INTERVIEW: How Nigeria can use service excellence to turn its fortunes around — Tope Fasua

Tope Fasua

In this interview, Tope Fasua, founder, Institute for Service and Good Governance (ISEGG), speaks on the challenges of service delivery in the nation’s private and public sectors and how his organisation is addressing them.

PT: Please can you tell us about your NGO – the Institute for Service and Good Governance and what informs your social interventions and mandate?

Fasua: The Institute for Service Excellence and Good Governance is a private-sector run non-profit organization set up because of a gap that we noticed in our nation, and indeed many of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa. This is the problem of service delivery – manifested in haphazard, lackadaisical service rendering, non-payment of attention to details, nonchalance on the part of service providers, non-adherence to standards, and resulting in general underdevelopment.

We noticed that every country on earth where they lay claim to high levels of economic development, are countries where service excellence is embraced. We saw the link between service excellence and good governance, and decided to do something about it.

Rather than keep complaining, we wanted to see how we can contribute in our own ways towards the upliftment of our country and region. Our definition of good governance entails corporate and public governance. While corporate governance deals with how companies are ‘governed’, public governance is concerned with the public space. Most people agree that a lot more could be done in our public service today, whether at local, state or federal government level.

PT: What do you think are the crucial issues pertaining to service delivery in Nigeria?

Fasua: In the first place, it has to do with how we are sometimes; our cultures, the way we see life. The average African is respectful so you would expect that culture to carry through to the way we relate with each other in the service arena. Somehow, this mutual respect breaks down and needs to be constantly rekindled when we get to the service field.

The private sector is ahead in service delivery all over the world because you have to be nice to people if you want to make money from them. But in many advanced countries, the public sector is now following closely and has learnt to sit up. As a matter of fact, in every developed and emerging economy, they have learnt to be even more careful when dealing with public money; even more careful than the private sector guys.

However in Nigeria, both the private and public sector find it tough to stay on the ball for long. We have seen instances where airlines delay passengers for hours and cancel flights without as much as an apology. We have instances where banks slam series of unexplained charges on customers in a bid to maximize profits. The public sector is a dismal, most people will agree. People don’t even bother to show up at work, and when they do, they don’t believe they should really try and get some work done.

Thankfully under the “change” regime things are getting better but files can still go missing because someone wants to extract a rent and so on. That is where the link between service excellence and good governance appears. The better the service, the lesser the probability for corruption! They go in opposite directions. If there is no intention to be corrupt, service is likely to be very excellent. Anyway, the bad news aside, we are here to ensure everyone sits up and does the right thing. Our initiative will one day be adopted by the Federal Government because change is equal to service excellence and good governance.

PT: Are you essentially concerned with service delivery in the private sector or this extends to the public sector?

Fasua: Both, even though we want to really make a difference in the public sector because the public sector in Nigeria is pretty large. The private sector in Nigeria waits for the public sector to start spending yearly before they start to tick.

Therefore, as much as we want to reduce the influence of the public sector on public life, that sector will always be formidable. They had brought up several initiatives in the past – like the SERVICOM – and have achieved considerable success in their attempts too, but they still need help. SERVICOM (Service Compact) is an idea supported by the DfID I suppose. It had more impact in the Obasanjo days. We hope the new administration of President Buhari equally adopts it because it is really a great idea.

You see, service excellence is not a destination but a journey. Even in the developed countries that we are talking about we still see painful service failures. We still see people working in private sector flipping sometimes and cursing out customers. We see candid cameras where restaurants abroad serve food they pack from the floor or where waiters spit on food and then serve to hapless customers. Everything happens in this world.

The fact that someone installed the cameras that show these anomalies means they understand that if they don’t keep a tab on it service will slip and fall. So, we are here for the public and private sectors… and even NGOs like us. No one is beyond our purview.

PT: Would you consider that Nigerians are satisfied with the present level of public service delivery in the country across sectors?

Fasua: Not a chance. As a matter of fact, we are presently conducting an extended survey of service delivery in Nigeria at http://isegg.org/?q=service-excellence-survey and for the first time we included some public sector organizations in the mix. We aren’t pitching the public sector organizations against each other because many of them are differently structured and perform different services. Well, most of them are rated around 10% – 15% by respondents thus far.

The survey is quite exciting because some of the public sector organizations which have tried to reform their service delivery in recent times were acknowledged by those who have taken the survey. I will not mention the names of any of these agencies. Just click on the link and take the survey – takes one minute – and view the results thus far yourself. We also have paper versions of the survey which we are giving people because we need to get a large sample and not everyone is IT savvy. We are rating fast food companies, phone companies, internet service providers, TV and Radio stations and so on. Our intention is that service providers should sit up. We all deserve good things and Nigerians often insist on very high standards. I think things break down when it comes to our turn to perform service. We should learn to give unto others what we demand ourselves.

PT: What value is ISEGG bringing to the public service delivery space?

Fasua: We want to be the go-to organization when it comes to how our people understand service delivery and service excellence. Note that we are not another institute of customer service. We have a number of those doing very well but mainly focused on the private sector – helping banks and telecoms to train their frontline, customer-facing staff.

Meanwhile, a lot of the service failures don’t emanate from the level of the frontline staff. There are these five measures of service excellence – people, policy, processes, premises, and ultimately, product. A lot of organizations don’t care about their people. Their people are not empowered, often maltreated, and made to feel hopeless, traumatized, underpaid or owed salaries for no just reason at all. Then they expect those used and abused young people to treat customers well? That is often a policy issue. Some organisations enact policies that frustrate their customers by instituting onerous processes that customers have to wade through. Imagine passing through ten desks to get a single thing done! Imagine a loan request that takes six months in a bank! These are some of the things we teach at ISEGG. If you went on our website, you will see even free exercises that you can use to test your service excellence-readiness, or even rate your organization as to how well it is doing in this area.

We certify our members after structured training. We have started with one week courses in different service excellence capabilities. In a short while we shall have things structured so that we can certify those who go through structured modules as ‘Service Excellence Experts’. Imagine, if someone goes around with such a certification, such a person has set themselves up to be taken seriously. They had better never drop the ball or be seen in any unsavoury service failure positions. Imagine if almost every Nigerian youth and worker could obtain such certification at different levels, that will tell the world that Nigeria and indeed our larger constituency (sub-Saharan Africa) is ready for business. Mind you, our last rebased GDP figures show that service now occupies 52% of our productivity. And it is like that all over the world.

Manufacturing is now better handled by machines and robots, which are more precise. But, humans can provide personalized service much better. We must therefore do a lot better in that area otherwise other countries will take this advantage – and the attendant cash flow – from us.

So we are poised to award our Associateship and Fellowship to deserving members (one has to join first), who have fulfilled certain criteria, including having passed some exams. It is a gradual process. In due course we shall be facing the Senate to have a law passed granting a charter (or state sponsorship) to this idea. Of course the Senate will want to know what we have achieved. So this is crunch time. We are working hard and moving very fast.

PT: How do you relate to issues of consumer rights and the need to protect these rights within the Nigerian service space?

Fasua: We have the Consumer Protection Council – a government agency – which is charged with advocating for consumers whenever there is a service failure, or breach of rights. We are sure that they are up to their eyes in complaints and we have seen some of their work in the public space. Certainly, consumer rights must constantly be protected. We live in an ultra capitalist society where people try to take advantage of one another – unfortunately. So, eternal vigilance is the word. We cannot do enough of that.

The Central Bank of Nigeria, a few years ago, had to create a department to advocate on behalf of bank customers. Reports have it that that department managed to wring over N6billion out of the banks on behalf of customers last year. That is money that would have been written to swell bank profits and shared by their top shareholders if it is not simply shared by the top dogs in the banks.

The telecoms sector is where a lot of cheating takes place too. The Nigerian Communications Commission is on that case but the tricks continue. One particular telecoms provider recently devised a trick of extracting money from people’s accounts. You have a singular pop up message after your drop a call. You will think it was just telling you your remaining balance and click ok. But if you were in a hurry and didn’t read well, you will not see where towards the end the message asks you to buy browsing airtime for N2,000 by clicking OK. You click and N2,000 disappears from your balance (even though you can browse with it; that is if you can browse).

Most people cannot be checking their balances every second. In fact no one can do it. If any telecoms firm decides to take N10 from everyone’s account in the middle of the night how is anyone to know? So, eternal vigilance in this area is key.

PT: How do you set about achieving your goals? I’ve seen a few samples of the survey you shared out on social media, are there other tools you use in measuring public service delivery?

Fasua: The survey is only one aspect. The survey will be publicized in the newspapers when we are done. Again, it is not only online; there are physical copies where we are getting far more responses than online. We want a large sample so that we can have credible results. It hasn’t been easy getting Nigerians to do the survey. Someone said we should start offering incentives but we believe that will taint the results. We have decided to go it organically. That survey samples opinions about which fast food provider, which radio station, TV station, public sector organization, blog and others are doing well in terms of service. Again, service excellence is a journey, so we don’t expect the survey to be perfect. It will be perfected only as we go along. Perhaps the most important message in this quest for service excellence is that organisations and individuals need to start from somewhere. There should be enough of sitting on our hands and complaining about how service is bad in every area in Nigeria and elsewhere. We are doing our bit.

Other areas we are intervening include the mass education, the free seminars we are organizing from time to time, the membership drive we have embarked upon, the free newsletters we shall be doing and distributing at public spaces, especially public sector organisations, among others. The work never ends.

PT: Do you have any public policy interface with government, or how do you expect your work to feed into issues of public service policy, reforms and change in Nigerian society?

Fasua: Our engagement with government is developing gradually. We have approached SERVICOM and intimated them of what we do. I must say that SERVICOM is a bit rested for now and we advocate that government must please do something about that. We know they have a SERVICOM Institute which will compete with us for cash flows but we don’t mind. A good idea should always be sustained no matter the politics. We however work with all nodal officers for SERVICOM in all ministries, agencies and parastatals, as many as have received our brochures and responded to our initiatives.

We are on course to having meetings with top government officials in this area. I was with the DG, Bureau for Public Sector Reforms some weeks ago. He is a man who understands what the issues are and is very much in tandem with our work. We intend to formalize such relationships. We are seeking audience with the Head of Service of the Federation and the Vice President and even the President. There is no way #CHANGE can be achieved except service delivery changes and service excellence is embraced.

We have seen a lot of responses thus far from institutions like the Nigerian Police, Nigerian Postal Service, Raw Materials Research, Nigerian Communications Satellite, Transmission Company of Nigeria, Nigerian Pensions Commission, Petroleum Technology Development Fund, Petroleum Equalisation Fund, and have received moral support from the Consumer Protection Department of the Central Bank of Nigeria. We are trudging on.

We believe that gradually we can work together with these institutions and cause a profound change in service delivery in Nigeria. Ultimately, there is a way that a changed orientation towards service also causes us to see life differently in this country. It is all about standards. It is all about attention to details, about fairness. It is all about being at par with the foreign countries that we love to go to. It is all about economics, because when we provide great service, we will sit in our country and make the most of what we have. The possibilities are limitless.

Let me not forget to say that most of our members come from the private sector and we are working with the banks, telecoms operators and sundry companies to help disseminate the ideals of service excellence. The journey has begun.

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