Edifying Elucidations By Okey Ikechukwu. Email, email@example.com
The beauty of ‘corporate’ services is that it saves you time. It also gives you peace of mind, with the certainty that you are in good hands. You pay through your nose, of course, but the basic understanding behind your allowing yourself to be so thoroughly fleeced is that the service provider has impeccable integrity and does not cut corners. Competent staff, plus effective monitoring by qualified workshop managers and supervisors is all it takes. The supervisors or workshop managers see to it that all standards are met. The concern about standards is particularly important for organisations and individuals that want to spare themselves the inefficiencies associated with the average, everyday service provider.
For instance, a car owner who is told that his car has just returned from GM Motors in America, where it was sent for servicing, will most probably say to himself, “it’s as good as new”. He will enter the car, shut the door and drive off full of confidence. His confidence rests on the assumption that the company has used the original spares to replace any old parts needing replacement; and also serviced all components that could do with a little fine-tuning. But what if the auto firm did nothing of the sort? What if all they did was clean his plugs and valves, change the oil with a not-so-high-grade oil; and then replaced the old oil filter; instead of putting a new one? Of course nothing will go dramatically wrong with his car before the next service. But does this remove the fact that the man has been swindled?
The above scenario is a hypothetical situation, of course, but it is a reality for many people who send their vehicles for service in many apparently reputable auto companies here. This became a matter of interest when, in 2004, a friend was advised by the staff of an auto firm who had brought his car for service to withdraw the vehicle from their office and have a private arrangement that would cost him less. He explored the experiment and we quickly developed interest in ascertaining to what extent employees of reputable firms undermine their brands. Also because of a programme we attended in South Africa on service delivery at the time, it was expedient to maximise whatever lessons the experiment would offer. In the instant case, the man involved spent less than 30% of what he would have paid to the company, but he also would have been saddled with a used brake pad if he had not insisted on seeing it before installation. It was the undue haste and the air of concealment when they were about to replace the pads that caught his attention. Needless to say that he later alerted the company.
Meanwhile, many people simply hand over their cars to these characters and collect them back with gratitude and a tip, believing that all is always well. In strict terms yes, but the losses could be monumental in terms of greater harm to very expensive cars and loss of life on account of the “benefactor’s” dishonesty. Someone who would swindle his employers on your behalf and on behalf of hundreds of other strangers (and to his personal benefit) is not doing you a favour. He is using all of you to increase his takings at everyone’s expense. This experiment with a staff member of the car firm that supplied some of the vehicles used during the COJA games was more than sobering. It was repeated and yielded even more scandalous results with a car firm near the National Hospital, among several others. The other concern arising from this is whether the supervisors were involved.
But the experiment was interrupted by another unsettling discovery. An innocuous incident was all that it took. We stopped to buy some snacks and drinks for a team of consultants at a popular eatery and drove off to a meeting. We realised some 35 minutes later, and that was at the venue of the meeting, that we forgot the drinks we paid for. Drinks were picked up and the meeting went on. The decision to drive through the eatery again and buy something for our respective children threw up new realities.
First the young lady who sold the snacks and drinks to us denied ever having seen us earlier, even as her colleague repeatedly whispered to her to tell the truth. The bold dishonesty of the girl (complete with finger pointing) offended a member of our team so much that he insisted on seeing the supervisor. When the girl screamed that we should produce our receipt, the supervisor politely took over. He wrote down what was bought, including the drinks, which were not collected, and came up with a figure totally at variance with what we paid. He used the approximate time of our transaction to check the system, the young lady was searched and they found more money than she could have possibly brought to work.
We left the place badly shaken, but with the nagging suspicion that the practice may be widespread. This was soon confirmed, over and over again in all the popular eateries. Because over 90 per cent of the customers pay without collecting the receipts, or even bothering to look at it, an industry came into being for the cashiers. People were sent who would buy something and then ask for the total and bring out money to pay. But any time they requested the receipt after the sum had been announced verbally, the cashier would fiddle around a bit and then announce with surprise that there was a slight error in the calculation. This much was confirmed after several months of the experiment: the front row staff in many eateries load the bills from between N100 and N900, depending on the volume of your purchase and how you look.
It was only in one case, in Wuse 2, Abuja, that the supervisor was the active and sole beneficiary of the scam. He programmed the machines to top every bill and merely creamed off the known percentage from daily takings. This time, the gentleman whose wife owned the place made purchases, along with friends who always wondered why the eatery did not charge the displayed prices. The receipts, etc., were at hand when the police took over the matter. So, ask for your receipts, as we have since confirmed that some of the cashiers go home with over N20,000 every day. But back to car services!
The findings in regard to vehicle maintenance can be summed up as follows: car owners are routinely fleeced because they do not have the discipline to read the car service manual. Even the ‘friend’ asking you to meet him privately for cheaper service is worse than his employers. He knows you do not go anywhere in particular with your car, so he cleans it up a bit and brings it back as having been serviced. He will still collect about N2,500 or more for an oil filter that he bought for less than N700. We will arrange with your driver to have you pay for non-existent ‘steering bearings’ and weak brain box in a new car.
But, just for the records, that front brake pad that you are paying N45,00 for is actually available for less than half the amount; and we are talking about the original parts. You will pay for change of air filter and even A/C filter in reputable auto firms, when all they will do is bring it out and clean the old ones. The point here is that the retail market has caught unto the game of the auto firms and now stocks genuine parts for most vehicles at much lower prices. After one of our experimental potential customers got a bill of about N140,000 for car service, the team took time to procure the parts and the same service was carried out for N9,400. The front and back brake pads were put at N43,000 and N37,000, respectively. Both were bought for N17,000. That was in April. The spark plugs which were changed during the last service were scheduled to be changed again for N8,400. He did not touch them. Oh, by the way, there is a service charge of N9,000 as well.
These are hard times. They are also dangerous times, especially for various businesses. The auto dealers have a very small market. Besides the Federal and state governments, only high profile corporate organisations actually patronise them. They have very low sales figures, very low turnover, etc. So it is only from after sales service that they can keep themselves going. But they carry it too far. Apparently thorough supervision inside the workshop (which customers cannot enter) is rarely done in some firms. For instance, there was an auto firm that had no oil filter for three weeks for a particular brand of vehicle, for which it was the sole marketer. But it was still servicing that very brand and charging customers for oil filter, but replacing the old one after it’s been rinsed with petroleum products.
Corporate services? Tell me another! Do the firms train their people on ‘corporate, or organisational culture? The two losers here, by the way, are the company owners and the customers.