The Cost Of A Smile

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Casually saunter or stride purposefully into practically any restaurant, bar, hair salon, sporting goods emporium, clothing goods store, banking hall or commercial establishment aimed at service provision in Lagos and I can guarantee that the customer service experience will be way below average.

Conversations with other victims of this particular ‘crime’ usually convey the shared frustration and incredulity at the appalling attitudes of tellers, the sour facial expressions of sales associates at the spa (which is ironically meant to be a healing, tranquil environment), the aggressive demeanour of your mechanic, electrician or local ‘fix-it’ man and the negative energy that emanates from waiters/waitresses at your local watering hole. To show that my conclusion is not some misled over exaggeration or an unjustified rant of an elitist incapable of understanding the ‘Nigerian way’ of interaction, I will retell three separate encounters I had with persons in the customer service trade.

Attitude, demeanour, facial expressions…
I was in the mood for something else apart from the day-old contents in the refrigerator at my humble abode and decided to venture forth to a bar nearby with a mate before our dinner reservations. When we were seated, I ordered a glass of apple juice and *Skye asked for a bottle of Star. During a break in our riveting convo twenty minutes later, we noticed that our drinks had not been brought us. Skye spent five minutes struggling to get our server’s attention to no avail. Another five minutes later, I called the waiter passing by with a tray of drinks for a family that arrived shortly after we did and enquired about our order.

Our waiter was standing in the corner, idly staring in fascination and utter amusement at the antics of a couple of kids riding around on jet skis. He mumbled some feeble excuse with no apology and proceeded to the bar to fish out a lukewarm beer and apple juice from the fridge. Shock and complete disbelief registered on our faces as we realised that he had only just begun the simple task of fetching our beverages. Five minutes later, we could finally quench our thirst.

Getting the cheque was another torturous ordeal. Firstly, we spent fifteen minutes searching for our waitperson that seemed to have disappeared into thin air. Secondly, it took an additional ten minutes for someone else to notice our frequent “Excuse Me’s” and stretched arms. Thirdly, we had to ask for the bill twice. Lastly, the heavens opened to the sweet sound of angels singing ‘Hallelujah’, when we were eventually able to pay twenty-five minutes after our quest for the missing bill began.

Attitude; The waiter was nonchalant, lazy in his approach, apathetic, negligent, unapologetic, sloth-like and was generally excruciatingly slow in terms of response time and his inability to understand what we needed. It took eighty-five minutes for a drinking expedition that was meant to last only fifteen.
The second story takes place at a restaurant. A friend and I were eager to thoroughly rip apart a seafood platter full of delicious scrumptiousness. The waiter shuffled over after twenty minutes to relay the sad news that a particular ingredient that was used for forty per cent of the meal was unavailable. Funnily enough, he looked irritated when we told him to exchange the items for something else (besides we really wanted the deal… value for money, people!). He rolled his eyes during our instructions, which is a flagrant disregard for customer service etiquette, and snappily said that this was not possible despite our request for him to ask the chef if it was. Close to a half hour later, he appeared, angry and bored, with our food.

Facial expressions; He was anything but courteous and polite. He addressed the customer with an extremely rude and constant look of irritation every time he spoke.

The last instance involves a belligerent customer service agent at a telecommunications company. A deduction had been made from my account without any explanation and I sought out someone who could provide one. Upon approach, his negative aura was not a misperception on my part. He declared that I was wrong and argued with me for fifteen minutes, not letting me get a word in edgewise. I was furious but still managed to address him in a polite, but slightly terse manner. I asked to speak to his supervisor and as he walked away, he muttered something abusive in Yoruba.

Demeanour; He was hostile and argumentative, unwilling to listen to anything the customer had to say. He was unnecessarily stubborn, rude and failed to address the client’s concerns and find a suitable solution to the problem.

My credence is any excuse for these types of inappropriate behaviour falls short. Efficient and pleasant customer service provision is virtually non-existent in Lagos commercial establishments. If you think I am being unreasonable in my supposition, ask anyone about their experience with waiters, bar managers, bank tellers or anybody who is responsible for providing customer service.

I reject the misguided notion that it is the ‘Nigerian way’ to be antagonistic, uncouth, impolite, discourteous and generally unpleasant in the way you speak or interact with clienteles. In my humble opinion, corporations and enterprises of any size should be subject to mandatory training services that would engender a congenial purchasing/window shopping experience for all as revenues rise with the cost of a smile.

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