Customer no longer ‘king’

Bernard Mpofu/Jesilyn Dendere



DID anyone ever imagine being asked to bring a coat hanger to the dry cleaner’s shop or container to the grocery shop for milk or coo

king oil purchases? It’s happening here and a lot of other things too.


Expecting mothers should bring their own water for sanitary purposes in buckets when they go to give birth at rural health centres. That is not all. Patients at public hospitals are being asked to bring drips, surgical gloves, dressing and syringes.


Coupled with this egregiousness, many service providers have now permanently forgotten the courtesy of saying thanks to clients or apologising for delays. The customer is no longer king. It is the simple shopkeeper, petrol attendant or security guard who has become a god.


There is correlation between the deterioration in service delivery and the current decay in this economy. In an environment of shortages, those providing a service or selling goods which are scarce have developed a measure of arrogance that has resonated in all sectors of the economy.

We have witnessed waiters harassing diners complaining about bad food or delays in service. It’s take it or leave it, or worse still, get out of here! Customers are now expected to be grateful to shop attendants or a security guard who wield the power to ensuring food on one’s table or inflicting the pain of a breadless breakfast. It’s the client who now has to bow, curtsy, smile and say thank you to the shopkeeper.


For an ordinary Zimbabwean, 2007 will go down as the year that saw a relentless erosion of basic customer service delivery in virtually all business sectors.


Tales of meanness, shortchanging customers and the unfriendly attitude from shop assistants have not only become a reflection of the country’s ailing economy in its eighth year of crisis but also a seemingly popular culture that has relegated shoppers to mere beggars.


There was no explanation or apology when supermarkets withdrew complimentary plastic carrier bags from supermarkets. Not to be outdone, hoteliers have joined the trail, with latest observation showing that most of them are charging accommodation and breakfast separately ahead of the Christmas holidays.


“We have resolved to this new pricing model as a way of matching our rates with the prevailing economic environment,” said an employee with a city hotel. “As you know, our pricing system has been curtailed by authorities and this makes it increasingly difficult for us to offer these additional services at no cost.”


“Zimbabwe Tourism Authority should shift from its marketing strategy characterised by a plethora of events that are marked with pomp and fanfare and evaluate critical issues of service delivery offered by its members”, said one tourism player.


“Frequent power cuts are adversely reflecting an unreceptive ambience at most hotels and lodges in Masvingo and Manicaland and if this goes uncorrected we will suffer. No tourist would want to part with money for a blacked-out hotel that has no television or air conditioner,” he said.


Fast food outlets have also become part of service delivery short-changers. The month of November saw several pizza outlets changing their packaging to unattractive polythene bags from traditional packaging boxes. Opaque beer drinkers have not been spared from this culture of disservice as seen by most beer outlets around the country requesting patrons to bring empty containers in different forms and shapes.


Despite hygienic shortcomings posed by these operational changes, consumer watch groups are merely calling for consumers to “report such anomalies”.


Providers of key amenities, especially quasi-government organisations including power utility Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority has become so desperate that it asks residents to raise money to buy spare parts and components for broken down equipment.


“Recently we were asked to contribute a $1 million towards purchasing a fuse and transformer oil when an electrical fault developed on our power grid,” said Brighton Kwanisai of Chizhanje area in Mabvuku.


On the other hand the lethargic culture of the police has reportedly seen police acting swiftly to emergency cases only when guaranteed of smooth logistical plans by those reporting the cases. This lack of swiftness has also brought horrific experiences that have become typical of the appalling conditions that continue to deteriorate unabated.


“It was so traumatising to share a house with a decomposing body that had been left for days because police did not have transport to carry the body to the nearest mortuary. Well-wishers had to assist in carrying the corpse and washing powder was used to get rid of the pungent smell”, said a resident of Makomo area in Epworth.


Walking into an up-market apparel shop a notice that reads: “We regret that from October 8 we are no longer able to offer credit” welcomes you. Interestingly, glued next to this notice is another that seems reminiscent of the June price blitz. “No bulk purchases permitted,” it reads.


This has become the trend with most clothing stores that are traditionally known for their credit facilities. For them, suspending this universally applied way of selling is only a ripple effect of the prolonged cash crunch and inflationary pressures. Sadly for would-be buyers, the festive holidays will not be filled with customary merriness, as they will have to fork out several millions of dollars in cash to buy clothing outfits. It costs more than $55 million to purchase a formal shirt while ladies outfits cost around $40 million.


Responding to written questions relating to deteriorating standards, an official from the Consumer Council of Zimbabwe said the consumer watch group’s activities were geared towards monitoring retailers and bankers.


“CCZ officer Tawanda Danda said that the “free fall” on service delivery stemmed from the lack of human resources resulting from massive job cuts, poor business ethics and “profiteering”.


Efforts to get comment from Retailers Association of Zimbabwe president, Willard Zireva were fruitless.


Meanwhile, a leading chain store has suspended its annual promotion that had become synonymous with a surprise Christmas present for winners. Bon Marché has for the first time withdrawn the French Connection promotion in unclear reasons. However, inside sources say the move had been necessitated by the mid-year arbitrary price controls that almost paralysed the economy.

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