On customer service in (parts of) Nigeria

A friend of mine will be getting married later this year and she’s been sharing her adventures as she deals with various vendors in Nigeria. Between the tailor who told her that he decided to change the design they had agreed upon for one of her outfits because his own idea was “finer”, to an invitation designer who skimped on quality in order to put more money in his pocket, who is never reachable by phone, she’s been having fun. Needless to say the customer service she has received leaves much to be desired. Not all Nigerian businesses are dismal when it comes to providing customer service but I have to admit I wasn’t impressed during my last two trips to Nigeria. To be fair most of my experiences were in the market so that might be a factor.

In Canada, customer service is a big deal: businesses invest time and money to train their staff to address customer issues and make them happy. Businesses take their reputation very seriously and they know the value of word of mouth advertising.

I have plenty of customer service/retail experience: I worked in a grocery store for five years, a clothing store for 11 years and an office supply store for a year or so (these opportunities overlapped). In each job we were taught the importance of making the customer happy, even if it sometimes meant bending the rules a bit. For example, the clothing store I worked had a 30-day policy for returns or exchanges. If you bought a clothing item and wanted to bring it back, it had to be returned unworn, with the sales tags on it. In addition, you had to have the original receipt and if you didn’t pay with cash, you had to have the method of payment with you so that a refund could be processed in the same manner it was purchased.

However, we were told to accept returns even if the 30 days had passed. We could even accept clothing that was being returned worn or without tags if the reason for the return seemed reasonable (like an article of clothing falling apart in the wash). If we could get the customer to leave our store with the intention to return as a customer in the future, then our work was done.

This is not the same in the city I spend most of my time when I’m in Nigeria, especially in the market. Vendors don’t do much to build customer loyalty; they’re more concerned with making today’s sale and they don’t mind starting from scratch tomorrow, instead of taking the extra time to build a relationship. It breaks my heart because if they invested just a bit more time in making the experience pleasant for the customer they could build a lasting relationship.

If I was ever invited to consult on customer service, here’s the advice I’d give:

  1. Make your shop user-friendly. A shop with logical placement of products will increase the shopping experience immensely. Junky looking places are a turn off. If your business provides services rather than goods, make sure that samples of your work can be easily seen and evaluated.
  2. Post prices clearly and visbly. I know bargaining is a huge part of the culture so the prices may not reflect the amount you expect to receive but still it’s nice for the customer to know where the bargaining will start from, and it makes the customer think the business owner is not just pulling prices out of his or her butt!
  3. When someone enters your shop, make eye contact and greet them. Treat your business place as your home and be welcoming.
  4. Check on people in your shop after a few minutes if they are browsing. If you have any items that you’re featuring, let the potential customer know. Also let them know they can ask you questions if they have any. Make yourself available to potential customers.
  5. Once you begin processing a transaction, give the customer your full attention. If another (rude) customer comes in and demands your attention, excuse yourself from your current customer before going to help this new person or better yet, tell the interrupter that it’ll just be a minute before you deal with them (politely of course). They will hopefully appreciate your undivided attention when their turn comes.
  6. Where possible during the closing of the sale, give the customer some incentive to return to you: offer a savings on their next purchase, throw in something for free, give them a coupon. These things are worth far more the investment required.
  7. I’m a big believer that the little things often make a big difference. Having a customized bag to put purchases in gives things a very polished look. Even just enclosing a business card in the purchase can make the difference (and help people find you next time!).
  8. Deliver what you say you will deliver, when you say you’ll deliver it. Be a person of your word: if you’re going to be late delivering something, make sure the customer is informed and offer to compensate him or her for the inconvenience. It doesn’t take much to placate most customers (see previous point).
  9. If you must make a substitute, make sure it is for a higher quality. If you must make a lower quality substitution, make sure you get the customer’s approval first, and offer to refund some of the money as a result.
  10. Offer money back guarantees for at least a period of time. That was the hardest thing for me to get used to about business where I was in Nigeria. There should be a period of time where someone who changes his or her mind or who does not get what he or she was promised can bring the item back. I’m told if you try it now the person will just look at you as if they’ve never seen you before. I know some might abuse this but if you give people the benefit of the doubt you may see the good in people and realize most won’t take advantage…but maybe I’m wrong

These are all extremely commonsense pieces of information to me but I see business owners that operate without regard for any of these rules. Lack of good customer service in my opinion keeps many from reaching the heights they could reach with their business. From business owners who sit there looking disinterestedly at you when you enter their store to the ones who argue with you when you’re trying to tell them what you want, to those who don’t leave you to browse before they’re trying to force you to buy something, to the ones who try to cheat you out of what you paid for…enough I say!

Have you had any good or bad customer service experiences in Nigeria?

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21 thoughts on “On customer service in (parts of) Nigeria

  1. I agree with this post. Customer service is one thing that is ruining most businesses in Nigeria. It's the attitude of i don't care. I have a small business i run and one thing i always always ensure is customer service. I have fired one of my delivery personnel due to one act of bad service,. If only a lot of Nigeria businesses read this

  2. You gave some great tips GNG. Of course there is that big fear that it will be abused Naija being Naija (i.e. Return policies) but I can saving coupons cant be all that bad me thinks. I think of the extra mile I make to visit Tesco just because I want to increase my points :).

    I have also business owners in Naija do not stay in their shops/businesses. The leave it in the hands of hired hands who dont care as long as their salary comes in. If a business owner pays as much attention to their business, leaves a number for complaints and teach by example I think there will be a change.
    o_0 A tailor changed a design cos he thought his style was finer..what?!!!

  3. Unfortunately, Nigerians are not known for being patient……….and good customer service requires a great deal of patience.
    Again, humility is not our strong point….so you'll see a tailor who will disrespect a customer because they feel they have 'bigger' customers who deserve respect.
    My experience in Nigeria is that the richer you appear to be, the better the customer service you receive.

    • My friend went to a tailor in naija ans created this off the shoulder style. Wehn she went to go and pick it up they had changed it to a style covering both shoulders. The tailor told her mother that she would look like an ashawo wearing an off the shoulder top. Imagine?

  4. There is so much bad customer service experience here in Nigeria. And you totally nailed it when you said, "Vendors don’t do much to build customer loyalty; they’re more concerned with making today’s sale and they don’t mind starting from scratch tomorrow, instead of taking the extra time to build a relationship."

    It's so true. For the majority of service companies, it's all about NOW NOW. That sale has to be made now, and they will gladly trump your momentary happiness for their selfish reasons. A lot of it boils down to the staff you have to deal with. Most of them lack motivation and they don't have anything to lose (except their jobs, when it gets too tough) by being mean to customers. So in the end, the overall business suffers.

    I am currently trying to track down a domain registrar who has been out of reach since the weekend (no e-mail replies or phone calls) and is resistant to moving the business from him. Just another day out here.

  5. I have had bad customer experiences everywhere not just in Nigeria and I agree that Nigeria seems to have a long way to go! One route to go will be from the customers demanding a change, most times we grumble about how bad the services where but never make a change. Speaking to the person in charge may bring about the desired effect.

  6. Naijamum has pretty much said it all… Thing is, if u are stinking rich – and i mean STINKING rich, u'd probably get even BETTER service here in Naija than in Canada. Says a lot, huh ;)

  7. ROTFLMAO, I like how you said 'some'. That's being overly generous, customer service in Naija is like a unicorn, it pretty much doesn't exist. Unless you have a lot of money or someone wants to sex with you, you're shit outta luck. The funny thing is that I have gotten better customer service in the market than upscale supermarkets.

  8. I have found that often the type of customer service one receives is based on the way the person looks at you. For example when i go to places with my mum or aunt, they get treated much better than I do if i went on my own. It is a sad states and i hope that as people demand better service things will change. For me in my professional life customer service is key, everyone gets treated the same no matter who they are and how much they have.

  9. The Nigerian mentality NEEDS to be changed on almost every front. Most of it boils down to 'people don't care'…it's not their business nor is it their family business so why should they care? They are doing you a service [read:favor] so you better take it or leave it. I've also heard that 'management' don't treat their employees with respect or fairness so in a sense they feel like they shouldn't even try.

    Call the Nigerian embassies in the US and you'd swear you were talking to somone at oshodi market [unless things have changed since the last time i did]. They just don't care!!

  10. Sorry to hear about your friend's experience. Planning a wedding can be very challenging and I can only imagine how bad she must have felt with those 'vendors' God help us.

    About the Nigerian business culture, I am so 'passionate' about attention to details that going to our beloved country to start a business is scary!

    One true fact is that if you are well dressed you get a lot of attention and an extra bit of interest to impress you because there is a calculation going on in the mind of the sales person for tips (Nigerians can pick you out from the crowd if you are from the US or UK/abroad and you are on holiday by the way you dress, sweat and ask for prices in Pounds or Dollars instead of Naira lol).

    In fairness, a few businesses impressed me whilst out on holiday and they have been marked in my brain permanently for a re-visit (if they haven’t changed that is).

    We pray!

  11. Sadly, they won’t be reading this. I have refrained from purchasing things in stores where the customer service is far from acceptable. it’s my money and I need not contribute to your rudeness!

  12. Really good tips…I must say it's not just in Nigeria that you find poor customer service though…it's in developed states too…Canada sounds fantastic from ur description, but here in the UK, some customer service agents still leave u mouth agape, especially when u are dealing with them over the phone rather than face to face.

  13. Its not just the small,shops or privately owned enterprises that have poor customer service. Even the banks and corporations dole out a lot of crap to customers in Nigeria.

    I have had some really bad experiences, and most of the time, I make sure that I let them know its not right.

    I think a little training would help.

  14. Its a terrible thing, I tell you. The poor customer service in Nigeria. And its everywhere! Even the big corporations dole out crap to customers!
    I have had some bad experiences, but I always ensure that I let someone know that something is wrong.
    I think a little training would help.

  15. Good suggestions….. I know of one Naija woman here in Michigan who opened a African foods store. I would go there because she was my friend's mother, and the service was alright, as long as one of her friends wasn't in the shop. If someone was in there talking to her — forget it. One time, she was on the phone and got in a long, heated argument in Yoruba when she could have easily and quickly just rang up the curry that was the only thing I was buying. I didn't go back there again for a loooong time. Her business has now downgraded from a storefront in a shopping plaza to her garage. I wonder if her lack of customer service had something to do with this….

  16. I know this is off topic, but customer service stinks in California too! Here, I've noticed the difference based on the generation. The younger folks don't seem to have the desire to assist the customer. I'm of the generation where you not only help the customer, you show respect as well. If an older person is less than helpful, I'll make allowances for them because the are older, and deserve to be grumpy. But the young ones, I don't hesitate to "cut them down to size". I have a long list but the worst was when a checkout girl left me waiting to pay, while she was texting. Long story short, by the time I left the store…..she wouldn't want to ever see me again! I'm sure store manager would agree.

  17. I dont have any customer service experiences in Nigeria but I do have some with Nigerian vendors in the UK. I used to buy all my Nollywood movies from this man and the one day after buying dozens of movies that I had to return one as I had two part ones and no part two the guy tried to tell me I didn't buy it there. I couldnt believe it as I had only bought it the day before. I was outraged because he knew me very well.

    He then went on to serve someone else and ignore me. I simply put the film down and picked up another one and walked away daring him to try something. Even if he was going to be at a loss it would have been minimal compared to the amount of business I was giving him but greed had blinded him. I have never graced him again. He can kiss my ass.

  18. ……The last time i decided to get a material from the main market to sew a style….after checking around i finally saw the kind of material i wanted.I asked for 5 yards and paid for 5 yards. I was really happy i got the material but on getting to my tailors place i was told the material is 2.5yards.

    I was shocked,i was there when this woman measured it and packed it for me.I didn't know what so say as i couldn't go back there but at that point in time the spirit just told me not to worry that in 20 years time ,that woman will still be at that spot selling the same volume of cloths……….instantly, i felt this kind of peace within me and let it go but at least i learnt my lessons.

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