I chewed over with myself the meaning of the word customer. It was first used to refer to someone that acquired ownership of a house after long use or possession. The word is derived from the Latin custodia, which meant guarding or keeping. By the end of the 15th century, it took on its meaning of “one who frequents any place for the sake of purchasing.”

What brought on reflections on this fairly common word?

It was a visit to a branch of Ethio telecom that was unfortunate. After a walk under a head-splitting sun, I arrived there. It was before four o’clock in the afternoon. The office’s door was closed. From the outside, though, it was apparent that nearly all the staff was present. I approached the door, and a person came out of the office. I made an inquiry about why the doors were closed.

Then, suddenly, a security officer with a startled expression grabbed my hand and dragged me away with a reminder that there was absolutely no need for anyone to ask and, thus for them to explain, the unusual, and untimely closure of the office to anyone. Fuming, I left the scene.

It was not hard to note everything that was wrong with customer relations. The staff was not approachable along with the inaccessible office, and not responsive to a customer through diplomacy and courteousness. This, thus, proved that service-mindedness might have not been cultivated there. A good reason for closing earlier than usual could have been communicated clearly, either orally or in writing. No one had demonstrated effective listening skills, nor tried to share any information.

The security officer, in particular, had looked stern and steadfast in appearance, yet he could not control his emotions. He looked as if he had no idea of how to stay firm without looking aggressively toward people. I doubt that Ethio Telecom maintains at each of its branches a logbook in a clean and orderly condition, thereby a system that ensures every relevant entry is kept in this occurrence book, as and when it unfolds, in strict compliance with the laws. My experience, or the security guard’s experience with me, will go un-noted.

Beyond how I was treated, a business is in fact expected to tolerate some inconvenience due to customers. Decades ago, I used to work in a public enterprise led by a leader who in a spirit of humor occasionally used to respond with a quick wit and infinite jest to unruly customers. It does not mean that employees have to take abuse from customers but they have to be extra accommodative. I hope the likes of Ethio Telecom follow suit.

The historical 19th century Florence Nightingale could be a good example here. She was a British nurse, who had organised medical support for British troops fighting in the Crimean War, and did much to promote standards in both military and civilian hospitals.

All employees need to assume themselves not only as customer service representatives, but as nurses who are expected to handle clients' cases with a high level of respect, kindness, fairness, caring, trustworthiness, emotional stability, empathy, and compassion. As Edwina McConnell, an author, said, today’s global society demands that we become xenophiles, respecting and appreciating people, things, and customs from cultures other than our own.

Customer service is not a section, although most corporations have a department named as such and titles such as customer service representative. It is an attitude towards customers that every employee should share, including security personnel. It needs to be hammered top-down, built on and constantly audited to improve customer experience.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 01,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1170]

Tadesse Tsegaye (seetadnow@gmail.com), a polyglot with experience in multicultural-cum-institutional settings in resources management.

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