Since 1901

Citizens have a right to better services

One of Walmart founder Samuel Moore Walton’s most famous quotes is; "There is only one boss. The customer. He can fire everybody in the company from the chairman downwards, by simply spending his money somewhere else".

The late businessman’s words perhaps give the most accurate justification for excellent customer service in any organisation. Many private business employees seem to take these words a lot more seriously than government workers, maybe because of the latter’s perception of their job security. Granted, a lot has changed, but before the government revolutionised customer service in public offices, it was common for people to look for ‘help’ from government employees.

The citizen was supposed to be a helpless individual at the mercy of the civil servant who barely established eye contact with the customer. Citizens waited for hours for services that should have taken minutes, often because the civil servant was out on lunch, leaving their coats on chairs.

A shift in the approach to service delivery in government institutions brought not only a shift in language use, but also performance contracting  guidelines aimed at clear standard performance contracts for civil servants. Citizens were no longer seeking ‘help’ from government ministries departments and agencies, but rather, ‘service’ - Huduma.

To ensure delivery of efficient, quality service, every public institution, department or unit was expected to display a citizen’s service delivery charter - a brief public document that provides important information about the public services/goods, including the cost, service delivery timelines as well as feedback mechanisms in case of dissatisfaction.  

While most government offices use technology to improve their customer experience, some government employees are yet to catch up with the shift in approach to service delivery; they need of training on good customer service.

They are still stuck in the past era where citizens seeking services were not well informed of their right to efficient, effective service.  Granted, many citizens still do not know the importance of the service charters that hang on the walls of most public offices, and may not realise when the government employees flout them.

They continue to endure rude responses and delayed services from civil servants who consider their service delivery a huge favour to their customers.

Dear tax-paying Kenyan; efficient, effective delivery of services by a civil servant is NOT a favour. It is your right. You deserve the best treatment you can get - friendly staff, timely service and opportunity for feedback.

Unless there is logical, understandable reason for delayed, or less-than-average services, look up at the service charter on the wall and request to be served in accordance with its provisions.

Effective customer service means that a customer gets what they want, when they want it and how they want it. However, many times, customer satisfaction does not mean that they get what they want when they want it. Sometimes all a customer needs is reassurance that although they did not get what they wanted, everything is being done to delivery it at the earliest opportunity.

It means listening to a customer and empathising with them. It is called communicating with a ‘you’ attitude. Simple gestures like saying ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’ with a smile, establishing eye contact or addressing the customer by their name can go a long way in leaving a customer feeling well served even when they do not immediately get what they wanted.

Public officers

Thanks to the government’s e-citizen platform, citizens can now access services at their convenience. This notwithstanding, it is inevitable that many people will need to visit the physical government offices often. It is important therefore that public officers are constantly reminded of their responsibility to serve customers satisfactorily during face-to-face and over- the -phone interactions.

County government employees are most likely serving many ignorant citizens, seeing that most of them are based in very remote parts of the country. Critical offices such as the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) serve the interests of many ill-informed, even desperate citizens.

Besides training their employees on effective service delivery, county governments should invest in proper civic education to build their capacity to recognise poor service and demand excellent customer service from the public servants.

Dr. Kiambati is a Communications lecturer and trainer, Kenyatta University