As a Tanzanian living in the diaspora, I am a champion of almost all things African. I find myself being defensive at times when non-Tanzanians criticise my beautiful, vibrant and resilient country. I am one of its loudest cheerleaders. We may not be Africa’s most developed economy, but we have countless hidden gems that make ours a land of opportunity.

So it’s not easy to sit here to berate my country-people for their chronic disregard for customer service. It is my pet peeve, and it is after incidents like the one I am about to relate that I sigh with relief for having the option of getting on a plane and heading “west”.

Earlier this year, my family, siblings and their children booked a mini-safari to Mikumi, near Dar es Salaam.  We were forced to postpone the trip due to “unforeseeable” technical issues with a tour operator’s vehicle. Our tour operator offered us a 15% discount for the inconvenience. I took it as a decent show of good faith. On the day we left for the safari, the business owner herself (Ms L) came to ensure that all was set and bid us farewell. As we left, she promised that she would process the refund that day.

Off we went, to heed the call of the wild. The safari was incredible. It was no Serengeti or Ngorongoro, but Nature was at her best, providing perfect Canon moments and quality family time.

Back in Dar a couple of days later, we sent a friendly reminder to Ms L about our refund. Ms L apologised for the delay – she had been ill. She said she would arrange it immediately.

Numerous follow-up reminders by email and SMS ensued.  After ranting to my husband for a couple of weeks, I let it go. TIA*, right? I had defended Ms L, reassuring my skeptical husband that she would keep her promise. I mean, why would she have bothered to say “it’s coming” when she could have just ignored us completely? (In hindsight, I think it was just another Tanzanian peculiarity of being reluctant to say no, and appearing rude.)

I really had let it go—until I received an email from my sister two weeks ago saying that she had bumped into Ms L at a fashion event on the weekend and Ms L had avoided her like the plague. My sister is more dignified than I am, and did not confront Ms L.  I decided to give Ms L one more chance. I sent her an email, not asking for the refund, but expressing my disappointment. No response.

sifa A_Long_Walk 4

Frustrated, I contacted a friend in the business to rant all over again. He was appalled and suggested I post a review on TripAdvisor. He actually knew of Ms L, and said he would ring her to shame her into a conscience. He apparently mentioned TripAdvisor in their conversation. And what do you know? A couple of hours later, I receive an email from Ms L with an apology: “I was overseas and had left instructions with my manager, who didn’t process the refund when I was away.” Sure you did.

Folks, the refund was paid, but that’s not the point.

Tourism is big business for Tanzania as more people are becoming aware of the country’s beauty, diversity and safety. What business owners and managers do not seem to appreciate is that it’s not just about booking the right table, safari or flight. If their business model is to churn through a stream of one-off customers, then maybe they’ll be okay. I understand how this might suit them fine; realistically, most foreigners make that once-in-a-lifetime trip to Africa. The likelihood of them being a repeat customer is probably negligible.

But it would really pay for tourism providers to up their service game for referrals. Tanzania has improved significantly when it comes to marketing businesses online. However, because it is relatively new on the international scene, there is still no greater marketing tool than word of mouth. People I know often approach me for recommendations when considering a trip to Africa. I eagerly share my positive experiences, but it’s sometimes done with trepidation, wondering if I just got lucky. Be it at a kiosk, restaurant or airport, great service should be a pleasant experience, not a surprise.

Ms L and her industry should bear in mind that nowadays even Tanzanians living in the country are exploring their backyards. There is greater potential for repeat customers right there. The upwardly mobile middle class is a small lot; everyone knows each other, and if they don’t, they are removed by no more than two degrees of separation.

Unfortunately, like so many service providers in our land, Ms L runs her business to her convenience. She sees little value in delivering customer satisfaction. If she achieves it, it’s merely coincidental. Quit acting like you are doing us all a favour! Foreigners know to demand better and Tanzanians are learning to ask for more, too. It’s time for our service providers to deliver more than the empty promises on their brochures, otherwise they will find that newcomers and locals alike will flock to businesses run by wazungu** who understand that that extra mile will go a long way to ensuring their business longevity.

* “This is Africa”

** Kiswahili word for white people.

About The Author

Sifa Mtango

Sifa is a Tanzanian nomad, who today calls Sydney, Australia home. A practising solicitor, Sifa has represented clients from various industries conducting legal disputes in New South Wales and the Federal Courts. Outside her day job, Sifa is passionate about international legal and social issues and as a student, she published articles on human rights topics. Today she continues to engage with community and professional groups on issues of significant social relevance, particularly concerning the African diaspora. As a mother of two, Sifa’s greatest joys are her family and friends. She enjoys music, theatre and reading – making time to indulge in these activities as often as the “real world” permits.

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