Friday 12 May 2006

The great Watchdog give-away

It’s again time for us to give things away. Usually we just give away prizes to service stars you’ve nominated to us but occasionally we go slightly crazy and give things away to suppliers. Like ideas. Like new ways of working. Like values and attitudes that help them deliver a better service to you and me and, in doing so, make themselves lots of money to spend on flash cars or maybe even to give to their shareholders.

So here goes. Three free ideas for businesses. Like so many ideas that have been shown to work they’re all very simple. None of them actually require an expensive management consultant or motivational speaker to travel half way round the planet to lecture us on how they transformed UPS or Toyota. They are all plain obvious, they just need someone with guts to put them into place.


Almost every day we get a call from someone who has encountered a company policy that seems designed to irritate and confuse the customer and to make a perfectly simple transaction like opening an account an enormous pain in the you-know-where.

Take the example of BTC. Normally we say pretty good things about BTC. We think they really have turned the corner when it comes to treating their customers reasonably well. They don’t always get it right but on the whole they behave pretty well considering that they have a monopoly on fixed lines. They seem to have reacted pretty well though to the effective competition they get from the cellphone service providers.

However some of their policies are just plain silly and designed to irritate customers. Take the case of opening a business account with them. In fact take the example of a certain company that has for years been asking one of it Directors to pay it’s bill personally because transferring to a business account is such a pain in the whatsit. The reason it’s so difficult? BTC insist on seeing company bank statements. That doesn’t actually sound so unreasonable but ask yourself this question.


What will BTC actually learn from a company bank statement. And anyway, which account? The company in question has several Pula accounts and one in US dollars. Are BTC going to employ a forensic accountant to work out the company’s status? But why? What will they actually learn from them?

And why would a company want to disclose confidential information to them? What guarantees does the customer get that the information will be kept secret? How many BTC employees get to see these confidential company documents?

Obviously BTC don’t want to end up with bad customers who can’t afford to pay their bills but what’s the worst that can happen if they do default? If the company doesn’t pay it’s bill at the end of the first month BTC can cut them off instantly. And are BTC saying that all the existing business customers who DID show them their bank statements have never defaulted?

Surely doing an ITC credit check would be enough? At least that way they get an impression of the company’s credit history. Water Utilities and BPC don’t ask for company bank statements and they seem to be surviving.

I’m asking service providers this. Do your policies really protect you? Do they actually achieve anything? Or are they just out-dated, knee-jerk reactions to non-existent threats?

Improve your structure

Yes, this DOES sound a bit like management consultancy speak but some organisations have organisational structures that actually prevent them from delivering good customer service. We’ve seen a few of them and it almost seems like they were designed to prevent good ideas circulating, from allowing talented staff to progress and to stifle innovation.

If your organisation isn’t centred around the people that pay your salaries (that would be the customer, OK?) then your structure is getting in the way of good service. Change it.

Employ the right people

Some people can do customer service naturally. No matter how much you invest in training, education, skills development, personal transformation and growth, whatever you want to call it, there are some people who are just naturally better than others at dealing with customers. They were probably born that way. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t train those who aren’t so good at it but it does allow you to save an awful lot of effort, time and money if you hire the naturals in the first place. Why waste time on people who find customer service difficult when you can just hire the ones who find it easy in the first place?

The trick though is finding them. When interviewing potential customer service staff of course they are all going to say the right things, they will have read up on the right words to say. They will talk about putting the customer first, giving the customer what they want, the customer being king and all that nonsense but how do you know if they really have the skills you need rather than just the ability to deceive you during an interview?

Well it’s tricky but it can be done. It is perfectly possible to identify potentially good customer service employees during the selection process. Let me think, which company specialises in doing this…? I’m sure you can work it out!

This week’s stars!

  • The Attorney General Chambers for putting the laws of Botswana online at Thanks to Chee Wai Lai, Government’s webmaster for letting us know.
  • Tshego at FNB for listening to a customers problem, getting it sorted and phoning the customer back! Our listener says “was the first time I had been served so efficiently and effectively, congratulations Tshego and FNB”.
  • Lorato, the receptionist at Department of National Archives. Apparently she gives consistently great service, answers the phone within 3 rings and gives service with a smile. We are told her Director has already been congratulated many times on having such a service star in their Department!

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