By David Titley
I try for the umpteenth time to watch a video on Youtube.com, but fail to get the video loaded because once again my internet service at home is not working properly. I hold my head in frustration because this is becoming an oh too familiar experience for me and my family. Does this scenario seem in any way familiar to you, dear reader?
I have not come to vent my frustrations for lack of better things to do, but rather, I think it is time for me to voice my concerns on a few different but related issues that I think need to get some attention at this crucial time. It is all well and good to be patient and to hold a cool head during times of trial and challenge, but there also comes a time when one must express valid concerns with the hope that some dialogue can be stimulated amongst those with some level of influence.
It is hoped that this dialogue amongst those “who can move and shake” will reverberate in such a way as to produce, in the not too distant future, solutions to pertinent and valid problems that we are facing in our beloved twin Island Federation. There are three main issues that I would like to bring forward at this time, along with some of their potential effects and a few potential solutions. They are:
A) Poor standard of some business services/unfair business practices offered in St. Kitts & Nevis.
B) Poor customer service offered in some businesses in St. Kitts & Nevis.
C) Poor customer etiquette observed and experienced in St. Kitts & Nevis.
A) Many of the businesses in Nevis are providing sub-standard services to the people residing in this beautiful Nation! I will give three general examples. It is becoming the norm for my internet, data and Wi-Fi services to be disrupted on an alarmingly regular basis. These disruptions in the internet services seem to coincide with minor weather disturbances. Whether or not this coincidence has any merit as a potential reason for the disruptions remains a mystery because the Telecom provider does not see it as necessary to inform its customers as to when disruptions may occur or why they are occurring.
The most they generally say is that they are experiencing some technical difficulties without any further explanation as to the cause of the problem nor any information as to how far into the future these disturbances will continue to be experienced. These services do not come cheap, by any means, need I say. We the customer are usually billed by these Telecom Service Providers for services “rendered” for a particular time period, but the problem is that sometimes the services are unavailable for one or more days during that period for which we are being billed! This is simply unfair business practice. How about if as a form of protest, customers pay only the portion of their Telecom bill for which these services were actually working properly during the respective time period for which they were billed?! Fair exchange is no robbery they say.
What is it about waiting half the day in Commercial Bank lines these days anyway? It is very commonplace for us in Nevis to go into Banking Institutions with the mindset that we are in for a very long wait, usually at least half hour or more. This practice is very inconvenient for customers in general, especially for persons who are “on the clock” as they say. It seems as though bank tellers are now doing much of the work that customer service officers used to do. In addition, the computer systems being used by banks seem to be causing a slow-down in the rate of customer turnover for one reason or another.
These factors amongst others have created a situation where customers are tasked with very long waits in bank lines. I will not use this forum to mention low interest rates on savings accounts, high charges for conducting business at the counter or for the use of atm machines and exorbitant interest rates on credit cards.
Is it fair for grocery stores to be allowed to vary prices on many of the products that they offer to the general public? I realize that in Economics there is such a thing as a relationship between price and quantity demanded, but I think that many of our grocers are taking advantage of the populace. Shouldn’t there be some sort of regulation of prices in grocery stores and other supply stores in our country? Should stores be allowed to vary prices so drastically or at all on such a regular basis?
B) Most of us can retell or know someone else who can retell stories of situations where they experienced sub-par customer service in St. Kitts or Nevis. In many instances, customer service representatives were unprofessional, rude, impolite, unfriendly or indifferent to the customers whom they were supposedly “serving”. Unprofessional customer service is rampant in St. Kitts and Nevis and it is tearing at the fabric of the consumer/business relationship here.
The sad part, is that the persons guilty of this blatant unprofessionalism are usually employees of these businesses. Their negative impact upon customer visitation and repeat-visitation to and sales performance of these businesses is probably underestimated or unknown to business owners. Business owners would be wise to monitor the behaviour of their employees and their interactions with customers.
C ) Never have I seen or experienced in any other country, the poor display of etiquette and behaviour as I have seen in banks, grocery stores and other businesses in Nevis by members of the general public. Some people in Nevis seem not to have the faintest idea about how to behave in public spaces. Some persons seem to have a strong aversion to waiting in line and waiting their turn! How many times have I entered the bank to find a disorganized line with many people sitting in chairs. As you are next in line, several people will come and announce that they are in front of you without any apology and often not in a well-mannered or respectful way.
In addition, the majority of the people who were sitting down were noticeably neither elderly, ill nor expecting. I have even observed people arguing over who is in front of whom. This type of behaviour raises tensions and causes unnecessary stress. We already live in a world which is much like a powder keg where a simple disagreement can quickly become something very nasty.
Also, some people are just too boisterous. Even though “it’s Nevis”, some level of proper decorum should be encouraged and upheld. The youths are watching us, and the most convincing form of teaching is our actions and the most apparent form of their learning is their imitation of what they see us doing! I refuse to get into any altercation over such trifling circumstances and that is why I am writing, because the pen is mightier than the sword!
A few humble suggestions:
One of the positive experiences just about anyone who ventures beyond our shores to the Mainland US, Canada or other countries has, is the experience of service providers who must provide services with the utmost integrity, reliability and accountability. They are held accountable by regulations and policies that are put in place to safeguard the consumer and to ensure that the customers get the best possible level of service that their money can buy.
So why not in St. Kitts and Nevis? It should be incumbent for businesses in the Federation to be made to provide services to the general public that are fair, reliable and efficient. This could be effected through various Government-based policies that regulate businesses and make them accountable in terms of the goods and services they provide relative to consumer needs and satisfaction.
In addition, organizations independent of the government could be developed that could serve as an intermediary between businesses and their customers by putting in place review and rating systems of businesses and their practices. These bodies could also be used as a vehicle for customers to settle disputes between themselves and businesses when issues arise, rather than the little man having to face these companies on his own.
With respect to banking institutions, allowances should be made and provisions put in place for a change in the services handled by bank tellers and customer service departments and other respective frontline departments. There are various types of transactions being done on a daily basis at varying frequencies. Also, there are various types of customers patronizing the bank: the elderly, ill, expecting, those conducting simple/minimal transactions and then those doing more numerous, complex and varied types of transactions.
Build the banking platform around such considerations rather than just designing the bank interface for the benefit of the institution with little regard to the everyday customer. Also, if there are only one or two tellers available and the bank line is full and moving slowly, how about having a senior person or supervisor act as a teller for a short while to ease the strain?
Grocery stores and other supply outlets should receive greater governmental regulation in terms of their prices on items for sale. They should not be allowed to vary their prices so drastically in the short-term and also, there should be some sort of regulation in place for the type of mark-up that they place on their goods.
Many businesses would see higher profits and greater consumer traffic in their stores if they were to train their staff more carefully and thoroughly in customer service during their probationary period via Human Resources programs. This would pay off in the long run compared to any costs necessary to develop and run the necessary customer service programs via HR. Many people may be more than willing to spend more money and patronize more frequently, businesses that employ efficient, professional staff even if their prices are slightly higher than competitors with less professional staff.
Finally, to solve the problem of persons who exhibit poor etiquette and behaviour in public. The primary solution to this lies in the proper education and proper socialization of our people from their youth primarily at home and in the schools. We must get back to basics. Some things are simply acceptable and other things simply unacceptable, period. We must mold our children, grandchildren and wards properly. We are a society based on Christian principles, so why not use good, sound biblical principles to teach our children the proper way to behave. “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6). In our schools, programs that teach civics and general etiquette can be introduced very easily. “The young cannot teach tradition to the old” (Nigerian proverb).
The secondary solution to this problem is for institutions to take up the responsibility of directing the behaviour of their clients. Design the space in such a way that allows for the formation of proper queues and to establish order. Use arrows, signs and barriers as tools of demarcation. Use number systems (digital or otherwise) and intercoms to keep track of and call clients when it is their turn to be served at windows and tellers. Make use of security guards and other personnel to guide customers and clients as to what is expected of them.
We all share the responsibility of shaping our society through various policies, regulations and educational programmes at the various levels at which we are called to serve. Let us all do our part to improve the experience of all who reside in and visit this beautiful twin island paradise called St. Kitts and Nevis! As they say: “Streams make up a river” (Buji proverb).