Driving the customer experience conversation at all levels

  • Advocating a national culture and mindset change in service delivery

Last Wednesday, 10th August 2022, I had the rare privilege of attending the launch of the 2nd Customer Service Week dubbed ‘NAKOFEST 2022 in Ghana at the Coconut Grove Hotel. The programme was organised by The Service Excellence Foundation (SEF) under the auspices of the Ghana Tourism Federation and in collaboration with the Ghana Tourism Authority and Ministry of Tourism Arts and Culture. The theme for this year was ‘Enhancing the Customer Service Experience through excellence’. The goal is to promote service excellence in the nation’s tourism and hospitality industry.

There were key industry stakeholders in attendance: notably captains of industries from both the Private and Public sectors, members of the diplomatic missions, some traditional rulers, and advocates of customer service excellence. What was unique about the event was the energy among key actors and participants, signifying a general readiness for change in the customer service experience across all sectors. For example, the presence of traditional rulers was remarkable (more on that later). The session preceding the main event was an open discussion about challenges in customer experience and the need to find strategies to address them effectively going forward.

Even more interestingly, we had a team from the Accra Regional Hospital led by their medical director as well as good representation from the non-formal sector – such as Trader Associations, Chefs and others, signifying that the culture of excellence in customer service experience has no boundaries. Mr. Caleb Kofie, the founder and Executive Director of Service Excellence Foundation – who is also the National Tourism Customer Service Brand Ambassador for Ghana, took the opportunity to explain the initiative’s key objectives to the gathering.

According to him, the aim is to develop, support and promote Service Excellence initiatives through Industry Research, Advocacy and Human Resource Training within the Tourism and Hospitality sector in Ghana. This week, in my piece I take the opportunity to share my thoughts based on my experience from participating in this rather unique event that culminated in the Customer Service Week launch.

There is an urgent need to drive the customer service agenda in Ghana, and this programme comes at a time when everyone is calling for this need to be addressed very comprehensively. Here are a few event-takeaways we can draw valuable lessons from. The customer service week,

The organisers, in putting this programme together as part of a cocktail of interventions, have provided a platform for healthy discourse among Ghanaians on the need for service excellence at all levels. Truth be told, service excellence has no boundaries – whether in corporate settings where things are a lot more structured or in the informal sector where the average Ghanaian regularly engages, the importance of developing the customer service excellence mindset is paramount.

Speaking to media on the main event’s sidelines, Mr. Kofie bemoaned the state of customer service delivery within the sector. He shared that findings from recent research conducted indicate there is a high level of inconsistencies regarding service delivery levels within the sector, as well as a general culture of poor customer service from front-line staff who are not inspired well enough to deliver great and exceptional service.

He identified the factors that have led to this state of affairs. In his words, “No measures are put in place for customers to file their complaints after experiencing poor service from service providers”. He continued, “The inability to provide consistent service excellence is exacerbated by issues which include the general lack of comprehensive service culture at workplaces, inadequate job training, a lack of urgency and an imbalanced focus on technical job skills as opposed to interpersonal ‘customer and people-skills development”.

Developing the Customer Service Mindset

The way forward for customer service excellence is to address these areas identified by Mr. Koffie, and perhaps much more. As I have reiterated in my advocacy, the natural path of any business is to position itself aptly to compete in key areas of price, features and benefits, and post-sales services. These are very laudable pursuits leading to outcomes that favourably enhance the bottom line.

However, this approach (knowingly or unknowingly) ignores customer sentiments with the risk of ending you up in a place where customers are compelled to seek comparable services or products at places where they feel more welcome. We must respond to this need by providing our customers with unique experiences. We can do this by ensuring that our services leave a memorable imprint about us in their minds.

This means that if we are a business we must focus on developing internal operational processes with the aim of not only reducing costs but also delivering a meaningful impact on our customers, by satisfying their needs and more importantly addressing why they chose us above others in the first place. The average retailer or trader in the market must seek to deliver an experience that will make the customer want to come back for more. We must admit that we do encounter great experiences in the marketplace, some of which are quite memorable – such that when our wives and mothers go to market they have preferred vendors they visit frequently.

Skills Development

Where will our journey to drive the Experience agenda internally start from? Firstly, we must envision the end-state of our customer experience by influencing a structured conversation about the future mindset and how the business and its constituents can go forward aligned to the goals and objectives of our customer experience transformation programme. This process encapsulates systematic planning and execution phases. We must consciously initiate and maintain a course that ensures we build the capacity internally to change perceptions about the customer engagement process.

It is gratifying to note that not only are we considering this in corporate settings, but initiatives planned by Mr. Kofie’s outfit and the likes of CXP Ghana coupled with other advocacy groups are also aimed at the holistic subject of customer experience as a national campaign, so that customer-centricity will be the mainstay of all service providers including local traders and other categories. To realize the dream of a customer-centric ecosystem, we must plan effectively and deliver a range of interventions to support industry players and offer them the opportunity to leverage capacity-building programmes to add value and enable a major shift from ‘navel-gazing’ to customer-centricity.

Being deliberate about customer experience is what will bring about the shift we envisage. This could be a full package including Training Workshops; Stakeholder Engagements (such as the event that took place at The Coconut Grove Hotel); Media engagements; support for specialised services such as NPS surveys, CSAT surveys; and sensitisation initiatives to influence Transformation and Change at all levels. Participants took turns to express their sentiments about the poor culture in Ghana when it comes to customer service.

Working collaboratively

The workshop taking place when it did was great timing. It is never too late to restore what is lost in this regard. The Ghana Tourism Authority is driving this agenda passionately, as expressed by their CEO Mr. Akwasi Agyemang – whose outfit, under the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Creative Arts, is responsible for the regulation of tourism in Ghana and is actively marketing and promoting the Tourism sector in Ghana (I tried to find their website and was unsuccessful. I hope it’s just me unable to reach the site, but if it is the case that they don’t have one then they need to address it immediately… this is the 21st century. Not digitalising affects your visibility as a service.

The vehicles for achieving these goals are limitless. As was the case during the event, we can engage in various ways to influence a mindset that will potentially change our customer engagement culture. By forging partnerships and organising network events; introducing innovative ideas; organising events at the different levels (so that the campaign will be all-embracing); public awareness campaigns and arranging grants to sponsor capacity-building efforts (which I believe Mr. Kofie and his team are actively pursuing); and Consulting services, the customer experience mindset will progressively take centre-stage.

Imagine a visit to the marketplace where everyone who attends to you demonstrates a willingness to go the extra mile. How about a trip to Abossey Okai to buy spare-parts? The other day, a friend shared with me how he bought a part from a dealer at Abossey Okai and was told point-blank not to expect any warranty on the product. This happens so frequently when you buy a product that fails to meet your expectation; to address this lapse, you would have to spend more money.

The fact that a culture of collaboration is building up and gaining momentum in the customer experience space is a big plus for this conversation. CXP Ghana is at the forefront of this effort, and they are not alone as we saw at the event; many others are fully supporting this drive including the likes of Labadi Beach Hotel under the leadership of Mr. Rene Vincent-Ernest, Managing Director; the CEO of MullenLowe, Norkor Akua Duah; Yvonne, the lady who facilitated the introduction session discussion; and our own Caleb Kofie, who moderated the event last Wednesday at Coconut Grove Hotel.

The list is endless, as we had in attendance Ghana’s High Commissioner to Malta (virtually), Her Excellency Barbara Akuoko Benisa; the representative from Emirates Airline, who had tickets for the raffle-draw; the Rwandan Ambassador, the Ambassador of Seychelles, RwandAir Airline, Nananom and other key stakeholders, who by their actions have demonstrated unreservedly their commitment to the cause.  The blend of traditional players from the marketplace and other traders is welcome. Our communication strategies and engagements need to factor-in all sectors. The agenda to improve customer experience is a national one.

Spreading the tentacles of the customer experience debate is the way forward. A word about the Accra Regional Hospital: I was on admission there in 2015, and if what I experienced is anything to go by then they are indeed a model for customer experience in the health sector of Ghana. The involvement of Nananom is commendable, as their influence is key to changing mindsets in our local communities; their leadership is a critical component in this effort. Finally, we commend Mr. Caleb Kofie for the way he is advocating the customer service agenda aggressively in Ghana, and also the team that supports him in this quest. Long live the agenda to place customer care as the pivot of everything we do.

The Writer is a Change Management and Customer Experience Consultant. He can be reached on 059 175 7205.

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