Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Abuja's Poor Customer Service Culture

Courtesy of: The Africa Cafe.
We often complain that Nigeria lacks a service culture and it's true. Who hasn't had to endure long waits at a restaurant, bank or supermarket while a crowd of seemingly unoccupied staff members pointedly ignore you until the one person assigned to that desk or cash register finally shows up? But as a young, single woman in this city - arguably at the bottom of the city's social totem pole - such bad service can be taken to absurd extremes. There are a number of places that I have simply stopped going to because I am tired of being insulted.

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.

*****

At the same time, I'm going to list a few places that I've simply crossed off my list because of their consistently awful performance: 

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...

18 comments:

  1. I know, right? I swear I was going to do a blog post as well on horrid customer service I've experienced. Maybe I will. But right now, the award for worst Customer Service goes to Genesis Deluxe Cinemas, Port Harcourt. I actually need a blog post to fully articulate my experience. My blood pressure rises just thinking about it.

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    1. I'm sorry for what you went through. I hope you were able to report the incident. Though the worst part of some of these customer service failures is that the management of these companies either don't care or will actively take the side of their erring employees. How is anything expected to ever change?

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  2. I totally agree with Salamander Cafe bit. They are morbidly horrible with their services, and their prices are out of this planet. I'll have that cup of cappucino in the comfort of my house, thankyouverymuch.
    I'll also like to add Chicken Republic at Aminu Kano Wuse 2. Terrible, terrible people. The worst customer service I've come across with their sassy-mouthed over-the-counter staff, smelly restaurant and horrible food. I struck them off my list when they decided to overlook me; a single, skinny lady with my braids, glasses, faded shirt, ripped jeans and brown Doc Martens for a plump fair woman with flashy jewelry who wanted eight packs of chicken. I told them off, took my leave and headed for Yahuza. No more, I repeat. No more.
    God bless your for this article.

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    1. Glad you gave them a piece of your mind. The preoccupation with presentation in many of these establishments just drives me crazy. As if physical appearance is a direct correlation with one's worth as a human being. Stay strong!

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  3. Glad u have nkoyo restaurant on your top list. Sadly, that was the first time I experienced customer service in Nigeria. The food was pricey and menu list limited (that was back in 2011) but I didn't mind the price at all. I'm yet to find customer service that comes close to Nkoyo

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    1. They have been consistently good to me - barring some minor incidents, for which they always promptly apologised for. Can't say enough good things about them!

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  4. I'm SUPER glad Nkoyo is still on that list. I've blogged about them in the past and was hoping that since the time I was in Abuja in '11 they've kept it up!

    You know, I never thought of poor customer service in light of the severing of the social contract. Very interesting, indeed. And no, you're not being sensitive! It's certainly not sensitive to demand to be treated with some level of decency and respect. WHEW!
    beudeeful.com

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  5. I live in a suburb of Washington, D.C., far from Nigeria, and what you say about customer service and social interactions is the same here. Substandard is the norm. I too feel (overly) grateful when someone or a company actually does what they are supposed to do - without excuses, without defensiveness. I think often of the lousy customer service I get in so many aspects of life. It gets exhausting year after year to always feel you must do battle and it's absurdist as you also say to have to do battle in *order to give your money away!!!* Too sensitive? I have given up fighting that tag because it's not going to change my mind; I know that letting others treat you poorly without so much as an ounce of objection on your part just makes you feel worse and erodes the spirit. If there are other options, why should we patronize those who clearly let us know they don't care about and even disdain our business?

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    1. For interesting short stories, visit www. Passy007@blogspot.com

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  6. TOTALLY AGREE on Salamander. We had a terrible experience there -- my review is under "naijaboy" here: http://www.naijablog.co.uk/2007/06/new-coffee-barbookshop-in-abuja.html I think because there are so few options in Abuja, people excuse a lot of crap they shouldn't when it comes to a place that has a few good qualities.

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  7. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.

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  8. Hi! I really liked this article, poor sucky customer service in Nigeria is a huge problem. The other day,I went to withdraw money from the bank since we also have poor atm service and the cashier was being nice; gisting with me and apologising for the long time the system was taking and I automatically thought something was wrong with her because I wasn't even dressed nice. It was after I left the bank I realised "that's good customer service" she was just doing her job the right way. Please where exactly is Nikky Owen salon? I'd like to give it a try.

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    1. Been to Nkoyo once. Great service. Great food.

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  9. Pretty good post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon.

    Hairdressing and Beauty Therapy courses

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  10. I had the worst salon experience at Bold and beautiful salon at Wuse2 last year. They claim they do natural hair but their so called experts are clueless. Save your time and money.

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  11. you do know the technology exists to fabricate dreams and visions.

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