The 2010 Soccer World Cup has focused our attention on customer service. We don't need statistics from market research to highlight the status quo. We have all experienced bad customer service and wondered why it is so prevalent in South Africa.
Blaming bad customer service on lower level employees is a cop-out on the part of South African management, says Pete Smith.
This debate raises all sorts of deep and devious topics… Is it a case of our being a society of people who have absolutely no respect for each other and we treat each other accordingly?
Have we more basic human issues to address like murder and rape and haven't the time for the "niceties" of life?
Do our children have to learn the 3Rs before we teach them to say "Please" and "Thank you"?
Do the international tourists that visit our beautiful land owe us the favour of handing over their hard-earned dollars whilst we insult them?
The standard argument lays the blame at the feet of the individuals providing service to the customer. Then the individual's wayward behaviour is explained and condoned because of some or other shortcoming in their upbringing or some other factor beyond their control. All management can do is grin and accept the situation - and that stance relieves management or any blame. Rather, it is argued, they are victims as much as the customers are.
When I hear such arguments, and it is often that I do, I cringe and think of an incident that happened to me when my wife and I took the kids to Disney World. We were seated at a restaurant themed as Mom's Kitchen. I was exhausted and rested my elbows on the table. Within a millisecond the waitress, dressed up as Mom, shouted at me to take my elbows off the table or leave her kitchen immediately and only return once I had learnt some manners. Well, you can imagine how loud my kids laughed.
"Mom" did not take it upon herself to verbally attack me. Nor, to go to the other extreme, had management brainwashed her to use those exact words when a client like me took it upon himself to be so ill-mannered.
"Mom" would have been trained under the direction of management to play the role of Mom. That was her job. That was what she was paid for. That was what her job performance was measured on. That was the role she was committed to and that motivated her to do it well. And my kids loved her for doing her job so well.
And there are many more Moms at Disney World all playing their roles and doing their jobs in sync with each other thereby offering us, their clients, an experience so wonderful as to reinstall our faith in the human race.
If other countries can get customer service so right, why can't we in South Africa at least do the basics right?
Disney believes customer service is management's responsibility and must be built into the way in which the company does business. Employees deliver customer service according to stipulations laid down in the systems and procedures of the company. Defining customer service in line with the business purpose of the company, teaching employees what is expected of them and implementing those standards are what management is there for.
Blaming bad customer service on lower level employees is a cop-out on the part of South African management. It is much easy blaming the nebulous them than management doing their job properly like Disney does. Until South African management identifies the real problem they will forever try to solve the wrong problem.