By Elizabeth Ohene
Last week I offered this column space to my daughter, Abyna Ansaa Adjei, whom I shared with my late friend, Goody, to tell her British Airways story.
I felt the story needed to be told and I was really happy about the enthusiastic reception the article got. The surprise was that so many of us Ghanaian British Airways passengers had tolerated the bad customer service and disrespect for so long and without complaining.
One hopes the airline gets the message loud and clear and mends its ways.
This week, I am telling the story of a satisfied customer right here at home in Ghana. The joy is that the source of the good service is not the private sector as one would suspect, but the public sector.
But before I get into it, I have to declare an interest. The story I am about to narrate is about the Social Security and National Insurance Trust (SSNIT) and since August last year, I have been serving as the Chair of the Board of Trustees of SSNIT, so I am not a disinterested person.
Since I took up that position, I have been debating with myself how much of my SSNIT experience I can legitimately talk about publicly without falling foul of the oath of secrecy that I swore at the swearing-in ceremony.
I have thought long and hard about whether I could tell a SSNIT story, even a harmless one as what I am embarking upon in these columns without being conflicted.
I am taking a chance on going public with this story for three reasons. Some things are working in this country and shining through the gloom. In much the same way as I do not support people suffering in silence, the successes must also be celebrated.
The third reason is personal; I want to say a public thank you to a couple.
So here goes. Last week, the Director-General of SSNIT received a letter from a couple in Accra, Mr Samir and Mrs Doris Mouhtiseb. Mr Mouhtiseb said he was writing to express his and his wife’s profound appreciation for services they received at the Kaneshie Awudome branch of SSNIT.
Mr Mouhtiseb wrote that he and his wife went to the SSNIT office to follow up on her pension documents and “contrary to the many horrifying stories that abound in this country about horrible customer services, we want to make special reference to two young ladies who served us, were excellent and beyond par and extremely courteous.
“The two young ladies gave us the kind of royal treatment which we have never encountered in this country and for once, we felt very proud and honoured to be Ghanaians”.
Mr Mouhtiseb wrote and his letter is countersigned by his wife: “With the full support of my wife, I am bringing this experience to you to know that you are doing a very good job by keeping very high standards in a public institution in Ghana. Please keep it up and ensure that everyone who visits your department is made to feel as proud and as satisfied as we have been made to feel.”
I would say this is as good a testimonial as anyone running an institution can expect to get from members of the public.
Under normal circumstances, when a member of the public goes to an office that exists to serve the public, it should not be news that you are treated with courtesy and competence and dignity. That is what they are there for; that is what they are paid to do.
In a SSNIT office which deals with pensioners, it should be the norm, but unfortunately, we have become accustomed to expecting to be treated with disrespect when we require a service.
Or, to borrow the language of Mr Mouhtiseb, our country is full of horrifying stories of horrible customer service.
I would like to think that even when there is general improvement and good customer service has become the norm as I am told can be found in SSNIT offices around the country, some people will always stand out like the two young ladies in the Kaneshie office who served the Mouhtisebs.
SSNIT now guarantees that pension claims are processed within 10 days. When the service falls below expectation, when it takes more than 10 days to process your pension or when an officer is rude and disrespectful, we shouldn’t accept it as how things are done in Ghana.
When we go to the Births and Deaths Registry to register a birth or a death, the officials there are not doing us a favour and they certainly shouldn’t be paid any money apart from the fee charged officially for the service.
When the service improves, we should say so.
By highlighting this letter from the Mouhtisebs, I am not trying to put the two SSNIT officials in the same category as the honest taxi driver who returned money left in his cab and became a national hero.
I found that incident a touch embarrassing because it came across as though we all felt the taxi driver had done something extraordinary and totally unexpected and maybe, even un-Ghanaian.
The point here is that the two young ladies in the SSNIT office did what was expected but they went out of their way and gave something extra. When that happens, we must recognise and celebrate it in the hope other people will be encouraged to behave in a similar manner and improve our customer services generally.
I am deliberately keeping out the names of the two young ladies because I haven’t got their permission to publicise their names and possibly bring complications into their hitherto quiet lives, but I am certain the SSNIT management will do the needful and show appreciation for bringing such satisfaction to the public they seek to serve.
I also want to say thank you to the Mouhtisebs for taking the trouble to write to SSNIT to acknowledge their satisfaction with the service they received.
I have no doubt that there are lots of other people who have received similar exemplary service but did not think they should go to the trouble of telling anyone about it.
After all, that is what is expected and what members of the public deserve. But just as the two young ladies at the Kaneshie office went out of their way and added something extra, the Mouhtisebs have also gone out of their way and added something extra.
Again, to borrow their language, if the service they received made them feel proud and honoured to be Ghanaians, their letter makes me and I hope the SSNIT management, also feel proud and honoured to be Ghanaians.
Last week in this column we were reading about how a once favourite airline had lost its attraction. It reminded me of the early years of the now defunct Ghana Airways, which had an advert that used to say their service made you feel 10-feet tall. I feel near that today.