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IN RECENT YEARS much has been written or spoken about customer service in academic journals, by trade organisations and even by labour unions. It is a major issue in a service economy such as Barbados.
Good customer service is often seen as the difference between success and failure. The issue has not been lost on us, given the existence of the National Initiative for Service Excellence (NISE), the National Productivity Council and the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies.
However, I wonder if good customer service is little more than “cheap talk”. Only a few years ago a number of businesses rolled out customer charters and in some instances launched some convoluted initiatives. Yet, the results were not achieved and customers were often left anything but satisfied.
Take on the other hand the service which the late Arthur Jordan offered at the former Shell Service Station at Derricks, St James. Many a motorist would have gone out of his/her way to deal with that station. Jordan had no written vision, mission, or value statements, but appreciated operating a profitable business where customer service mattered most of all. But he is history.
What is reality is the need for the delivery of consistently good service. The people in the tourism sector were talking about its importance last week, and when the Chamber of Commerce meets on Wednesday, most likely someone will make reference to it. Minister of Finance Chris Sinckler is supposed to address the business leaders and invariably something to do with customer service is sure to come up. The Barbados Revenue Authority and the perception of aloofness, the Town Planning Department and what appears to be its unique culture, the Customs Department and its might, or the general concern across the entire public sector of the poor treatment of customers.
Sinckler will hardly be able to answer all the concerns. Even if the plain-speaking Donville Inniss is asked to give his views he may only aggrieve many with his frankness. Senator Esther Byer Suckoo may do little more than ensure she offends no one with any response. It makes little sense asking the trade unions because they will invariably make excuses in public. The reality is that customer service in the public sector is pitifully poor.
Perhaps Kim Tudor and her team at NISE, Anthony Sobers and the others at the National Productivity Council, Toni Moore from the Barbados Workers’ Union, Roslyn Smith from the National Union of Public Workers, and Professor Eudine Barriteau need to work together on a solution.
I would like to ask them not to get into any deep discussion or academic solution. Please undertake a public awareness campaign using Stetson RPB Wiltshire, Anthony Gabby Carter, Ricky Lil Rick Reid, Sir Garry Sobers and a host of celebrities with appeal across ages and socio-economic groups. The goal would be to make a plea for improved customer service across all Barbados, whether in the private or public sectors.
But, please let them start with the BRA, Town Planning, Immigration, Customs, MTW, the Police Force (and also suggest a name change to the Police Department or Police Service), the Registration Department and all the other departments which interact with the public. In other words, the entire public sector.
While we want a highly educated and certified public sector, we also want people who are going to deal with the public with empathy, care and compassion. Every member of the public must matter and be treated with courtesy and dealt with expeditiously.