By Magnus Mazimpaka
More than 80% of customers in Rwanda lack alternative services and are forced to shop or visit the same businesses no matter how their services are.
The Rwanda Institute of Policy Analysis and Research (IPAR) released a report last month revealing the status of customer service delivery in Rwanda based on a national study on customer care.
Despite common belief that most visitors think nothing describes Rwanda’s culture better than the warm hospitality of its people, the survey revealed that Rwandan customer service is the worst in the region.
The report said more than 80% of those who have been to Kenya say service is better there than in Rwanda.
But most Rwandans don’t like to hear results like these.
“It is a norm and a bad attitude. We need to fight it,” said Gloria Lwakabamba, a researcher at IPAR who spoke to The Independent, shortly after the release of the report.
Lwakabamba said the survey was carried out to analyse the poor customer service culture in Rwandan society and its impact on the economy.
Most survey respondents said customers are poorly served in restaurants, banks and the telecommunication sector. Public offices perform even more horribly.
For example, it is repeatedly reported by business people that if an individual has a contract to offer services to a government institution, he or she usually has to wait for close to three months before payment is processed.
Seeking appointments to meet public officials is a tiresome and long process, but still both public and private sectors usually receive low scores from customers.
However, even though many people are being served poorly, they are going back to the same place the next day due to lack of an alternative, and there is a cultural norm against complaining.
The survey shows the majority of customers (60%) who have never been to another East African country or have not left Rwanda do not complain in most cases.
This kind of attitude that does not push for better service prompts service providers to act however they please towards customers.
The report also said the culture of poor service is caused by price and quality patterns.
Some respondents in the research said they continue to visit the same businesses because that is what they can afford and others accept to pay high prices to get good quality, but are still served poorly because they have no alternatives.
Lwakabamba said the private sector does not understand that there is a connection between their revenues and their customer service.
She said significant potential benefits from improved customer service would impact strongly on annual turnovers.
She estimated that if the service sector avoided “business-as-usual,” it would earn the country about US$40 million by 2012, but if it remains the way it is it will raise only US$1.3 million by 2012.
Meanwhile, the level of poor customer care, which is having a huge impact on the national economy, has prompted several initiatives for intervention.
First, it was started by President Paul Kagame making serious remarks about poor customer care in the country while addressing Diplomatic Corps on January 23, 2009.
“Customer service remains highly problematic in private, public and civil society domains, something that is most certainly going to preoccupy us in the coming days, months and years,” said Kagame.
He repeated the same message at the Heroes’ Day celebrations at Amahoro Stadium on February 2, 2009.
He said hotels, restaurants and banks among others, provide poor service to their customers, though he challenges customers for accepting substandard service.
“We can no longer accept a culture of mediocrity either from Rwandan business and government institutions that give poor services or Rwandan customers who quietly accept substandard ‘customer care’, “ Kagame told diplomats.
On March 4, 2009, the cabinet nominated 10 officials to make a National Customer Care Task Force.
Claire Akamanzi, who chairs the committee, while addressing journalists during the unveiling of the report, said the economy could register increased growth if the service sector embraced the culture of providing good customer service.
“There is room for improvement if the worst performing sectors are brought up to the standards of the best performing sectors,” she said.
On February 11, 2009, the Minister of Trade and Industry, Monique Nsanzabaganwa, told business people at a dinner that the government was ready to partner with the private sector in rolling out a nationwide customer care campaign in both the public and private sectors. The government has allocated US$500,000 for a two-year national campaign to improve customer service.
The report by IPAR described service providers as being rude, unhelpful and unfriendly to customers, as well as having poor communication and bad management skills.
However, customer service in Rwanda remains a two-sided issue because most customers are said to be grateful.
It was reported that most customers do not appreciate good services offered to them, both Rwandans and tourists rarely give tips to waitresses and waiters.