On the 3rd of December 2017, some customers of the country’s only electricity distribution company, ECG, particularly those around Kaneshie, Dansoman, Achimota and Korle-Bu environs were given the rude shock of their lives when they were told they couldn’t buy electricity because their prepaid cards need to be updated. For days, these customers were left without light, though they were more than willing and ready with their monies to pay for it. To solve this, the ECG advised affected customers to deposit their prepaid cards at their Project office at Circle for it to be worked on, after which they will be duly notified to come for it. I deposited my card on the 5th and as I sit to write this article on the 17th, I am yet to be called. Hopefully, the call will come after I finish with this article.
Several reasons for this unfortunate incident have been given, ranging from loss of server power, to that of loss of customer database among others. In as much as breakdown in services cannot be completely eradicated or prevented, the positioning of service providers during this critical time of service breakdown is very important in assuaging the anger of affected customers and restoring the service back on track.
This piece aims to bring to fore some of the ways in which service providers can adopt in ensuring a rather responsive and customer focused service recovery.
Effective service recovery occurs when a service provider is able to solve customer problems within reasonable time frame, make restitution or regain the trust of their customers following a service breakdown. Service breakdowns, if not well handled can result in customers switching from one service provider to another, resulting in decreased customer lifetime value, but in the case of ECG, this means little or nothing to them as no alternative provider currently exists.
In handling service breakdown, and recovery of service, companies can adopt the H.E.A.R.T(HEAR, EMPATHIZE, APOLOGISE, RESPONSE AND THANK) process.
I would want to share my personal experience as a citizen and not a spectator to illustrate the above-mentioned process.
After trying unsuccessfully to buy credits for my prepaid meter for almost 3 days, I took a trip to the ECG Project Office as directed to lodge an official complain and seek redress to my problem. Upon reaching their office, I met a multitude of aggrieved customers with disappointment, anger and frustration written all over their faces.
To HEAR we the aggrieved customers, ECG were using their security guards as their front-line personnel to hear our plight, a situation that was so unprofessional in this era. Whilst their well-trained staff were sitting comfortably in their air-conditioned offices, the security guards, most of whom had no knowledge about the problem at stake were the ones talking to customers and tasked with the duty of collecting our cards. Hearing aggrieved customers serves as a means of gathering information from them, evaluating the facts and asking questions to help the firm understand the depth of the problem at hand, something that should not be left to security guards. On this score, the company failed woefully on the Hearing stage.
Did the company EMPATHIZED with its numerous affected customers? Your guess is as good as my experience encountered. Aggrieved customers were made to stand in the scorching sun for hours, with no shade over their heads. To make matters worse, our men in black(police) were there to harass some customers. For the countless number of customers trooping their offices, one would have expected the ECG to show some empathy, but to them, that was none of their business. Another unfortunate blunder on their part.
It took an unbelievable FOUR (4) days for the CEO of ECG to finally address the nation as to what was happening and the steps they are taking and have taken so far to bring the situation under control and restore service to affected customers. This was a golden opportunity, though delayed in coming, for the ECG to apologize, explain the cause of the challenges customers were facing, and outline measures been put in place to ensure a speedy resolution of the crisis. However, the CEO did a very shoddy job at the press conference. At the end of his session with the press I was left more worried and confused as the CEO was not able to give concrete deadlines as to when service will be restored. In their quest to apologise,the company failed to come out with a very convincing one.
The RESPONSES of ECG left much to be desired. Between the 5-8th Dec, I called the ECG office not less than twelve (12) times to check on the status of my deposited card. During these 12 times, I spoke to 12 different people and I must say I had 12 different answers on the status of my card. There was no consistency and uniformity of responses, making me wonder if these people had been properly briefed as to what to say. In a period of service recovery, one disservice any firm can do to itself is to offer conflicting responses to clients, however, this was exactly what was happening with ECG customer service department. I was even expecting the ECG to be regularly updating the public as to how many cards were deposited at their office, how many of those cards have been successfully worked on and returned to their respective owners as a way of giving confidence to affected customers that their cards were been worked on and very soon they will be notified to pick it up but once again, nothing of that sort happened, leaving customers in the dark.
THANKING aggrieved customers for their patience and inconveniences caused them during the period of service breakdown and recovery process is as important as the service restoration itself. It is exactly two weeks since I deposited my card at the E.C.G Project office at Circle, I am yet to be contacted to come for my card. As to how I have managed to live without electricity for two full weeks, I leave the story for another day. Has the E.C.G thanked customers whose service have been restored for the inconvenience they went through? Your guess is as good as mine.
Handling service breakdowns and how services are recovered after a breakdown is very crucial in the service industry as it can be a defining moment in an organization quest to retain its customers and improve their lifetime value. Research shows that dealing with problems effectively constitutes the most critical component of a reputation for excellent (or poor) service for a broad range of industries but in the case of the ECG, service recovery after a breakdown is nothing to be worried about, let us to it at our own pace, without showing any respect to the customer who is paying for our salaries.
For any customer-focused institution, the ECG have clearly given us a wonderful blueprint on how not to carry out a service recovery and it behoves on companies to take a cue from this unfortunate incident to improve upon their processes and offer better service recovery when faced with such similar challenge.
I guess I have to end here and wait for the all-important call from ECG. Till then, may the Almighty keep us safe and sound.