When the Uber driver arrived at my pick point this afternoon, I had not finished eating the packet of crisps I had just bought. His greeting was not the standard hello or how are you, or good afternoon. No. The first thing he said to me was … “Ni vizuri sana umbeba chakula, si uinpatie tukule na wewe”… “Great that you have carried some food, you can give me some we eat with you”

And no, this was not said in jest, he was very serious. He really did expect me to share with him my food. And whereas we are all hungry at some point during the day and sharing is caring, it makes for a very uncomfortable situation to be asked for the food you are eating by a service provider. Do you sit in front next to him and share the food and if so, how exactly is a bag of crisps shared? Do you put it in the middle of the two seats and everyone picks some?

It is actually quite invasive to ask someone for their food methinks? One you do not quite know them and two, sharing food is such an intimate act isn’t it? And three – you may not know how hungry the person actually is, and what their circumstance around that food is in terms of sufficiency and next meal.

That all said – the subject at hand is not the request for food, but rather the divergence in standards from when Uber landed in this country to what it is now. Gone are the days the Uber driver would on customer entry into the vehicle ask : if you would like to have the air conditioning on or off; if you would like to have the radio on or off and if affirmative, what one’s radio station of choice was; if one had tied their seat belt to ensure safety during the ride; if there was a preferred route that the customer would like to use to the destination; and at the very very beginning, if the customer would like drinking water or a mint. Ohh….those were indeed the days when customer comfort was the order of the day, and the center of focus at Uber. The million dollar question therefore is – What Changed?

What currently plagues Uber in this country – diagnosed by customers as a complete dilution of their original promise of professional, courteous and efficient service – is not unique to them. Organisations that transition from start-ups to mid-sized businesses and onward to full corporates, are often accused of ‘forgetting’ where they have come from and those that have built the business to what it is today. The root cause of this lapse, just as with every customer experience challenge faced, lies squarely in that very emotive subject called ‘people’.

Unless a specific focus is placed on enhancing customer loyalty, those that were initially impressed by the service and marketed it by word of mouth, may very well convert into brand damagers given their hurt and disappointment. Businesses need to be purposeful about protecting themselves from slipping, and getting overwhelmed by the new business that their very business has generated in the first place. A decline in customer service standards must be avoided when growth comes knocking.

In the wise words of Ash Brown from Amazon – A Strong Business Is Only As Good As Its People. A sustained culture of service excellence does not happen by mistake, but is deliberately cultivated and maintained. The amount of focus on the internal customer with continuous, training and retraining, and incentives for winning behaviour must be ingrained. And in the very same breath, there must be zero tolerance for poor service delivery to act as a deterrent. This will enable the desired standards and work ethic be upheld and leadership must take charge to ensure this takes shape.

The need to not compromise on service standards may mean slower growth

in the immediate term as strategies implemented for seamless transition, but will translate to longer term sustained business. The common pitfall of rapid expansion without a robust and dynamic customer service strategy, will not be a problem if this slow but sure route is engaged. And whilst it is acknowledged that with expansion comes challenges especially as the customer base grows significantly, the things that matter most to customers – including making them feel important and appreciated, rewarding loyalty, seeking feedback and responding to needs, do not change.

Every new employee onboarded as the business grows, should embrace this mantra and customers will stay. They will be forgiving of expansion hitches if only they are handled with courtesy, dignity and respect. Growth is great win, but sustainable growth is the greatest win of all time. Embrace it.