|Courtesy of: The Africa Cafe.|
Now before you rush to call me sensitive, let me make my case: why should I spend my hard-earned money on your establishment if you or your staff treat me like a second-class citizen or make me feel in any way inadequate because of my gender, age or my perceived social class? If you can’t be bothered to smile or greet me when you render a service, or if you treat my requests with contempt or indifference, or if you’re going to argue with me when you've made a mistake instead of apologising, why should I still dip my hands into my pocket to pay you?The root of the problem is that in this country the social contract – those unspoken rules that used to govern human behaviour in societies – has broken down, perhaps irretrievably. Citizens no longer trust that their leaders have their best interests at heart, and those at the bottom cannot be sure that those at the top won’t exploit them. It's every man for himself, really. This has led to what I consider to be a spectacular lack of empathy among Nigerians. We can't seem to put ourselves in the shoes of others.
I see it in the city's ill-conceived traffic reforms which have only served to make life harder for anyone who doesn't own a car or can't afford private taxis, I see it in the consistent apathy towards the horrific acts of terrorism going on in our North and I see it in our abysmal customer service culture.
The issue is further complicated by our performance culture which rewards style over substance. Thus, the effusive, almost obsequious service that you do find is hardly genuine. It is simply “eye service” an absurd theatre show put on in the hope of a tip - a show that usually hides a thinly-veiled contempt. Should you fail to give the cash expected, you'll soon see the true nature of the service.
That's not to say that there are no places where one can get great service, but I realised with a sense of sadness that when I do come across genuinely good customer service, I'm immediately wary; I wonder: what do they want from me? In this city, being treated well in a public space is so rare for me that I react like a hungry child. I repeatedly go back, I'm willing to endure minor inconveniences and I'll even spend a little bit extra just to feel that warm glow of respect.
Because good customer service is such a rare and beautiful thing, I want to say thank you to establishments in Abuja that offer it consistently.
To Nkoyo Restaurant (both at K-City and Ceddi Plaza): thank you for always treating me like a person of worth – even when I only come in and order an appetizer and water. Your friendly security persons, attentive wait staff and warm atmosphere have put you at the top of my list of favourite places to eat.
To Serendib Restaurant at Lakeview Hotel in Jabi, a big “thank you” as well. You guys have great food at affordable prices and a staff that’s responsive and respectful. You’re my new Sunday night hangout.
To my loctician, Nikky Owen: you may be tucked in a hard-to-reach corner of Life Camp, but I make the trek every 3 months because I know that not only will my hair come out beautifully, but your friendly smile and easy banter is a genuine expression of your care for your customers.
To Yazi's Place, my go-to girl when I need my eyebrows done right, thank you for being willing to go the extra mile to make them perfect. It’s an amazing thing just to be listened to.
Salamander Cafe – your food is poorly-prepared and over-priced and your wait staff is rude and contemptuous. Several complaints have yielded no improvements and though you're considered an Abuja landmark, you'll have to make do without my patronage.
Beer Barn: When you adopt a policy of not allowing single Nigerian women into your bar – because you assume that we're all prostitutes looking for customers – you have to know you're doing it wrong.
Bold and Beautiful Salon: Your services are over-priced and your hairdressing staff are divas with too much attitude, and when your top loctician waltzes in 15 minutes late for an appointment – without apology – then proceeds to act as if he has better things to do with his time than do my hair, you can bet I'm never using his services – or yours – ever again.
MTN Nigeria’s Blackberry service desk: Leaving aside your insanely long lines, I just want to point out that having a representative who stops attending to one customer mid-sentence to focus on another more lucrative-looking customer is not doing your brand any favours.
First Bank of Nigeria: Your cashier services are consistently poor and generally inefficient, your self-service tools (ATMs, online banking) are outdated and unresponsive, forcing users to endure your equally poor in-house network, and you simply Do. Not. Care. Unfortunately, you have a branch right by my house and I'm way too lazy to go any further than I have to. Plus, I know from the experiences of others that you’re no worse than any other bank in the country.
Other not-so Honourable Mentions: NEXT Supermarket, Shoprite, H-Medix Stores, and Sahaad Stores.
So tell me, what's your story of awful or amazing customer service? I know you've got a few...