nexus with the supply-side of what public sector or private sector has to do.” For Senanu, this is key as “citizens must know that we must actively demand good services.”

Omansi as a response to customer-care delivery

One of the reasons why Omansi exists is to respond to the dearth of the demands for quality and world-class customer-care service.

Although Aryee started off as an academic, her passion for excellent customer care delivery is one of the reasons why Omansi was born. Beyond the organisation serving the primary response of offering the “wow” experience in customer-care service, there is a secondary motivation for its raison d’être, which resides in equally-responding to the challenges of frontline staff.

For the national customer service advocate, there is a general challenge with the make-up of employees in that they are generally not knowledgeable about the services of the company, or work, they do. Consequently, Omansi offers an alternative pool of frontline staff by training undergraduates to deliver world-class service.

This is done against what is arguably a challenging working environment characterised, in Aryee’s view, by three kinds of services.

First, there is the basic service that is generally disappointing, and results in fights between clients and customers. The second kind of service is the expected one that is “general” or average. Third is the “desired” service that one hopes for or prefers. For Aryee, this is the three that one generally finds in the sub-region – even as they exist concurrently with two other kinds of service – namely: the “world-class” and the “trademark”, which she describes as “beyond one’s wildest dreams.”

Omansi’s training is done in local communities, and offered to students who would then act as either interns or temps in different industries, such as banking or telecoms. Simply put: they are “teachable and business-focused.” For Omansi, this is the pre-condition that works well.

Defining customer care service
According to Aryee, customer service is essentially about “serving the customer” or “taking care of the needs of the customer” that is supposed to be professional and of high quality.

That said, she believes the idea of serving eludes Ghanaians as a culture. For example, there is a culture characterised by one where younger generation is always serving the older ones. For her, “public service is very public, but no service.” She avers one answer to customer service can probably be found in the homes, or at church, where it translates into serving people.

For Senanu, the core of customer care is about satisfaction. In his view, some skills cannot be learnt from the home (eye contact; smiling etiquette). Once people learn how these soft skills can positively-impact businesses, they begin taking customer service a bit more seriously. For him, it is not the fact that there is either a manual, Charter or framework on customer care that people will have it delivered – for which reason institutions, such as the UNDP, come in to encourage us to go a step further.

Senanu believes “to a very large extent, we have not understood the value-added of customer service” He continues “if we understood how important to the bottom line it [were]”, it would not be about a specialized course for some people: “we would pay more attention to how we treat people in general”.

For the Management & Development Consultant, in Ghana, we need more examples and case-studies. This is “not even magic”, as “it is about making sure you deliver on what you have said you are going to give.” According to Senanu, Ghanaians “seem to have an attitude I’m doing you a favour. It cuts across everything – whether public or private.”

In his view, therefore, “that reorientation and exposure” – as exemplified by Omansi – remains critical. Ghanaians like to talk about the country being the gateway to West Africa. If that were the case, we should have been ahead. Instead “East Africa is miles ahead of us”, Senanu adds. There are a lot of things Ghanaians can begin to do, including exposure; education; and building of skills starting in the classroom.

Importance of Education in Customer-service
For the Founder of Omansi, we expect frontline staff – waiters and waitresses – to give us the “wow experience.” The bottom line is that those kinds of staffs cannot give what they do not have. It’s the “nemo dat {quod habet}” rule, which states that people cannot give what they do not have. If one is expecting a person to give me a service, at best, they should have experienced it from somewhere. She continues that, if the educational system were infused with experiential and non-conventional learning, they would have picked up this stuff. The universities adds these skills, hence the targeting of under-graduates as an alternative pool.

Omansi’s training has set the objective of making them better providers. All this said, tourism and hospitality industries, in her view, are spending a fortune on training, which only begs the question of why there continues to be a gap on delivering that world-class customer service that has, to date, proved elusive in Ghana.

Pressed to explain their take-home messages, this is what the two had to say.

According to Senanu, leaders should give staff the opportunity for exposure to world-class customer care. They should be allowed to spend two or three weeks on the field that would help them appreciate world-class customer care service delivery.

For her part, Dr. Aryee offered three points that were super-imposed on the point that “what I do is exactly what I’d do if nobody paid me.”

First, there is the issue of buy-in, which “really makes the difference between this side of the world and East and South Africa.” In those regions, frontline staff have bought into the views, missions; and vision. Though not pervasive, generally, she conceded “we need to come to that place of increasing buy-in among employees.” Secondly, clients must pay attention to their own etiquette. Sometimes, she avers, they need to be patient; and remember the principle of reciprocity: kindness begets kindness, so it is important for clients to be mindful of how they treat their service-providers. Finally, there is a centrality of processes, and standardization of processes. Simply put, it is important to identify, then standardize, processes that will offer world-class customer care service, so one can deliver same processes to a customer over time.

The “Africa in Focus” Show is hosted by Emmanuel.K.Bensah Jr from 14h05 to 15h00 every Wednesday. It offers compelling, cutting-edge content that seeks to demystify, educate, and unpack ECOWAS, AU, & South-South Cooperation around Africa’s integration. You can download all podcasts from Follow the conversation on twitter on @africainfocus14, using #africainfocus. Contact Emmanuel on 0243.111.789/0268.687.653