As it appeared in the daily nation of February 17th 2015
More than 50 years ago, discussions around strategy started. Many organizations have gone through the strategic planning cycles and others have strategic management in action guiding their everyday activities. The benefits of having a strategy have been applauded by many managers. In Kenya, strategies have informed overall corporate direction as well as the customer service courses of action in leading organizations. This has been most evident in the last decade and is considered by many as a source of competitive advantage. Many Medium Enterprises (MEs) however still wrestle with the need to be strategic in their customer service approach. Many have left it to chance and although a few have succeeded many may struggle with customer retention and attraction into the future.
Being strategic is different things to different people but at the core of strategic customer service are better customer experiences and happier customers. This not only gives an organization a competitive edge but it also guarantees long term survival through good word of mouth. On the contrary, I believe that organizations that fail to strategize their customer experience may struggle to retain their customers and some may have to deal with unhappy customers occasionally. The key questions however are Why do most MEs fail to define their desired strategic direction? and Why do many leave their customer experience to chance? Is it because they lack capacity to strategize or is it out of sheer ignorance?
I took a trip to the central business district and on Kenyatta Avenue visited Office Mart and Seal Honey which are next to each other and which I consider medium enterprises. To my surprise there was no evidence of intentional customer service. The staff were either busy chit chatting or re-arranging the shelves. At Office Mart I requested a staff for assistance and he in turn asked a colleague to assist me but she decided to ignore him. If she knew that I was mystery shopping she would have possibly behaved differently. At Seal Honey the request for assistance was more welcome though I was later informed that I had to wait for 15 minutes if I choose to use their paybill number payment option. The cashier indicated that the paybill was a third party. I did not have to wait.
My next stop was Biashara Street; I walked in and out of a home accessories shop without anyone noticing me. At a shop next door my simple question Where is the price list? was responded to with another question Unataka gani? (Which one do you want?) These retail experiences left me wondering what most Kenyans have to go through every day. The City Market meat market experience other than for the stench would beat these experiences and so would the experience in smaller stores often referred to as exhibition stalls.
What must the likes of Seal Honey, Office Mart, Dong Fang Curtains and other medium enterprises do differently? They need to rethink their customer experience and be more deliberate; if they don’t many customers may choose to shop elsewhere.
Lucy Kiruthu is a Management Consultant and Trainer and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org/old or via twitter @kiruthulucy