2020 was a year that was marked by challenges. COVID-19 ravaged our already fragile economy and living situations and to say the majority of Zimbabweans suffered would be an understatement. Companies were no different, as operating models and revenue streams had to be adjusted and reworked overnight and most of us probably understood at least part of that. However there is an area that companies in multiple consumer facing industries this essentially failed this year, and it’s one that they definitely need to work on: customer service, specifically, distance or virtual customer service.
So again, let’s make this clear: it’s been a tough year for everyone, and we’re not denying that most corporations had hardships to deal with. But having experienced at least 4 memorable customer service gripes with 4 different companies this year, I think it’s safe to say that while most companies invested a lot in moving their staff and operations to COVID-centric models, they didn’t necessarily invest as much in their customer service centers. For context, I had the aforementioned issues with CBZ Bank, Econet Wireless, Telecel , and DSTV. That would be two mobile network providers, a bank and of course the biggest satellite TV provider in Africa. The issues I had varied in complexity, with both of Econet’s being relatively simple , as well as the CBZ one , while Telecel’s and DSTV did at least require more expert engagement and time. I’m specifically stating this because in a pandemic, the last option should resort to is going to the offices of any of these establishments for help, except that’s exactly what I had to do in all four cases for my issues to be sorted out. And what I know is that I’m not the only one who had to this. In fact an earlier article about banking issues that were also rampant this year, most people who contributed specifically said that all their issues got worse due to poor customer service, specifically if it was using distance methods such as WhatsApp or SMS lines, the web, or even phone call helplines. Hence it starts to become clear that it’s certainly not that a lot of these companies don’t necessary care about customer service (a common complaint among Zimbabweans) , but instead they’re implementation this year left a lot to admire.
So what went wrong with said implementation? Well again, the answer is just a simple case of resource management. I won’t deny that most managers and administrators in all these companies directed company resources to the areas they felt needed them most, and considering that these are businesses , it’s pretty obvious that gaining revenue was the most important of these areas. Depending on the company as well, you might have actually heard a move or two that were meant to help employees or make it easier for them to work in the prevailing conditions. But customer service was the other area that any sort of for-profit company or organization needed to invest in more this year. Most larger organizations had call centers ready, but considering that everyone was home, a lot of these call lines were akin to a blocked pipe, with too many customer queries coming in , while rooms with less than 10 call center employees in some cases managing hundreds of calls a day. It led to hour long “please hold” sessions, which was borderline impossible if you were trying to call a company without a toll-free hotline(looking at you DSTV) because no one has hours worth of airtime that they want to waste on hearing hold waiting music. Online platforms also proved to be disappointing , whether they be social media and email based or full web portals. The WhatsApp based portal for Telecel would have up to 48 hours of waiting time for a reply, while even Econet’s once reliable Twitter support page has seemingly buckled as well. I currently have literally 2 weeks waiting time on an EcoCash issue that I was told would be resolved and yet as I stand I have yet to receive any more updates or progress on the issue. Econet’s WhatsApp bot is also quite fiddly, being borderline useful in some cases, and downright disappointing in others. DSTV’s WhatsApp bot was actually the exception , but it fell short of my more complex needs so while it passed in this case , it unfortunately couldn’t help me . And as for emails only CBZ seemed to be vigilant about those, which makes sense considering this is a bank that works with corporate clients a lot, but they also do have active Twitter and WhatsApp portals, and a toll-free(thankfully) helpline that’s always busy on all the numbers. Not a good look. And it’s unfortunately as you’ve likely seen, a case that applies for all the companies I mentioned and many more.
It all brings us back to the claim I already made, which is that customer service is an afterthought for these companies and many others, and seems to only work in one of three or more ways that they actually planned to support customers this year. The effort to have these avenues is commendable, but if they barely work for customers then they seem like ideas that never got truly executed. And again, the reason for all this is incredibly direct: resources. More money and manpower simply need to be dedicated to providing an adequate customer service experience. Even 2 more people responding to online platforms would likely make a difference. Same goes for call centers non-bot operated WhatsApp platforms. For now I won’t even complain about bots, in fact if anything I’ll commend them for being a bright spot in this whole situation, but they don’t get anyone off the hook either. If any company wants to improve their relationship with their customers, especially if some version of pandemic conditions persists, then they will need to make these kind of investments , especially since once things get better, customers often don’t want to stick with the company that made them go through even more pain through trying times. So please, if you work literally anywhere where the customer service was not up to snuff this year, get to working on a proper customer service strategy please, both for in person and distant customers. Trust us, it pays off in the long run.