Tuesday, 22 April 2014

WhatsApp Shows How Phone Carriers Lost Out on $33 Billion

Mobile carriers must HATE Whatsapp, Apple Messages and the other Instant Messaging clients that allow us to send messages for free. Truly HATE them.

From Bloomberg.
"WhatsApp Shows How Phone Carriers Lost Out on $33 Billion

Facebook Inc. (FB)’s $19 billion purchase of mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp Inc. is a stark reminder of how much money phone carriers are losing out on as competitors let users text and chat at no charge."

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Checking up on checking in

Be honest. How would you rate the quality of service offered by the hotels of Botswana?

Do our hotels offer world-class service or is there still a very long way to go?

I don’t mean the top-of-the-range luxury camps that are winning international awards, nor do I mean the cheaper back-packer accommodation. I mean the mainstream, normal hotels that most of us and most tourists to Botswana stay in. Hotels for normal people.

Rather than guess, we actually asked people what they thought. It was hardly a scientific experiment, it was no more than an informal snapshot of what a mixture of personal contacts, customers and members of our Facebook group felt. In total we got the feelings of around 160 people, all of whom stay in hotels and are in a position to comment. They know what they’re talking about.

The results were disappointing. Only 2% of the people questioned rated the service as “Excellent” and only 3% said it was “Good”. 59% described the service as “Ok” and 36% thought it was “Bad”. I suppose the only good news here is that not one person described the service as “Terrible”.

To put it another way, only one in twenty said the service was Good or better. 95% said it was merely “Ok” or worse. Ask yourself this. Is “Ok” good enough?

Then there were the comments people made when we asked them to expand a bit on their feelings. Are you ready for this?

“They are nothing but accommodation”, “You feel like you’re being a nuisance when you ask for something”, “Most hotel staff don’t want to go the extra mile”, “We have lots of hotels staff with negative attitudes” and perhaps most damningly, “It’s clearly no more than a job”.

That last one depresses me the most because the hospitality is more than just a profession, I’d say it’s almost a vocation. You have to really WANT to work in the industry to do so, otherwise it’s just endless, back-breaking, stressful work. Just like the restaurant industry, very few people choose to work in hotels because they want to be millionaires. They do it because they enjoy meeting people, find it exciting and really enjoy serving people.

But obviously I’m wrong. There are clearly people in our hotel industry that don’t have a vocation for service and who seem to confuse (as I heard someone observe recently) service with servitude. They don’t understand that it’s not degrading or humiliating to serve someone, it’s not slavery. In fact it’s the opposite. It’s an honorable, respectable, even patriotic thing to do.

I recently met with a visiting American who complained that at the major hotel where she was staying in Gaborone, she found it impossible to satisfy her fundamental American need to get a second cup of coffee at breakfast. You should know that the coffee top-up is to Americans what oxygen is to the rest of humanity. If they don’t get it, life can’t go on. I know this sounds trivial but the real problem, she said, was that none of the breakfast staff would make eye contact with her while she was at her table. Was this a cultural thing, she asked?

I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know that when she’s back in the Land Of The Free and Home Of The Brave, she’ll be warning her compatriots that they need to take their own coffee to Botswana if they’re courageous enough to come here.

Some people might think that the “cultural” issue is a sensitive one but my view is simple. Get over it. If our nation’s prosperity is at stake then to hell with it, we should bow to the tourists who expect us to bow to them, accept business cards the way the Chinese expect us to and give the Yanks their second damn cup of coffee before they need to ask for it.

And our nation’s future really IS at stake. As Professor Roman Grynberg recently said in an article in Mmegi, “our Government revenues and expenditure might be balanced now but they are completely and utterly unsustainable”. Sooner or later, as Grynberg explains, we’re going to lose the revenues we get from the SA Customs Union and from diamonds and we’ll have little left unless we’ve actually diversified our economy rather than having just talked about diversifying it.

Tourism has a critical part to play. It can’t solve all the problems of the future but our environment is a natural resource we can and should exploit. The problem is just persuading the people in the industry that, with the exception of certain Chinese restaurants I’ve known, rudeness isn’t charming. Rudeness doesn’t encourage tourists to come again or to recommend a destination to the people they know.

Even if we’re not rude, carelessness can ruin our reputation almost as quickly. If we’re known as the country that can’t be bothered to offer our visitors a welcome and the level of respect they deserve why would they come to us instead of our rival countries?

The good news is that there ARE people offering excellent service throughout the country and a lot of them work in the hospitality industry. The problem is that we don’t have nearly enough of them. We also don’t have enough time to match-make them and get them to selectively breed new ones. We’re going to have to make do with what we’ve got. We’re going to need to find a way of using our existing services stars and get everyone else to emulate them.

So what are we waiting for? What are YOU waiting for?

The Voice - Consumer's Voice

Dear Consumer’s Voice #1

I bought a vehicle from Euroafrica Motors from UK last year in June but up to now the car has not been delivered. They have a representative in Gaborone whom I have been dealing with. They sent me a bill of lading and I got the information that the ship that loaded it offloaded in Namibia on the 12th September 2013. They then sent me an email on the 17th of the same month that the truck has left to pick the cars and that I will receive my car in a few days. Then there were just delays related to clearance papers of other cars, but mine was ok with documents.

On the 31st October 2013, I offered to go pick the car myself and that I would like to have refund on my transport fee to Gaborone since I had paid for delivery at Gaborone, but he couldn't give me the details I needed for the car to be picked. I then gave up and waited for the truck to arrive thinking may be it won’t take long.

In December they said the truck is coming but it never came. On the 6th January I also checked the supplier through email, but they said there was a mix up with other cars documents, which delayed the clearance.

I’m looking forward for the delivery of the vehicle, but the supplier's credibility is what worries me. They keep on postponing the delivery and citing the same thing of clearance. I don’t think clearance should take many months to be completed. From their reply, they still wont give assurance of when the car will be delivered. Last week they said it will come in the next few days, but a week has already passed. What can I do?

I’m afraid I’m not very optimistic about this. I’ve contacted Euroafrica Motors repeatedly and on each occasion I’ve been given the same promises you’ve had. Just a few days ago they told me that they’d been having problems with storage fees with their clearing agent in Namibia and said that they hoped “the car might be released and arrive in Gaborone during or after the Easter weekend.”

Read that again. Did you see that word “might”? That’s hardly reassuring, is it?

I suggest you give them until after the Easter holiday and if the vehicle doesn’t arrive you should just call the cops. Maybe a visit from the police will encourage them to be reasonable. Don’t hold your breath.

In case you’re interested, the picture shows their address in the UK. Does that look like a car exporter’s office to you?

Dear Consumer’s Voice #2

It will be my pleasure if you can clarify the following concern for me. In some supermarkets with parcel counters, the is a note which reads PUT YOUR GOODS AT YOUR OWN RISK, which means they will be not responsible for any lost goods by that counter even though they placed an attendant by that counter. Also they won’t let you get into the shop with your goods if you fear to take that risk of putting your items by the counter. What does the law say in such matters?

There’s nothing illegal about those signs. Stores are perfectly entitled to have any rules they want about who can enter their premises, so long as they don’t do anything contrary to the constitution like discriminate on the grounds of sex or race. Remember that stores are private property and the owners or managers are within their rights to say who can and can’t enter just like you can refuse someone entry to your house if you don’t want them there.

However the more important question is this. What message is the store sending to you? The parcel counter and the signs make it clear that they don’t trust you. They think you’re going to steal things from them. In their eyes you’re a criminal. So do you enjoy being insulted? Aren’t you prepared to go to a store where they don’t slap you in the face every time you walk through the entrance?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Yet another fake university - "Johnstown University"

An email arrives to the Consumer Watchdog email address offering "an affordable and accredited US accredited degree in the shortest time possible" for a mere $395. The email from Johnstown "University" says that
"Johnstown University gives you an opportunity to get:
  • US Accredited Degree from 100% American owned, operated and serviced university, part of traditional United States University System.
  • No need to Study, No Classes to attend, No Exam to take.
  • Its Quick, Easy & Affordable & Most Importantly 100% Money Back Guarantee
  • Get Application Approval within 24 hours with the subject of your prior studies or Life Experience with prior learning assessment process"
Did you spot it? The big clue that this isn't a real university and what they're offering isn't a real qualification?
  • "No need to Study, No Classes to attend, No Exam to take."
Despite claiming to have been "Established in 1991" and to have established "its online education system ... in the year 1996" it's curious that their web site was only created the day before yesterday. Funny that.

As always the real clues are in what they say online when you asks them a few questions.
Harvey Brown: Hello there
[Me]: Hi
Harvey Brown: How are you doing today ?
[Me]: I'm good thanks. Is it true I can get a degree from Johnstown University without doing any studying or exams?
Harvey Brown: Yes that's true
[Me]: How quickly can I get a degree?
Harvey Brown: 20-35 days of time
[Me]: And I don't have to do any work to get the degree?
Harvey Brown: yes do not need to do
Harvey Brown: this will be based on your Working experience
[Me]: And can you confirm how much it costs?
Harvey Brown: $899.00
[Me]: The email I received said $395.
Harvey Brown: OK, you are qualified for a Discounted fee
Johnstown "University" is yet another peddler of fake qualifications. Don't waste your money, your time or your reputation on them.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Weekend Post - "Outdated and expired food in supermarkets"

From the Weekend Post last Saturday:
"Food safety authorities have been called upon to step up much more aggressively as some supermarkets have become a threat to public health.

This follows a growing egregious tendency amongst supermarkets of having recycled food past expiry date lining up food shelves, stocking pre packaged foods without proper labeling, exorbitant pricing amongst other things.

Richard Harriman a Consumer watchdog with Business and Enterprise Solutions Botswana has said shocking and disturbing violations of food regulations are happening in supermarkets."
Read more here.

Monday, 14 April 2014

The latest vanity award scheme, the "Global Society of High Intellect"

In comes an email from the ridiculously named "Global Society of High Intellect".

It starts...
"Dear Richard,

We are inviting all the professionals to become a member of Global Society of High Intellect - An elite intellectual society that recognizes individuals with a High IQ Level."
And concludes:
"NOTE: Membership of GSOHI has helped many people find the right jobs, plus it boosts your CV exponentially and makes a brilliant impression on the employer."
If you visit their web you can take an online "IQ test" that measures whether you're entitled to join this "prestigious society". I've now done this 30-question multiple choice test three times and each time answered entirely at random. My scores have varied from 12 to 17 out of 30 which is a LOT more than you would expect by chance alone. Regardless of my score each time I've received the same message at the end.
You have passed the Global Society of High Intellect (GSOHI) IQ test and are now eligible for an official membership of our prestigious society.

Please Note: Passing this test means that your IQ is better than 95% of general population which is a sign of unmatched brilliance."
Then they get to key issue. I can become a member of the "Global Society of High Intellect" if I cough up just $150 of my money. It's a bargain of course, they claim it's been discounted from $1,000 but

Let's sum up. This bizarre organisation, who claim to have existed online for 10 years but whose web site was only registered on 24th March this year (at half past ten in the morning) offers a bizarrely scored IQ test that it seems anyone can pass, regardless of their intelligence.

Isn't it obvious? This ridiculous "Society" is yet another vanity award scheme. Their membership is worthless.

Don't waste your time and money.

Friday, 11 April 2014

Go on, confess

Confession is good for the soul. So I’m told.

It’s certainly good for consumers. Sometimes it’s even good for business.

I know of a chain of furniture stores that gets a lot of complaints, not because they’re any worse than the rest, just because they’re one of the biggest. However the thing that interests me is that the MD of this company insists that we send every complaint we receive directly to him. He doesn’t want to hear about problems later via his enormous network of staff, he wants to be the one who hears about them first. He’s the one that can then shout down the phone at his people telling them to fix things as soon as possible. Or preferably sooner.

Even better is that when he gets to the bottom of the problem and discovers that his stores have been a fault he’s the first to confess and say, “Whoops, we got that one wrong, didn’t we?” He then is reliable enough to make sure the problem is fixed as soon as possible. He’s smart and grown-up enough to confess when he or his staff have made a mistake.

Of course this honesty and maturity please customers with problems and probably also make them more loyal customers. He also wins our support on those occasions when he comes back to us and tells us that, on this occasion, the customer is either mistaken, na├»ve, profoundly stupid or lying. I’m prepared to believe him on these occasions because I’ve learned to trust him because of his previous confessions.

It’s exactly the same with a particular cellphone store. Again they have their fair share of complaints but again the MD is mature enough to say when things have gone wrong. And then to fix them wherever possible. All because he’s smart enough to confess when his company is at fault.

A few weeks ago we reported on South African chain stores who appeared to be marking up the prices of goods for sale in Botswana by anything between 25% and 97% compared to the prices identical items they were selling for in their home country.

One store, part of a huge South African group with several outlets in Botswana, was selling a range of cosmetics on specially made shelves that display the prices in Rand for their South African customers but they then manually label each item here with the Pula price. We saw a lipstick for sale for R69.95 but labeled for sale here for P79.95. If you adjust for our lower VAT rate and the current exchange rate and you find that the price should really be just under P53, not just under P80. The markup is 52%.

Another store, part of a South African cosmetics chain, does exactly the same thing, but worse. They were selling mascara that in South Africa is sold for R79.95 but which here in Botswana they’d priced at exactly P100. Get your calculator out and you can work it out for yourself. The price here should really have been just over P60, not P100. That’s a massive markup of 66%, one of the highest we’ve seen so far.

We contacted the head offices of each of these stores in South Africa and asked them if they could justify these enormous markups. I expected them to make excuses.

However, to my amazement they came clean. One assured me that they would contact their local store in Botswana “to address the matter regarding the pricing of items.” The other told me that they had “alerted our regional and store managers to the incident and have asked them to check their stock carefully for the discrepancy you highlighted. We’ve also requested that store managers, as well as our suppliers, be more vigilant in checking all product and pricing before displaying in stores going forward.”

All of that sounds a bit like companies getting caught and then confessing to me.

Then there’s the other type of confession. The inadvertent one. The one that slipped out all by itself.

You might recall World Ventures, one of the longer-lasting pyramid schemes brought to Botswana. They base their “business” on the sale of holiday discount vouchers. As we've said endless times before, a discount is not a product, it's just a reduction in price of a product. Because there is no real, tangible product offered by World Ventures it's fair to call it a pyramid scheme.

I’m not the only one who thinks this. The Gaming Board in Norway recently announced that following a lengthy investigation they are certain that World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. Their main criteria for deciding this was simple. 95% of all the money paid out to recruits in Norway was for the recruitment of other people, not from actually selling things.

So what do their local representatives say about the scheme they are selling?

I texted a local representative and asked how much it was to join. P3,600, I was told. I then asked if “I can make money just by recruiting other people” (which you’ll remember is the definition of a pyramid scheme) and her answer was very simple.


So, by this representative’s own confession World Ventures is a pyramid scheme. I suspect WorldVentures are feeling a little threatened if even their own representatives are being so honest. Honesty isn’t a virtue often found among the people running such scams.

We need more confessions. We certainly need more stores and suppliers who are prepared to be honest when they’ve screwed things up. The goods news is that more and more of them are doing so.

The bad news is that you’ll only get confessions from people running scams like World Ventures either by accident or when they’re behind bars.