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:
- 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.
- 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!
- When someone enters your shop, make eye contact and greet them. Treat your business place as your home and be welcoming.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!).
- 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).
- 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.
- 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?