Do You Want Fries With That?

Customer service in Ghana, in my experience, doesn’t exist. Last week was one big example of that.

I had dropped off some cloth at my usually very quick tailor two and a half weeks prior. In those two and a half weeks, I’d returned to the tailor at a cost of one cedi per trip four times. The first two times, Master Aziz wasn’t there. Finally, at visit numero trois, he decided to make an appearance. Imagine that: a business owner actually at his business during regularly-accepted business hours! He told me that some finishing touches had to be done, but that the shirt would be complete the following day. At this point, it had been a full two weeks since I had dropped off the cloth; I was so tired of being exasperated that I decided to just be happy that my garment would be done in one small sleep.

I returned the next day to find that (surprise, surprise) Master Aziz wasn’t there. His army of apprentices couldn’t do the shirt, either, because it was somehow complicated. They told me to come back after I was done work. I returned after work to find them lazing about under a tree near the shop. One of them—their ringleader, I’m guessing—told me that they had lights out during the afternoon. Cue rage.

“Did you have lights out for the past two weeks?” I asked angrily, “show me the shirt.” In that instant I had decided to take the unfinished shirt to a tailor who could get the job done. The apprentice pulled out a rolled-up bunch of cut cloth that clearly wasn’t even close to requiring “finishing touches”.

A tug-of-war, some yelling, accusations of thievery, and a hasty phone call to Aziz ensued. I’ll spare you the details, but suffice to say that I didn’t get my cloth that day. I’m not proud of my actions, but, you know, hindsight is 20/20 and all that. Not even FanMilk could quench my burning fury so I returned to Sagnarigu in a state of frustration.

This was not the best state for me to be in when I arrived. You see, I was to meet another tailor in my village at a specific time at his shop to drop off cloth for something even more complicated. Naturally, he wasn’t there. When I asked his apprentices where he was, they could give me no further insight about his whereabouts. Great.

I got his senior apprentice to call the tailor. “He’s coming,” the apprentice told me. We waited about twenty minutes for the guy to arrive and when he did, he sat down to eat his dinner before serving me. At this point, I had already been broken, so his blatant disregard for his customers really didn’t bother me.

The next day, I went back to Aziz’s shop. The shirt was ready, but the Master wouldn’t give it to me until I paid. What a tricksy guy. Then he charged me eighteen cedis for it! That’s right, after two and a half weeks, six trips to and from town, and one night of holding my cloth hostage, the guy still had the balls to rip me off. I got a consolation prize, though: he assured me that the next one would be free.

In an attempt to salvage my emotional response, I looked at the situation economically. I’d be paying eighteen cedis for two shirts, or nine cedis per shirt. That’s one cedi less per shirt than what I’d pay for his usual services and the one he had just completed for me was very complicated. I hadn’t really wasted any of the trips to town because I ran other errands while I was there. All-in-all, the whole thing was manageable. So, I paid him to avoid confrontation.

The next day was Friday, or Milo and Masa Day as I like to call it. Milo is an amazing nectar made with malt, chocolate, artificial colouring(s), and artificial thickeners. Imagine hot chocolate, but with a thick, caramel flavour. It’s friggin’ awesome. Masa are basically these wonderful, little timbits made with maize flour and sugar then fried in shea butter. Apparently they represent little prayers. Because Friday is the holy day in Islam, my host grandmother makes masa for the children and I always buy some from her for breakfast and pair them with Milo prepared by my egg and bread lady.

On that day, I waited fifteen minutes for my Milo. Fifteen minutes for hot chocolate!? I grabbed my packet of Milo and tried to leave. Another tug-of-war, many quick apologies, and rapid Milo preparation ensued. With my bag of hot liquid in hand, I turned to leave without paying. She made a typical Ghanaian hissing sound to get my attention. Oh no you din’nt, I thought. There was no way I’d pay for hot chocolate that was, in my opinion, fourteen minutes late. I turned around, ready to argue with her.

“Nawuna lab sona,” she said with a smile. That means “may God grant you a safe return” in Dagbani and is a suitable way to bid someone adieu if they are on their way somewhere.

Okay, so there’s at least one person in the country who cares about customer service.

-C

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4 responses to “Do You Want Fries With That?

  1. Great post, Chris! I’ve heard before that customer service is not ideal in Ghana, but thanks for putting a great picture/story into it! I hope you do get you’re clothe soon! and I agree! 14 minutes to wait for a hot chocolate? really? I wonder now how people have the patients to wait and buy stuff in Ghana? What about the return rates of customers if there customer service is so low? do a lot people go back because it is cheap or?
    Hope you are well! Enjoy the rest of you’re stay in Ghana 🙂
    Min

    • Thanks for the comment, Min.
      I think that the whole “Ghana Time” phenomenon, where nobody really has to be on time for anything means that wait times for services are kind of a non-factor. If it takes 15 minutes to get a hot chocolate, then you’ll just be 14 minutes late for whatever your next thing is. On the one hand that’s very freeing, because it gives time the true significance that it often has: not a lot. However, on the other, it is very frustrating to come from a country where everyone is time-obsessed (apparently Canadians are particularly so) to one where they’re time-apathetic. I think that return rates are also a non-factor for most vendors because they have trouble keeping track of these things, either by remembering a face, since they see so many people each day, or with data, because they lack the skills and/or materials required to keep good records. Beyond that, even if the same person doesn’t come back, it’s likely that somebody will. When I threatened my tailor with never coming back, he was completely unfazed and told me that it would be my choice.
      It’s really interesting to go beyond just the awful customer service when you realize that that is just one aspect of the bigger phenomenon of a completely different context in which businesses in Ghana run. The customer base is just different from the customer base in Canada in many ways and I don’t think best business practices in Canada would work here at all.

  2. Is, like, access to time-telling machines an issue at all in your parts? Like, maybe that technology has only been around for one generation or something.

    Oh, also your blog is still the best, Christian.

    • What a great question! And one that I would never have thought of asking myself. My egg and bread lady certainly doesn’t have a watch. That’s not to say that watches don’t exist, but access to a time-telling device could certainly be limited by a lack of financial resources, especially when you consider that time is of very little value in Ghana. If there’s no drive to get a time-telling device, then why waste the money?
      Thanks for the feedback! I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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