By James Alic Garang
November 10, 2011 (SSNA) — It is human to give credit where it is due and offer constructive criticisms if warranted. South Sudan—a nation born out of long struggle and unsurpassed yearning for liberty, justice and prosperity— is no exception to this golden tenet.
To make light of public criticisms, our distinguished leaders are quick to lecture the critics on postwar progress: Let us be patient because “Rome was not built in a day.” And seeing that essential public and private sector institutions are being created from scratch, our sympathetic populace cannot help but buy into such a war legacy argument. Hence, in the spirit of latter line of reasoning, one is hard pressed to appreciate the efforts of South Sudan Banking Sector. Though underdeveloped or lacking in modern banking sophistications, it deserves a modicum of appreciation for providing limited services including but not limited to instant money transfer services, demand deposit & checkable instruments, and facilities of commerce among others.
Nonetheless, there is an ample room for improvement. This tells us that complacency on the part of banks is not an option nor will a citation of war legacy cut it.
Although many areas need improvement, customer service is the focus of this piece. Let me draw your attention to one scenario (Those of you who have paid a visit to a bank in South Sudan can attest to this narrative):
You step in the bank and the first thing you see is the long queue of customers waiting to be served. In layman’s language, the clientele appears visible, angrier, frustrated and agitated. Whether you want to deposit hard currency, cash a check or withdraw money from your account, you have to put one or two hours aside for wait-time. This makes for a dreadful banking experience. To put it mildly in the economists’ lingo, the opportunity cost of visiting a commercial bank in South Sudan is exceedingly high. Those two hours you spend at a bank premise could be easily put to other productive uses such as shining shoes for pay, writing that overdue paper, working overtime for remuneration, and what have you!
For those dealing or trading in the vehicle currency, their plight or wait time is outrageously prohibitive! (Just visit the nearest bank or foreign exchange bureau to see for yourself such astronomical wait times).
However, this begs the question: What accounts for long wait-time at the bank premise? Several factors rationalize those long wait times. In my humble view, the succeeding reasons top the list:
First, customer representatives lack experience. They are slow in attending to customer needs or end up sometimes providing a mediocre service. Because experience is an acquired feature; training and interactive learning-by-doing could close the gap going forward.
Second, there are fewer tellers or fewer windows at most banks. For God sake, why can’t you add more windows for ‘bulky’ transactions because nowadays Somalis come with sack full of money? The unreliability of our money counting machines, power outage/disruption and poor connectivity coupled with inexperienced bank customer representatives, accounts for long wait time.
Third, some customer representatives have made it a second nature to move up and down during business hours, hence squandering account holders’ precious time.
Fourth, some customer’s representatives are schooled in rudeness or are euphemistically militaristic. Instead of listening, they quarrel with customers. This exercise in exchange of ad hominem adds to wait time. They forget that customer is always right or god in some quarters.
Therefore, the formula for arriving at long wait time is simple: inexperienced customer representatives + small number of tellers + small number of windows + unnecessary movements during working hours + militaristic attitude = long wait times.
That is awful. But seriously, what can the bank managers do to improve customer service or drive home the mantra “The Customer is King?”
There are no silver bullets. However, bank managers would do the public a big favor if they try the following which are by no means exhaustive:
Recognition Phase: The Customer is King
The bank management must recognize that customers, who are truly kings, have no preference for long wait-time or to be talked down in rude manner as some customer representatives do on daily basis. Doing so flies in the face of the expectations “the customer is king.” What would recognition do? It will enable managers to devise ways and means to reward those representatives who offer high, professional services and punish those undeserving. Rewarding good behavior and punishing bad one is a budding stimulus for improvement.
Solution Phase: Undertake Concrete Actions to Get to the bottom of the Problems
Do the following if circumstances permit:
1. Increase both the number of windows and tellers at “prestige and commoner” sections. This makes it possible to serve a large number of customers at one time;
2. Skill upgrade is badly in South Sudan. Therefore, train individual customer representatives on ethics and obligations that underscore “the Customer is King.” The customer sovereignty is lacking in customer service providers and it is one reason for delayed service at any banking premises in our infant republic;
3. Let the ‘first come, first served’ be the basis upon which customers are attended to. There is no reason I come before you and I end up being served last because I do not know the bank manager or customer service provider.
In conclusion, we will be remiss if we fail to give credit to our banks. But truth be told, we are long way from attaining best customer satisfaction. Customer sovereignty is lacking in our public or private service providers’ vocabulary. Long wait times at bank premises are nuisance and it is high time bank managers embark on several soul-searching endeavors such as recognizing the sovereignty of customers and offering solutions to ease the problems. Such easing mechanisms include: training customer representatives, hiring more tellers, opening more windows, and rewarding good behaviors and punishing bad ones. The moral to the bank managers and their supporting staff is unadorned: customer expects to be treated as kings or as always right.
The writer is a doctoral candidate in economics at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA. He can be reached at email@example.com