As Nando’s re-opens shop: Why good customer service is important

The most bedevilling conundrum that I must get around as a public relations practitioner is why organisations pay lip service to customer service. Yet this is where the money comes from. It’s as if, if they had their way, companies would sure get rid of customers, but keep their money.

From commercial banks to fast food outlets, the horror stories people share about how they have been mistreated could fill volumes.

Quite by coincidence, I passed by Nando’s in Bulawayo last Sunday evening and I was pleasantly surprised that it was almost ready for re-opening. Yet, I reminisced on the disaster that led to its closure months ago, with the sad loss of life.

I also recalled the strange bout of insensitivity on the part of Simbisa Brands, owners of the franchise in Zimbabwe, in the way they handled the whole saga.

The social media outrage that followed and the head-in-the-sand insolence of management escalated the crisis.

Fast forward to this week with the announcement that the branch re-opened to the public on Tuesday following a “dry-run” on Monday. What is so glaring is the fact that no mention has being made about the tragic circumstances surrounding its closure that hang like a dark cloud over the occasion. I may be jumping the gun here, but one would expect some sort of deference to the late Wellington Maganga, who died of head injuries resulting from the collapse of the pillars at the “old” structure.

In African custom, a form of ceremony at the site is expected while Christians or those following Western custom would at least lay flowers. My fear is that once again, the sensitivities of the customers could have been overlooked. Perhaps it’s not too late to have a commemorative plaque unveiled at Nando’s when the branch officially opens, in the presence of Washington’s family.

Not only would it be a fitting tribute, Simbisa Brands would be seen as a compassionate, not oblivious to the emotions that could overshadow the re-opening of Nando’s Bulawayo.

In my analysis of the PR crisis surrounding the disaster, I wrote that Simbisa Brands should have displayed sincere regret that the accident did occur and to show that they indeed cared by taking responsibility. There is no better opportunity to display that than now when the branch re-opens to a public that has a long memory. Showing the link between public relations and customer service is my mission here as well as to show why it is important to invest in the two facets that stakeholders and indeed customers encounter in any organisation.

Fast food outlets seem to have the knack of employing people who are not inspired to encourage me to trust them that they are not serving me food laced with poison. Their take-it-leave attitude has become the norm rather than exception. The blame falls squarely on organisations that pay lip service to customer service training of personnel all in the name of cutting costs.

I am on record as having said that banks might have a clinical, squeaky clean outlook to their branches, but they suck on customer care. Customers just wait too long for service. Tellers look and behave like bored accountants (sorry guys) and do not instil any confidence at all for people who look after my money. As a result, banks come close to dentists when it comes to places I would rather avoid.

We could fill pages on the sluggish service provision in that sector, particularly its bureaucratic nature and stiff upper lip approach. Try applying for an account if you want to really know what I am talking about. It becomes worse as the economy tanks, the reasoning behind this, perhaps, being that of shifting blame to “the prevailing situation that everyone is experiencing.” Stopping short of referring one to the Central Bank for the source of their woes. Spare me the details.

As for service provision in Government offices, we won’t even go there. Those guys have set the industry standard in the art of being grumpy. They wouldn’t care less. Things have gotten so bad that the customer service industry is making inroads in using new technologies to replace humans. But then there are those areas that still require human interface in the service provision process.

Public relations and customer service are considered two separate disciplines and yet they interact and intersect more often than we realise. PR and customer service, like indicated earlier, are two angles of a company’s face to its publics. PR is the company’s face that’s presented to the public and to gatekeepers, such as media and other stakeholders. Customer service is the company’s face that’s presented to its customers.

There should be very little distinction between PR and customer service teams because while the two may seem to be separate jobs, their roles of interfacing with individual customers and a company’s publics belong to every employee of the company. Both are trying to be transparent and keep customers happy so we have those good customer or business relationships. This falls within the overall goal to establish and maintain the company’s reputation. This is where PR and customer service intersect: Unhappy customers can smear a company’s reputation.

The reality organisations face in the real world is that media favour bad news over good. So, when a company does something bad, makes a mistake, or fails to deliver on its promise, media take notice and are more than happy to spread the word.

Customers escalate bad service through word-of-mouth. Don’t blame the two (media and the customer), but rather deal with and correct the bad experience. Word-of-mouth is the most powerful form of marketing. That’s because people are more likely to believe what someone else says about your product or service, than what you say yourself.

In the age of brand differentiation, customers make purchasing decisions based on a good experience with a brand or a testimony of one. If a customer has good things to say about a brand’s product or service, he or she is bound to share with others about them. Social media, like it or not, has become an extension of word-of-mouth, as Nando’s found out back in February. And organisations must be in that space, creating a social media strategy and employing social media managers who monitor and manage the narrative about your brand in cyberspace.

Social media will amplify the resonance of a satisfied customer showering you with praises and the opposite is also true. Happy customers are particularly influential among their own friends and followers in social media.

The bottom line is your customers’ level of satisfaction affects your company’s reputation. So good customer service is good PR. – Chronicle