The customer is king. That age-old saying shows how important the customer is to every business.
But in Nigeria, the reverse is the case. Here, the customer is no king. In most public establishments, Nigerians are treated with disdain, and no one ever gets punished.
“One day on, five days off.” That was how Oluchi Abraham, a resident of Iba, described electricity supply in the community situated in Ojo Local Government Area of Lagos State. In some other communities, it takes some weeks before the light blinks, but the monthly bills never stop coming.
Abraham’s view was corroborated by Thompson Salami, another resident. “We sleep and wake up with the noise of generators. Some of the generators emit fossil fuel into the environment, contaminating the atmosphere. And this is hazardous to public health. We are weary of the situation. The Federal Ministry of Power should intervene by ensuring that the appropriate bodies provide uninterrupted power supply to Nigerians, more so when government plans to increase electricity tariff, so that citizens can enjoy what they pay for,” he said.
All over the country, customer service is taken for granted in private and public enterprises. In the banks, the front desk officers welcome you with smiles, but this has not translated into quality service. The arbitrary charges without commensurate service are still prevalent.
This is not so with the banking sector alone. The same scenarios are replicated in government-owned establishments. Officials sit and idle about while customers waste several man hours waiting endlessly without anyone attending to them.
An international art entrepreneur and managing director, Simpli International, Mr. Bruno Eke, noted: “In Europe, it is hectic. You must work for your pay. It is either you serve your customers well or lose them. Nobody is ready for inefficient personnel. It is certain to receive support from people that know you are doing the right thing. They will support you with everything they have, even though there is culture difference.
“You also have to mind your expressions, including your body language. In Nigeria, we don’t really care about our body language but, over there, they care because it tells them a lot about you and the organisation you represent. Even your voice tone can scare a customer. If it is not properly modulated, he would never come back. He will begin to see you as an aggressive person.
“Time-keeping is another thing Africans should learn. Abroad, people don’t play with their time. Time is about the most important thing to them. In my trips abroad, 1pm is 1pm. Everything is done with time because the person discussing with you has other things to attend to elsewhere. For us, we can waste all the time.”
In Nigeria, there have been public outcry and protests over poor, incontinent service, and charges by government agencies. Recently, residents of a Lagos community petitioned the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) over poor service by one of the Private Sector Participation (PSP) operators.
The residents threatened to discard the agency if its services did not improve.
“They don’t come to carry our waste regularly. And when they come, they stay outside the gate and tell people around to tell others that they had come. They wouldn’t enter the compound to wheel away the waste bin into their truck. During Governor Babatunde Fashola, there was commitment. People were getting service for their money. It was in Akinwunmi Ambode’s time that we started experiencing laxity in waste disposal in Lagos State. We hope Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu will correct the drift,” they said.
They claimed they paid all the arbitrary dues in the previous year even though they got abysmal services from the agency. They alleged that what they got in return was an increase in the agency’s charges in spite of the poor service of the agency.
“While we wait for the LAWMA PSP operator, our compounds became very dirty with refuse. Reptiles and rodents take over our compounds, with children living there. When the wheeler bin gets filled, the waste spills over, and the children sometimes go to the heaps of dirt to play. We fear a possible outbreak of cholera and epidemic,” they claimed in the petition.
But an official with a PSP operator denied the allegation. He said the Lagos State Environmental and Waste Management Law has banned the use of cart pushers and assured residents that the process of waste disposal would be improved.
In 2004, the Federal Government came up with what it dubbed Service Compact with all Nigerians (SERVICOM). On its website, servicom.gov.ng, the organisation states its mission and vision: “SERVICOM is an acronym for Service Compact with All Nigerians. It was established in 2004 as the outcome of a three-day special presidential retreat on service delivery with the president, ministers, special advisers, presidential aides and chief executives of major extra-ministerial departments and parastatals.
“It is an initiative of the Federal Government of Nigeria conceived to promote effective and efficient service delivery in MDAs to ensure customer satisfaction and to manage the performance-expectation gap between government and citizens as well as other members of the public, on issues of service delivery.
“SERVICOM equally gives the public the right to demand good services as contained in MDAs’ Service Charter. One of its goals is to ensure that service takers understand their rights to public services, the service standards they should expect and how to demand for that service or speak up where it is deficient or lacking.
“SERVICOM is a solemn compact as well as an institutional mechanism conceptualized to fight against service failure by ensuring that organs of government in Nigeria deliver to citizens and other residents in the country, the services to which they are entitled to.”
But 16 years after the launch of SERVICOM, Nigerians insist that there has been no improvement in service delivery.
A polytechnic graduate, Adanne Umeh, said. “For me, there is no service in Nigeria, except for a few companies with parent bodies and expertise abroad. What we regard as service is sometimes induced gratification. Some people seem to dislike it when their gratification is delayed. To them, it must be now. They behave as if there would be no tomorrow. And this kind of attitude is a drawback to quality service delivery and development of the country.
“Sometimes, you put up a proposal to a Nigerian company you wouldn’t get a reply on whether it is kept in view or the organisation is not interested. Unfortunately, most organisations don’t understand that good communication is a critical part of service and any organisation that can deploy it very well will continue to enjoy increased customer base,” Umeh said.
However, Professor Wilfred Iyiegbuniwe of the Department of Finance, University of Lagos, said the private sector is still better than the public sector.
“In the private sector, people would serve and take customers more seriously because there could be sanctions from the organisation, but in the public sector, you can do it anyhow you like, and nobody bothers,” he said.
He blamed government for the poor service in the transport sector, which he said has been taken over by social miscreants: “Government should be blamed because there is a Ministry of Transport that is supposed to regulate activities going on there, and if the regulator does not regulate, nothing happens.”
He regretted that government was holding meetings with road workers’ unions for political reasons rather than strategic plans on how to offer quality and courteous service to the public.
The don urged the public sector to look at the private sector, noting that there is more seriousness in the latter.
“But even in the private sector, one could distinguish between businesses run by adequate foreign interest and management, since service is taken more seriously, and wholly Nigerian-owned companies. It is just that, in the public sector, people can give floppy service and nothing can happen,” he said.