Last Thursday mid-morning found me at the Coach Africa offices off Wampewo avenue in an interview with Richard Ssebagala, a customer relations management specialist.
Having received training from the New York-based Dale Carnegie institute, among other institutions, the practicing professional coach is an organization turnaround specialist, operations, people and project manager.
Ssebagala is also a leadership development professional, mentor, trainer and teacher with over 25 years of work experience in the United Kingdom, the Middle East, the United States of America and East Africa.
With his impressive resume, it comes as no surprise that Ssebagala has worked at senior management levels and specializes in strategic planning, policy formulation and implementation, financial management, training and customer service delivery.
He is now based in Uganda where he offers consultancy services focusing on customer relationship management and leadership development.
He recently wrote a book about customer service relationship. Titled The Fish Rots From The Head, the book sheds light on the causes of poor customer care service, and best practices and practical solutions to the issue.
Born on January 20, 1965 to Samuel Magunda Ssebagala and Philomena Namagembe Musoke, now a retired nurse, Ssebagala strongly acknowledges the impeccable role played by his stepmother Marion Ssebagala, whom he says was very instrumental in his upbringing – just as his own biological mother.
“I have two moms,” says Ssebagala, beaming with joy. The current-day life coach attended Kabojja primary school, St Mary’s college Kisubi and Makerere college school.
He later joined Makerere University for a bachelor’s degree in Arts, majoring in Literature and German. As a fresh graduate, Ssebagala taught English and Literature at Lubiri secondary school for a year before leaving for London where he worked in the civil service.
While in Britain, he trained to become a teacher at the University of London’s school of education. Later, he got himself a teaching job at the Salesian College in Britain where he taught English.
Having had enough of teaching, he left UK for the United States of America where he joined a packing company as a district manager before being elevated to the position of a senior operations manager within a year.
“For the next ten years, I was a senior operations manager for Colonial Packaging,” he says.
As the good old adage ‘east or west, home is best’ suggests, Ssebagala resigned from his job and traced his way back home in 2005 for a two-year contract as an education manager at the Aga Khan education services.
At the end of his contract with Aga Khan education services, Ssebagala started up Easy Concepts, a company aimed at customer service improvement.
“By then I had realised that customer service in Uganda is terrible,” says Ssebagala, emphasizing that despite knowing there was a problem, he could not figure out which problem it was. Having embarked on offering almost fruitless training, mentoring and team building, he decided to go back to the drawing board.
“I did what I should have actually done the first time. I embarked on research to find out what the problem really was,” Ssebagala says.
In his research, he talked to several employees and managers of various companies and organisations. At the end of his investigation, he finally came up with various findings.
“We don’t have a customer care problem in Uganda. It is really not there. We have a management problem,” he established.
Ssebagala maintains that several employees had not been inducted into the organizational values and how they fit into respective organisations’ bigger plan. This, he says, is more of a management issue than employee problem.
His findings inspired him to write a book in which he documents case studies from his personal experiences of both poor and good customer services.
AUTHORING THE BOOK
Having gathered enough information through his research, Ssebagala finally started writing the book early last year.
“It took me eight months to write the book,” he says. Ssebagala notes that by the time a customer encounters unsatisfactory services, the problem already lies with management.
Thus, the title The Fish Rots From The Head. The book, according to Ssebagala, takes the bull by the horns and addresses the challenges of poor customer service in Africa, which can surprisingly be experienced in establishments that lay claim to international accreditation.
The book approaches the age-old problem of poor customer care service from the African point of view. It commands authority and authenticity of a native observer since the case studies therein are from the writer’s personal experience.
“My book is intended for decision makers, managers, entrepreneurs and those already struggling with how to improve seemingly intractable customer service standards in organisations that are already up and running,” he says.
The Fish Rots From The Head is already available at Aristoc, but it will also soon be officially launched.
“Various organisations have bought several copies of the book because of the practical solutions it presents to this critical issue,” Ssebagala says.
KLM Airlines, Uganda Development Bank and Jesa Dairy company, among others are his long-term clients with whom he has worked to confront the issue of customer service delivery. Ssebagala maintains that good customer service is very possible, and all it takes is goal alignment for the employers and employees.
Outside work, Ssebagala enjoys reading and socializing. To him, family is the most important part of his life.