The General Manager, Customer Service/ SERVICOM at the Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Dr (Mrs) Ebele Okoye, who was recently celebrated by colleagues, friends and family at a surprise get-together for her 10 years as General Manager, and on her accomplishments as a PhD holder, Harvard, CSP (SPY POLICE), in this interview with JOHN OKOH, spoke on her journey so far in FAAN, high and low moments, achievements in the Department and proffers ways of making organisation to progress. Excerpts…
What can you tell us about your journey so far in FAAN?
I am, by my latest achievement, Dr Mrs Ebele Okoye. I have worked in FAAN for almost 33 years. It is a journey that has not been easy at all. I started here as a young graduate, and I rose through the ranks. I want to say that, in the past 10 years the experiences have been so interesting, interesting in the sense that, I was not only here doing FAAN work I was also improving myself educationally which really helped me a lot, in my career. The knowledge they say is power, I had the knowledge to be able to do a lot of things, no matter where I found myself.
Before I came into Customer Service, I was redeployed as Regional General Manager, South/Southeast, and Airport Manager in Port Harcourt. Earlier, I was the acting General Manager Budget, for two years at the retirement of my boss then. I did my best in that department, even though the budget department then was not at its best.
I realised that they were not handling the functions of the budget department from the proper perspective. So, I began to streamline things, first by conducting sensitization programmes for the various directorates and departments, thereby creating awareness on how to execute budgetary matters.
Of course, this created a lot of enemies for me but, this did not deter me. For me, one thing I know that cannot change is to change. so, I introduced the change needed to turn things around in the proper way even though it was resisted. In the budget, you cannot vote on an item that was not specified in the budget as at the time the budget was approved, except you do virement with approval.
However, when I came on board, we streamlined the functions of the budget department, which subsequently brought the subsequent budget of FAAN to the limelight both with submission to the National Assembly and the implementation of the approved budget by the FG in FAAN. With time, people began to adjust, and now Budget in FAAN is doing well.
From these performances, the then MD in his own words, said to me “you need to go to another department, you performed very well in this place, you have introduced what budget is in FAAN and people have learnt”.
That was how I left the Directorate of Finance and Budget to the Directorate of Operations and subsequently became the Regional Manager South, Southeast airports. I also doubled as the Airport Manager in Port Harcourt, with five other airports under my purview, with Port Harcourt being the regional Headquarters.
We had our monthly/quarterly meetings in the region. I must say, we worked as a team, and we were able to increase the revenue base of the region and even made the region popular than ever in history. I love all my Airport Managers then because they were committed and still committed, and you can see the Regional General Manager Sanni Mohamud in Abuja still carrying the flag.
What can you tell us about customer service in FAAN now?
Before I came to this department (Customer service) we have had like four general managers. The first was Adamu Abdullahi, then Alh Tanko Idris who handed the baton to Mrs Ajanaku and last but not least is Mr Odunlade.
Honestly, I tell you, I do not intend to castigate anyone, but when I resumed in this place, I had no File to work with, I had no office, I had no seat. However, the office and seat weren’t important to me, but I was interested in gaining knowledge and wanted to know what customer service is global.
So, I started by reading and doing lots of research. I do not understand what they were doing, but in a period of one month, I was able to organize a stakeholder meeting in MMIA Lagos. That stakeholder’s meeting was well attended by all stakeholders, and pertinent issues were resolved.
This Forum was what launched the department into the limelight. People began to ask, so you have something like customer service that we never knew. So, that was how we started the work in this place. I do a lot of research to find out what is trending globally because the airport is a global business. I was collaborating with the customer service in the US trying to find out and import whatever it is that would work in our kind of environment.
I am fulfilled today because Customer Service Department in FAAN has been transformed.
What would you say in the over ten years that you have been the GM of Customer service; what are those milestones that you have achieved?
We have achieved a lot. Like I earlier pointed out, we have created a lot of awareness within the staff and within the airports, to let people understand that the Customer is King and that if you do not have customers your business will die.
We have so much enjoyed a monopoly, but competitors are coming. Customers that paid money for services expect that the services will not be denied and par-adventure there is any challenge or service failure, it is your responsibility to correct it immediately and go ahead to apologize to the customer.
We have been to various airports with the approval of the management to sensitize the staff. Recently, we were at Ilorin and the airport staff confessed that it was the first time somebody is coming in to tell them about customer service and the lesson learnt changed their perspective about customers and their mindset. They are now ready to serve better.
We went to Maiduguri early this year, to sensitize the staff and make them understand the importance of the customer and the need to ensure that they enjoy the facilities/services they have paid for. We were still there when they started complying to the lessons learnt.
There are times where one has a lot of paperwork and you are not able to deliver as at due, this causes unnecessary delay, which is unacceptable anywhere, with this kind of challenge, try and find out why and look for ways to resolve it, even if it means getting to the office earlier than usual.
If you have a memo, by SERVICOM principles, it can only be in your office for 24 hours. But unfortunately, sometimes you see memos on people’s tables for one or two weeks or more in some instances. It is not done anywhere.
Again, there are issues that need escalation, if you are unable to solve a memo problem within the 24 hours as stipulated in the charter then let the people involved with the memo know. That is find a way of communicating to them, that you are working on their paper and trying to sort out one or two issues.
It may interest you to know that in FAAN, customers can apply for a space or shop in the airport without acknowledgement letters sent to them, meanwhile in the charter, we promised within three months of an application; customers will either receive an acknowledgement or approval of space/shop. Even if you are not giving the customer space, let them know that there is no space, but this is not the case.
In the area of quality service delivery which Servicom stands for, how has the support of the National Coordinator in the Presidency helped in achieving success in FAAN Servicom?
Mrs Nnenna Akajimeli has been of great support because she is not the one that works sitting on her chair; she moves out to do her work.
Normally, every year, we have what we call airport assessment, they move around the airports of their choice, to assess Service Delivery. What are the facilities available are the customers being treated the way they should and if there is any challenge?
They always report back to the management that these are the things that need urgent attention. Again, she carries out sensitization on the satisfaction of customers because if the customer is not happy with the business, the business is bound to fail.
Like I was saying, Nnnena Akajimeli has been on the frontline in delivering quality service delivery to MDAs. I think it is very important for you to know that FAAN has done so well in that area compared to other MDAs.
For 3 consecutive years, FAAN worn the best performing MDA award and I personally had the best performing nodal officer award out of 230 MDAs that were competing for it. So, she puts us all on our feet to achieve result. I give the credit to her, she is taking SERVICOM to another level.
Now, for the number of years you have been the general manager Servicom, what would you say has been your greatest challenge?
My greatest challenge has been in areas of getting the people to move at my rate to achieve common goals. We need to work together as a team. So, the point I am making is about resistance to change.
Again, finances have also been a problem even in the aviation industry. We had problems when the COVID 19 started. We submit what we call a work plan, which is monitored by SERVICOM Presidency.
Once it is approved, you are expected to execute the work plan for better service delivery. But recently we had financial and environmental challenges where we had to minimize direct contact with Customers.
These are some of the hindrances we have. But I have a very wonderful team of staff who understands. We engage them always in zoom meetings, and I teach them new topics on how important a customer is and what we should do to enhance customer satisfaction/experience, leading to customer loyalty. Loyalty attracts more revenue for the organization.
Just recently, your staff, friends and even the managing director of FAAN and other directors came together to celebrate your achievements. How would you describe this?
It was a moment of excitement. Some of them came to me as a surprise because we have a group of committees that really fashioned out what happened, and they tried hiding the activities.
They invited my old friends, colleagues in my first degree, second-degree class, Airport managers, friends in the Police College and a whole lot of others including my pastors. It was like a reunion of all the people I have missed for a while.
So, it was an experience I cannot forget in a hurry, I especially thank the Managing Director, he spoke well. I went to Harvard when people were crying of Covid-19, my PhD program was processed and I had a lot, to celebrate. My encouragement to the younger ones, I will advise them to trust God and be focused.
What has been your memorable moments since working in FAAN?
The one I could remember so quickly could be a bad one, a bad one because in 2006 someone orchestrated a termination letter, that my services are no longer required. Honestly, for 4 weeks I did not work but my joy was that at the end of the day the then Hon. Minister wrote a written apology, and I was restored to my job. It was a moment I could not forget because it was the peak of my career and even more of a witch hunt.
What is your advice to the upcoming ones?
Fall in the line on time and begin to work towards getting the highest limit of the race. You do not need to copy bad character. Do not ever wait for anybody to send you to School, develop yourself with certificates.
Research and find out what people are doing that is making them better persons and align with that. Trust God for everything you do, and you will achieve. Also set goals for yourselves and work towards achieving that.