Friday, May 11, 2012

‘Consumers buy only feelings and contentment’

Author Emmanuel Chinunda (EC), who has three books to his credit, talks of customer care in this interview with Richard Chirombo (RC), and expounds on his experiences in Malawi and beyond, as espoused in his 2011 book, Practical Insights on Customer Services: An African Perspective. Excerpts:
RC: Malawi is a boiling pot, with so many issues. Why did you pick on the, rather, obscure issue of customer service?
: My experience in the area. I have been training people in customer service and, therefore, decided to turn my experiences into a book.
: Did you say ‘experience’?
EC: Yes. I have, for the past 10 years, been training people in customer service, supervisory management, leadership skills, team building, as well as on how they can devise strategic plans for organisations. This is why I am in the process of publishing two more books, one of them about issues I address in my business column in one of the local papers. My interest in these issues heightened when I met John Rae, who was managing consultant for a South African company called Executive Options International, in 1998. I worked hand-in-hand with him, and we, more like, partnered. That’s how I got introduced to the world of customer service.
Apart from that, I worked as Human Resources Manager for Fargo, Candlex, and Agma Corporation.
: Malawi, as a subject, has not been fully scrutinized. Why should a Malawian author write about customer care in Africa?
EC: I am an African, first. I have also travelled widely, having been to Italy, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, Morte-Carlo, UK. In Africa, I have been to South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Uganda, Lesotho. These experiences have given me insight.
: Talking of Africa. What do Westerners make of Malawi and Africa; we are talking of first-timers?
EC: When people talk of Malawi and Africa, they think of poor time management. The tendency by Africans to disregard the dictates of time naturaly lead to poor customer service.
: Can we help it?
EC: We can do something about it. The first step is to appreciate the value of customer service, and live customer service.
RC: ‘Live’ customer service? Is customer care a way of life?
EC: Yes. Customer care is universal. Customer service is a moving target. Customer service, as a holistic thing, includes such things as how a product is made, packaged, and delivered. Things like smiling, timely delivery, courtesy will go a long way to give you a competitive advantage
RC: Is it that complicated? I thought customer care involves something as simple as the provision of products and services?
EC: There is more to that. Customer care is generally defined as the feeling that service or product has met the customer’s satisfaction. This is crucial to the individual, organisation, and members of the general public because it enables people and organisations retain their customers and build trust.
To tell you the truth, customers buy only two things…

RC: Products and services?
EC: No. Customers do not buy products or services. Customers buy feelings and solutions to their problems.
RC: What are the customer care challenges in Africa?
EC: The first challenge is time management. Africans perceive time differently. In Zambia, they talk of Zambian time; in Malawi, they talk of Malawian time; in Africa, they talk of African time. The common denominator with African time is that there is no sense of urgency.
Then, we have the issue of our social construction. The way we look at things locally differs from the way an outsider would see them. This is closely-related to culture, as a way of looking at things, and our development patterns.
We also have attitude problems. People in business think they are doing customers a favour. Wholesale adoption of Western concepts is another challenge.
Lastly, people need education on customer service.
: Malawians are not known for their reading culture. Do people really buy books on trade?
EC: That is not a challenge. In my case, I am only remaining with 10 copies since the launch of the book in May last year. At first, Maneno Bookshop used to sell some copies. I have actually only seen two copies of the book at the airport. But the book can still be found at, and
RC: Lastly, of what benefit has the book been to you, as an individual?
EC: It has given me exposure. People and organisations have been inviting me to make presentations on customer care in Africa. I have just received an invitation to make a presentation on customer care in Zimbabwe in June. The meeting has been organized by an organisation called Human Contact. It’s all because of the book.

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