Rigorousness about customer care has now clearly become a prominent concern for everyone, one month after Prime Minister Pierre Damien Habumuremyi met public and private operators as well as civil society to establish new mechanisms on how to improve service delivery.
What woke everyone up is a task force currently touring the country and paying surprise visits to both public and private organizations, which has already led to some establishments being sanctioned. Others decided to be proactive and set up their own international inspection teams before the national one surprises them.
This was the case of the Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA) whose own task force last week started to make impromptu visits to its branches and stations to check the state of their service delivery.
"Our mandate is to inspect our branches and stations across the country to see if their services meet the required standards and improve them," explained Jean Marie Nkurunziza, the head of EWSA internal taskforce on customer care.
During the inspection last Wednesday morning, members of the EWSA task force talked with customers, asking them about their experiences with the service they get from the agency as well as giving some lessons to officials that good customer care is not an act of good will, but a must.
That precisely EWSA decides to set up its own inspection team is surely no coincidence, because during the meeting mentioned above, Premier Habumuremyi had specifically called out the water and electricity provider as one of the worst performers in service delivery.
And considering the experience of EWSA's internal inspection team, there is certainly room for improvement - although many customers agreed that things have gotten better over the past years.
A common grievance at Gikondo branch was that people are charged money for the technicians' transport. "When we come at a time when there are no vehicles at the station, we are forced to provide transport for a technician," complained a woman from Gatenga.
In reply, the branch management made it clear that this is unacceptable behavior on the part of individuals, since EWSA's regulations provide good customer care free of charge. "EWSA issued orders that no customer should provide transport for our technicians because we have our own vehicles for that," said Mujawingoma, the EWSA Gikondo branch manager.
The meeting recommended that hotels should set and show service standards by using electronic billboards illustrating all services, where to get them and the time it takes.
Task force leader Nkurunziza said that they will be conducting such inspections across the country throughout the year without notifying targeted stations and branches. In addition, he reminded the public that EWSA has a call center which people can contact if they have a problem or complaint. "Every three hours the complaints are sent to us, and we communicate them to the concerned branch managers," he explained.
According to the team leader, the task force has a mandate to provide advice for improvement where necessary and make a report if nothing is done; those reports can then result in sanctions for the concerned officials.
EWSA's initiative can reflect its eagerness of not being exposed again for giving poor service, as the national task force has already done with some companies. Its head, Jean d'Amour Gatera, said that his team has been working seriously on ground, citing a case of a Musanze hotel that was recently sanctioned.
"The kitchen of Home Inn Hotel was closed for two weeks on grounds of poor services and hygiene conditions," Gatera explained. "Inspections will go on and serious measures will be taken against defaulters."
Obviously, when it comes to customer care, hotels and restaurants which are part of the hospitality sector should be the first to set the example. That is also why earlier in the week, Premier Habumuremyi had met private hotel owners and managers to discuss how they can improve service delivery.
"The Prime Minister pointed out that Rwanda is doing well in various sectors and we need to improve in hospitality which is also a key to boost the development of the country," reads a statement released after the meeting.
According to officials from the taskforce, the meeting recommended that hotels should set and show service standards by using electronic billboards illustrating all services, where to get them and the time it takes.
Employing qualified staff and ensuring regular training to increase professionalism was another proposed measure to increase service delivery, while the use of online booking, checking in and out, electronic payment and provision of wireless internet connection at the hotels were also recommended.