Poor customer service in Uganda, the country’s greatest national crisis

Poor customer service in Uganda, the country’s greatest national crisis
Uganda’s poor customer service

Kampala, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | In Uganda, the landscape of customer service is often marred by inefficiency, unresponsiveness, and a pervasive culture of indifference. From corporations to government institutions, the expectation seems to be that citizens must plead for the services they rightfully deserve.

This entrenched norm not only frustrates the populace but also hampers economic progress. Through practical examples and feedback from Ugandans, it becomes clear that a transformation in customer service is imperative for the country’s development.

Customer service in Uganda is frequently characterized by long wait times, unprofessional attitudes, and a general lack of accountability.

Whether dealing with a telecommunications company, a bank, or a government office, the narrative is often the same: customers must endure significant hurdles to receive basic services. This culture of poor service delivery has deep roots and wide-reaching consequences.

Complaints against telecom companies

One of the most common grievances comes from interactions with major telecommunications companies such as MTN Uganda, Airtel Uganda, and Lycamobile. Customers often report long delays in resolving issues such as network failures, incorrect billing, and data discrepancies.

For instance, a customer might spend hours on hold trying to reach customer service, only to be met with unhelpful or rude responses. This not only wastes time but also diminishes trust in these essential services.

One customer this writer interviewed recounted, “I was overcharged for my data bundle and it took me three weeks of calling and visiting the service center to get a refund. It was frustrating and unnecessary.”

Pay-Tv providers

Pay-TV providers such as DStv, GOtv, and StarTimes are also frequently criticized for poor customer service. Subscribers often face issues like sudden signal loss, delayed technical support, and billing discrepancies.

Many customers have expressed frustration over the lack of timely and effective responses to their complaints.

One subscriber shared, “My DStv subscription was cut off despite having paid in advance. It took numerous calls and several days to get the issue resolved. The customer service agents were unhelpful and dismissive.”

Banking services

In the banking sector, institutions like Stanbic Bank, Centenary Bank, Equity Bank Uganda, DFCU Bank and among others are frequently criticized for inefficient handling of transactions and poor communication about changes in policies.

Many customers have recounted experiences of standing in long queues for hours, only to encounter tellers who are either overwhelmed or indifferent. The lack of a streamlined process and courteous service has led to widespread dissatisfaction and a reluctance to engage with formal banking systems.

A business owner shared, “I needed a loan for my small business, but the process was so slow and the staff so uncooperative that I almost missed a critical opportunity. They don’t seem to care about their customers at all.”

Government institutions

Perhaps the most glaring examples of poor customer service are found in government institutions such as the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the Uganda Police Force, and the National Identification and Registration Authority (NIRA).

Whether it’s obtaining a National Identity Card, a passport, or accessing healthcare services from public healthcare providers, citizens often face bureaucratic red tape and a lack of urgency from public servants.

Numerous stories circulate about people having to return multiple times for a single service, each visit requiring hours of waiting with little assurance of resolution.

One individual expressed, “I had to visit the NIRA office five times to correct an error on my national ID. Each time, I was told to come back another day. It’s like they don’t care about our time or needs.”

Health services

The healthcare sector, including public hospitals and clinics, is also plagued with customer service challenges. Patients often face long wait times, unresponsive staff, and inadequate communication regarding treatment procedures.

70 per cent of patients who visit Ugandan hospitals have to wait for more than an hour before they can see a health worker, only to be told there’s no medicine or equipment to assist in their diagnosis, according to a surveys. 

The survey included Mulago National Referral Hospital, Regional Referral Hospitals, General Hospitals and Health Centre IVs.

A patient shared, “When I went to Mulago hospital with severe pain, I had to wait for hours before a doctor attended to me. The staff seemed indifferent to my suffering. It was a dehumanizing experience.”

Utilities and essential services

Providers of essential services like the National Water and Sewerage Corporation (NWSC) and Umeme Limited (the primary electricity distributor) are also notorious for their poor customer service. Issues such as unexplained water shortages, prolonged power outages, and erroneous billing are common.

Customers often report that complaints and service requests go unresolved for extended periods. “We experienced a week-long power outage in our neighborhood, and despite numerous calls and visits to Umeme offices, the response was slow and unhelpful,” complained one resident.

The economic impact

The repercussions of poor customer service extend beyond individual frustration. When businesses and government offices fail to provide efficient and respectful service, it stifles productivity and economic growth.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), which form the backbone of Uganda’s economy, suffer significantly from these inefficiencies. Delays in services such as obtaining business permits, securing loans, or resolving utility issues can cripple their operations and curtail growth.

Furthermore, the pervasive culture of poor service discourages foreign investment. Investors are less likely to commit to a market where bureaucratic hurdles and unresponsive service are the norms. This hesitancy can limit Uganda’s economic opportunities and hinder its integration into the global market.

Also Read: The struggle for good customer service in Uganda

Pathways to improvement

Training and development

Instituting comprehensive training programs for customer service representatives across all sectors is crucial. These programs should emphasize the importance of professionalism, empathy, and efficiency. Providing ongoing development opportunities can help maintain high standards and adapt to changing customer needs.

Accountability mechanisms

Establishing clear accountability frameworks can ensure that customer service failures are addressed promptly. Feedback systems, where customers can easily report poor service and receive follow-up, are essential. Institutions should also adopt performance metrics that prioritize customer satisfaction.

Leveraging technology

Utilizing technology can streamline many customer service processes. Online platforms for service delivery, real-time chat support, and automated systems for routine inquiries can significantly reduce wait times and improve service accessibility. Investing in these technologies can modernize customer interactions and enhance overall satisfaction.

Cultural shift

Perhaps most importantly, there needs to be a cultural shift within organizations towards valuing customer service. Leaders must model and reinforce the importance of treating customers with respect and urgency. Recognizing and rewarding excellent customer service can help foster a more positive and customer-centric culture.

The role of leadership

Strong and committed leadership is essential for driving the necessary changes in customer service culture. Leaders in both the private and public sectors must prioritize customer service as a core value of their operations.

By setting clear expectations, providing the necessary resources, and holding staff accountable, leaders can cultivate an environment where excellent customer service is the norm rather than the exception. As noted by a senior executive at a leading telecommunications firm, “Our success hinges on how well we treat our customers. It starts with leadership setting the tone and leading by example.”

Transforming customer service in Uganda is not just about improving interactions but is a strategic imperative for economic development. By addressing the current deficiencies through training, accountability, technology, and cultural change, Uganda can create a more conducive environment for business growth and societal well-being.

As the nation strives for greater economic stability and prosperity, elevating the standard of customer service will be a crucial step towards achieving these goals. Implementing these changes will not only enhance customer satisfaction but also position Uganda as a competitive player on the global stage.