Picture this. A group of MPs from the two main political parties in the country are in a meeting. They expect more than twenty people to be present but when the first five arrived at the exact time scheduled, they began the meeting. It is obvious that they mean business. Whatever the agenda for that meeting, it is obvious that it must be a very serious one, judging by their approach to the meeting. What do you think the agenda for that meeting is? Infrastructure development in the country? Poverty alleviation strategies? Passing a very important bill? Electoral reforms?
If your guess is on any of those subjects then you are actually wrong. Guess what the subject for that meeting was—CUSTOMER SERVICE!
Yes, you read right. Customer Service. These Parliamentarians are holding a meeting on Customer Service. The occasion is a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Customer Service. The what? The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service. But where did (or does) this take place? Obviously, not here in Ghana. In Britain.
A little background……The APPG on Customer Service is an inter-party body that “raises awareness and understanding of customer service amongst parliamentarians and aims to establish a dialogue between Parliament, Government and with UK organisations across all sectors.”
An APPG is usually made up of both Members of the House of Commons and House of Lords. For the APPG on Customer Service, individuals and organisations such as Institute of Customer Service, UK with interests on the subject of Customer Service can be invited to contribute to their meetings.
I found the Statement of Purpose of the APPG on Customer Service quite enlightening and interesting. It states as follows:
To raise awareness and understanding of customer service, including its impact on economic growth. To improve public services, business performance and employability through customer service skills training and provide an improved outcome for customers and citizens.
When I first came across the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Customer Service, I actually thought it was a joke. I knew there are APPGs on various subjects of great importance such as Cancer and Agriculture, or even on countries which are going to serious challenges such as and APPG on Zimbabwe, etc. However, I just could not bring myself to imagining Parliamentarians sitting down to discuss anything remotely related to customer service. But the more I thought of it and the more I read about the APPG on Customer Service, the more I realised that this is actually something that is needed in every country.
The fact is that the provision of services is very vital for every nation’s economy. It is common knowledge that through the provision of jobs, inputs and public services for the economy, the services sector makes a very important contribution to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. In 2015, it was estimated that services contributed more than half of the country’s GDP, specifically 51%, while employing about 40 % of the working population. Globally, services contribute between 65-68% of the global GDP.
This is just the contribution of the services industry. When one adds the fact that more than a quarter of the revenue earned by manufacturing companies comes from one form of service or another, then one can really appreciate the role of service to the economy of the country.
However, we cannot talk about provision of services—as opposed to manufacturing or provision of goods—without talking about the way and manner that service is provided, i.e. customer service.
As a matter of fact, customer service goes beyond just the way services are provided to even the way products are manufactured and sold. Even manufacturers of pure goods need to offer great customer service to their distributors or they will be out of business in no time. In other words, regardless of the industry or sector of the economy, customer service is indeed needed.
Poor customer service leads to huge loses for businesses daily. When we talk of these losses, it is common to think of court cases where organisations are sued for one breach or the other. However, we sometimes tend to forget that when the right things are not done right the first time and the work must be redone, there is a loss of time and resources. We tend to forget that even taking time to listen to an aggrieved customer is time that could have been used to do something else. The wear and tear on company vehicle that has to be used to visit a customer who is threatening to take her business away also counts as loss to the business.
Another key reason why customer service is of such importance is that the quality of internal customer service has a direct bearing on the productivity of any organisation. When employees are not treated well and conditions of service are not the best, there will definitely be a negative effect on productivity. Therefore if government is truly interested in increasing productivity, there must be a genuine interest in what goes on in our various organisations—private and public alike.
Taking into consideration such importance, the questions that naturally arises are: What can government—Executive, Legislative and Judiciary—do to help promote customer service in the country? What roles would each and every one of these arms of government have to play to ensure that the quality of service improves drastically?
It is true that some of the very little things that enhance a customer’s experience cannot be legislated. Government cannot pass a law that every customer-facing employee should smile a customer. Neither can Parliament enact a piece of legislation that insists that every customer-handling employee creates a warm, friendly and welcoming ambience for customers. There is no LI that insists that a customer service personnel should always go the extra mile to offer good service his or her customers. How do you enforce such laws? It will be next to impossible to get organisations and individuals to abide by such laws. And what would be the penalties for breaking any such laws? Dismissal or suspension from employment?
These are things that the individuals charged with serving customers must, on their own volition, offer—without being forced to. That is what I refer to as operating in the Spirit of Service. I have defined Exceptional Customer Service as “consistent feats of volition that constantly exceed customer expectations.” Offering great customer service must come naturally to the one dealing with the customer.
Infact, passing laws to promote great customer service will backfire. People will do the barest minimum expected of them without any positive emotion attached and the purpose for passing the law would be defeated. People will act as robots do and do just what they are asked to do. That would create an artificial environment that no one—customers and employees alike—would enjoy. And since people cannot be more robotic than robots, it would be preferable to have customer-facing robots than human beings. This would mean that more people would end up losing their jobs to machines and as AI becomes more advanced, this situation is not too far in the distant future.
From the ongoing, it is clear that legislation would not help in concrete ways to improve customer service. What is the role of Government, then, in promoting a culture of great customer service in the country?
For starters, it is important to appreciate the fact that government is an employer in its own right. In fact, according to the National Employment Report released by the Statistical Service in September 2015, government employs about 15% of the employed population. In other words, of every ten employed people, more than one works in some capacity for the government. Therefore, if Government, on its own decides to up the quality of customer service of this 15%, a customer service revolution would be underway in this country. This would be Government’s small contribution to the quest for service excellence in the country.
Beyond that however, it is true that the private sector is the largest employer in the country, accounting for 85.6% of those engaged in employment. Thus, making the private the real engine of growth for the country. One of the key roles of Government is to create the enabling environment for private sector to thrive. This is where initiatives such as the APPG comes in.
In his speech at the induction of the Seventh Parliament of the Fourth Republic on January 6, 2017, the Speaker admitted, giving his take on the Private Members Bill, admitted that some of the actions of the Ghanaian Parliament were copied from the UK Parliament. If this is true, what stops us from taking a cue from what the APPG is doing elsewhere in UK? Why can we not set up a Parliamentary Select Committee on Customer Service? Should we not find out how the APPG goes about impacting on the customer service in the UK? These are some of the questions I believe we should be asking.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK