Internet economy – Led by Information Technology; Managed by Customer Service.

Guest post on Information Technology by Ifeanyi Amaeshi. Would you like to write for us and gain exposure? Hit the contact button right away!

Information TechnologyThe renowned global management consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group, asserts that (Information Technology) mobile devices, social networking, cloud computing, and other technologies are profoundly transforming the relationships between businesses and their customers.

How exactly are these true from the perspective of a Nigerian customer both locally and internationally?

Let me share some personal experiences with a view to evaluating the preparedness of Nigerian businesses for the emerging internet or digital economy via Information Technology.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve had the opportunity of interacting with a wide array of brands both locally and internationally. Recently, I had ordered a product from a UK company and paid online – thanks to the global acceptance of our local bank cards. Along the line, I realised I didn’t really need the item.

I sent them an email indicating my intention to cancel the purchase. In less than 2 hours, I got a reply that my card would be credited within the next 3 – 5 business days. Seven (7) business days later, I contacted them again to say my card hadn’t been credited and as usual within some hours, I was informed that I should follow up with my card issuer given that they credited back the sum within the time frame previously indicated.

True to their word, when I touched base with my financial institution here in Nigeria, they had received the funds. After series of communication, my card was credited with the exact sum I was debited. The power of technology and little wonder the Boston report showed that the internet contributes to 8.3% of the UK economy. While my experience might be insignificant, it supports the direction of the report and on face value lends credence to that finding.

It is also instructive to note that the UK digital or internet economy with a robust Information Technology is poised to grow to a total value of £221bn by 2016 – up from £121bn in 2010.

More traditional UK institutions like schools and government agencies have also embraced the internet economy. They are aggressively as efficient in this sphere as their private sector counterparts. I have also used these all the way from Nigeria in the recent past. My experience with them has been very pleasant.

For example, all you need do is pay the right amount shown against any document at the Companies House website and you would have it in minutes. If you run into any challenges, an email to them is replied same day – business days. Going by this, I suspect the almost 100% increase predicted will be surpassed. They understand the art of timely feedback which is the bedrock of customer service.

Information Technology in Nigeria

Now, let’s juxtapose these experiences with what is obtainable locally. Sometime in 2011, I had need to travel to one of the states in Nigeria and didn’t have any local contacts there. A quick search on google gave me a list of hotels available in the city of my choice. Luckily enough, about two of them had functional websites. I liked what I saw on the websites and was impressed that an hotel in such an area embraced information technology, so I decided to make a reservation.

The only means of making a reservation was via email. I did this the week preceding my travel date. That was the last contact I had with them. About 3 weeks after my return, I got a strange looking email advising me of the cost of the reservation. Anyway, that email ended up where it should – the trash. Also, that hotel lost an opportunity to do business with me and possible referrals.

Anyway, this happened almost a year now. So, they can be forgiven but to have a similar experience in this 2012 didn’t leave a pleasant feeling at all. And that is why, I am bringing this to the fore as a learning point for Nigerian businesses – especially SMEs.

What happened this time?

One of the Fast-food chains around advertised on their website that they were leasing out part of their real estate to other businesses/individuals. One of the advertised locations suited my need so I sent them an email for further details. After a few days without any feedback, I called up the number on the website. The recipient was kind enough to give me his official email address to forward my earlier email to. This I did while I was still on the phone with him. Well, I never received an acknowledgement. Again, the customer service part of me got a better hold of me despite the fact that I promised myself never to follow up on that request. I called him up again; he confirmed receipt and further informed that he has forwarded it to the appropriate quarter. Six (6) weeks down the line, I am still expecting to read from the appropriate quarter.

While, we will be quick to come to the defence of SMEs in that the adoption of Information Technology is a relatively new terrain for them, how does one explain such awkward service delivery from an airline?

I thought airlines have been at the forefront of technology adoption and cutting edge customer service delivery? In order to beat the Easter rush coupled with the harsh economic realities unleashed by the subsidy removal, I decided to purchase an early ticket to Enugu via the online platform of one of the airlines here. Two days later, I got an SMS notifying me that the flight has been cancelled due to reconstruction work at Enugu airport. Someone thinks that I was lucky to have been informed at all.

Perhaps, he thought I was fantasising too much to have expected them to at least shut down the Enugu booking on the online platform. I called up their Callcenter thinking that they could at reverse the debit since the trip was cancelled by them. The Customer Service Representative emphasised that I must come to the airport to get a refund. Isn’t technology an enabler of business any more? Or is our own information technology meant to work in one direction alone – debit automatically and not refund same way? Too much questions begging for an answer. Instinctively, I felt it would be good to document that. I sent them an email and followed up some days later with another. I am still expecting replies to both emails two weeks after.

We can go on and on. In summary, it appears Nigerian firms have negated Boston Consulting Group’s claims that (Information Technology) mobile devices, social networking, cloud computing, and other technologies are profoundly transforming the relationships between businesses and their customers. While the customers have been transformed, are more aware/enlightened, the businesses on the other hand, have refused to follow the trend.

This is a clarion call to Nigerian SMEs to revisit their customer relationship strategies. The dividend of internet economy will not be achieved by mere web presence but by sustained and timely interaction with your customers.

I would love to hear your experiences related to different companies and their use of information technology. Kindly share them in the comment box below.

Creative commons image courtesy DBreg2007 and uwblearningtech

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Ifeanyi Amaeshi consults for Small Businesses in the broad areas of information technology, business process improvement and knowledge management. He can be reached at: ifeanyia@researchnigeria.net