Every foreign visitor I have interacted with confesses that Uganda is one of the friendliest, politest and the most caring countries they have visited.
Some have confessed that not even in their dreams can they be accorded a comparable treatment. Yet, on the contrary, most Ugandans constantly grumble in private and some openly complain about the mistreatment they receive when they seek goods and services in various offices and work stations.
Good customer care in Uganda is so hard to come by that if you accidentally find someone who has it, you are tempted to think that they have suddenly developed intimate feelings for you.
I personally have a huge craving for good customer care that whenever I receive it, I acknowledge it, I announce it and, on a good day, I offer a decent tip for it. I have also made friendship with some people as a result of observing their excellent customer care. I believe that Ugandans who indiscriminately exercise good customer care are such an endangered species who should be recognized, appreciated and encouraged.
For instance, you visit a bank for a basic/routine transaction and instead of asking how best they can help you, the teller gives you the kind of look that should be given to someone who was responsible for setting ablaze the infamous Kanungu church, Kicwamba polytechnic, Kasese palace, Kasubi tombs and all the reported fires in Uganda.
It is little wonder, therefore, that some people dread going to the banks since the agony one goes through for a basic transaction such as a cash withdrawal is worse than what they go through to earn the same money.
Similarly, under the impression that service provision is relatively poor in public health facilities, you feel lucky to afford the choice of seeking medical services in a private hospital with the hope of getting a more friendly service.
Unfortunately, the only smiling person you might encounter is the security guard who sometimes doubles as a car parking guide. The big smile is probably due to the anticipated ‘handshake’ and tip in return for safely taking care of your car.
The security guard sometimes announces their expectations from you in advance. Never mind the fact that they are formally paid to be there and never mind the signpost that reads ‘Cars parked at owner’s risk.’
The real drama then begins when you arrive at the reception. The attitude and demeanour from some receptionists as they solicit your biodata makes you feel like you are responsible for all the recent deaths that have occurred at that hospital.
The situation tends to be worse when it is a female receptionist dealing with a female patient. Should you fail to respond promptly and appropriately to some questions, or happen to have forgotten to bring some documents with you, the insults you get are sufficient to cure whatever health discomforts prompted you to go to the hospital. You are insulted to the extent that you feel like apologizing for showing up and asking for permission to leave.
Therefore, I am always intrigued by the contrast between the kind of customer care accorded to fellow Ugandans and the positive reviews about Ugandans by foreigners. What suddenly happens to the proverbial “customer is the boss” notion?
Why do people who very humbly apply for jobs suddenly become hostile to customers? Perhaps the answer lies in the twentieth century psychological explanations of behaviourism. I am inclined to agree with psychologists such as John B. Watson who theorized that behaviour is not instinctive but learned. Thus, people everywhere are equally human, differing only in their cultural patterns. For him, human behaviour is not rooted in nature but in nurture.
In the same vein, I want to believe that those who are cruel to customers are perhaps, not generally bad or heartless people but simply have very little experience and appreciation of being treated well as customers.
No graduate of any postsecondary institution can feign ignorance of good customer care skills. Thus, all those cruel people in various offices are generally good people and know how to treat customers nicely.
It is for the same reason that the same teller in a bank who will shout at a customer will smile from ear to ear when they are serving someone they know, a foreigner or anyone with a known good social standing. It, therefore, follows that there is generally good customer are in Uganda but there is a hierarchy which determines how some people are treated.
Considering that we all crave good customer care, how about if we simply resolve to become the change that we want to see?
The writer is a social work practitioner in Alberta-Canada.