IT’s increasingly becoming a proven reality that no matter how big a business grows, it inevitably needs to re-focus its resources to sustain the vigour of offering an acceptable, excellent, consistent and sustainable level of customer service to its customers.
No matter how big or global a company or indeed its brand grows, the place of maintaining exceptional customer service practices to its clients will never be replaced by anything – publicity, personalities or anything else.
From the onset, it should be noted that every business organisation exists to create products and services that alleviate the pains of customers.
In so doing, businesses inevitably find themselves interacting with customers to address any shortcoming encountered in the processes of providing these offerings.
In June this year, I came across a nasty customer service experience that made me begin to ask corporate businesses to revisit their basic customer service fundamental practices.
Indeed, I’m in the process of undertaking consultancy training sessions to help corporate businesses re-focus on their customer service fundamentals.
As I was making payments to suppliers of solar power generation and irrigation equipment, I realised that both of my payments were going to two of my suppliers who are essentially Atlas Mara bank clients.
However, despite them being on the same bank, they were serviced by different branches which were also located in different towns.
For whatever reasons, I transposed the bank account numbers for the two suppliers after making the first payment.
Essentially, I bank with several of the country’s most highly rated commercial banks – and for the sake of objectivity and only drawing lessons from this experience, I have withheld the named institutions name.
According to the design of this bank’s online wire transfer payment system, I inserted the correct account name and branch codes but a wrong account number.
I then proceeded to process this payment – the cash balance did not reduce, I, therefore, realised that it had not gone through.
I inserted the correct details and moved the K30,000 payment to a Livingstone-based supplier.
Alas, the system still agreed to move this payment leaving me with a K12,000 to move to the other supplier domiciled at Atlas Mara main branch in Lusaka.
After two days the Livingstone supplier called to inform me that the company had not received the K30,000 payment.
I immediately alerted my personal bank consultant who asked me to deliver a written instruction to recall the funds from Atlas Mara.
At this point, I was out of Lusaka and was in Kabwe for a few days. So my bank allocated me a personal consultant to attend to my business account while in Kabwe.
I, therefore, delivered the letter requesting the recall of funds from Atlas Mara to my bank account to this gentleman, who promised to give me a response by the close of business day.
However, he did not call back.
The following day he even stopped picking up my phone calls.
Since I was still around Kabwe, I drove to the Kabwe branch and found him in the office.
I had never seen this gentleman before and had no prior interactions.
He then called the payments team based at their Head office in Lusaka to find out how far they had gone in recalling the funds back to my account.
This was around 13:00 hours, the team told him, on the phone and in my presence that they had received the funds on my banker’s account but had received it less by K500 because the Lusaka supplier had drawn a K500 out of it.
The team asked me if I could authorise the bank to move K29, 500 (which was less by K500) into my account and promised to wire the K500 as soon as the Lusaka supplier paid back the K500 on his account.
It should be noted here for the sake of our readers that in accordance
with the Banking Act, it is a criminal offence to draw and use funds that stray into your personal or business bank account.
Therefore, in Zambia, the holder of any personal or bank account has a duty and obligation to inform his or her bank of any stray funds that get into his or her personal or business bank account.
After waiting for a week, I travelled back to Lusaka and phoned my personal banker to find out why the recall of funds had been prolonged when Atlas Mara had already sent back K29, 500 on my bankers control account.
He told me that what his colleague had earlier told me was not true that Atlas Mara had wired back K29, 500 to this account.
He said a second bank cannot wire back a partial recall because banking systems are designed to recall total and partial amounts in the event of a recall.
That was contradictory, wasn’t it?
Imagine a world-class corporate business, a bank or any other business organisation with customer service staff who do not understand some of the critical steps, processes in the provision of their services.
On the other hand, think of an established business where customer service staff fall short of basic customer service etiquette such as courtesy, politeness, a sense of urgency and the like.
Later on, the recipient on Atlas Mara bank refunded back the K500 on his account and immediately the system automatically wired back the K30, 000 back onto my business account.
Think of it, none of the two personal bankers has called me to find out whether I have received the monies or not.
The sole purpose of this discourse is to look at two or three critical issues here, in terms of customer service.
Firstly, why should two personal bankers and a payment team of the same bank have conflicting information?
Why should customer service staff of a World-class bank not be aware of the processes that a bank recall goes through?
Why should a customer service staff avoid a harmless customer?
Are customer service staff trained to handle unusual customer service experiences?
In another incident, I advised one of my customers to open an account with one of the top-rated banks in Zambia.
This bank is of course not the same bank as in the first scenario but is of course one of my bankers.
After submitting all the documents required for opening a bank account, the bank staff told my client’s staff that the documents submitted were adequate.
After two months, my client made a follow-up and was told this bank consultant was wondering why the other colleagues had not proceeded to open the account.
However, later on, they realised that a document to provide proof of residence by one of the main signatories was missing.
Shouldn’t the bank have phoned my client’s staff instead of packing the documents and making a client wait for longer than necessary to open a bank account?
As demonstrated in the above separate scenarios, high profile incidences of poor customer service are still rife in corporate businesses in Zambia.
What should companies do differently to overcome this perennial recurrent problem?
Find out in next week’s article why companies need to revisit their basic customer service fundamental practices, and what is it that they should do to avert recurrent high-profile customer service failure incidences.
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The author is the Managing Consultant at G. N Grant Business Consultant, a Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA), a Master of Business Administration (MBA) holder, with a Specialism in Strategic Planning, and a candidate for the Herriot Watt University (Scotland) Doctor of Business Administration (DBA)