A customer buys eggs in Osu, Ghana / Credit: Edmund Laryea, Dromo Tetteh


“As if you’re not even paying them!”

Asking for good customer care in Ghana usually leaves one up feeling like you’re 10 years old again, receiving a no-nonsense scolding from your grandmother or that you’re simply being a difficult customer who doesn’t know what you’re about. It should come as no surprise then that your reaction to flippant service would be the fact that you’re receiving no, or little value for your money.

You’re not alone. Most patrons in Ghana have learned to lower their expectations of good customer service and it is quickly becoming the worst best-kept secret of Ghanaian entrepreneurship.

In keeping up with another bad habit, many Ghanaian entrepreneurs assign blame in every direction but themselves. While it would be unfair to ignore the challenges entrepreneurs face in unfavorable economic conditions, circumstance should not be used as the tabletop on which to rest one’s feet.

Passion projects that become business enterprises either succeed or fail depending on how much time and effort is put into them. Several passion-projects-turned-businesses have a large potential market and prospects for operating highly rated businesses. In his book “Jump Ship: Turn Your Passion into a Profession”, Josh Shipp explores successful business as a balance between first doing what we love and then adding value to customers. The lack of the former impairs the efficiency of the latter, leading to a market that is choked with sub-standard services.

In Ghana, many businesses are opened with convenience and profit as the primary considerations, not interest or value addition, as Shipp posits. Even when customer satisfaction is considered, it is only regarded as a means of earning more profit. This profit-mindedness neglects other aspects of building a business that are equally important to the success of an enterprise, such as marketing, innovation and of course customer service.

Not sure you agree? The next time you’re out in town, count the number of hair salons you encounter and ask yourself what makes them differ from one another or what each could possibly offer. The answer would most likely lead you to questions on price and quality of service, depending on how good or bad their customer approach. Because the concepts of customer satisfaction and profit have largely been separate in the informal market, very few entrepreneurs actually subscribe to the saying that the customer is always right.

“To give real service you must add something which cannot be bought or measured with money, and that is sincerity and integrity”.

This quote by the president of The Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania hints at pride in good work done or adding value to customer services and hence the nation at large. Lately, the trend is to give the semblance of sincerity while manipulating prices. A customer only warrants good customer service (sometimes veiled as VIP service) if he or she looks wealthy or foreign. Favored for the sake of making good impressions, these two groups are generally perceived to be ignorant of market prices and thus more likely to settle for any price without proper bargaining.

As if this isn’t bad enough, there are those entrepreneurs who are simply not bothered with customer relations; to say this is true of most convenience stores, street vendors, and public transport operators would not be an exaggeration. Large companies with high standards to uphold have gradually become more negligent of customer service, due to the security they get from regular patronage of their products and services.

In Ghana, mobile network providers are particularly guilty of flippantly dismissing customer concerns. The idea of calling any network to make a complaint has become a joke, and the hassle, poor service and extra costs involved only worsen the predicament.

There is also the matter of poor government services which is so entrenched in our society that discussing it bores most people. In fact, government services in areas like health care and education tend to be left off the list when considering quality service. There seems to be a silent agreement between service providers and customers that the customer will have to settle for mediocrity until there is demand for better service. It is easy to see how this problem has progressed over the years, given the level of ignorance and complacency that permeates the echelons of our society.

While this debate about difficult relations between service providers and customers may not be singular to Ghana, it is taking on a life of its own in a country where lackadaisical work ethic is accepted and so well-seated in our minds that the few who question this behaviour are regarded as troublemakers. As if this is not bad enough, the idea of compensation or reimbursement for the delivery of poor services is yet to take hold in the majority of Ghanaian enterprises.

Allowing such attitudes to fester in any developing nation, much more one that prides itself in hospitality, would not auger well. While we point fingers at foreign entities that are apparently out to get us, it would be wise to realize that under the “right” circumstances, we as a people are more likely to self-sabotage our development before any foreigners do.

Written by Germaine Bombande.