Friday 30 June 2006

Be courageous

Last week in this column I urged customers to demonstrate a certain level of cowardice. I suggested that you shouldn’t be the first to adopt new technologies and should let someone else take the risk of trying something new. Let them be experimental guinea pigs helping the supplier learn exactly how their product works in the field.

Also it’s very often sensibly cowardly to avoid the cheapest option. In fact going for the cheapest deal is often really rather brave. The level of risk is sometimes a bit too much. This is particularly the case with high-tech gadgets but the principle applies even to things like buying washing up liquid, airline tickets and shoes.

This week I’m going run the risk of being accused of contradicting myself and suggest that what is also required is courage. This time I’m talking not just about consumers but suppliers as well.

On so many occasions customers sometimes need to demonstrate courage. We reported recently on a friend who was convinced that he was being abused by a car sales company. He had given them his car to sell but was left with the strongest feeling that the company had sold his car for more than the amount they claimed.

He displayed courage by sticking to his convictions, not giving up and pestering them endlessly. Eventually, once he really started to irritate them they threatened to involve lawyers but still he didn’t give up. Most impressively he managed to trace the person who had bought his car from the company and was able to confirm that the company had in fact lied to him about the amount paid (have you guessed already that their fee was a percentage of the cost they got for the car?). They had sold it for several thousand more than the amount they told him. The difference was money they clearly planned to keep for themselves.

He had the courage to confront them with his new evidence and as if by magic they paid up the difference they owed him and he went away feeling exhausted but justifiably proud of himself.

And what about suppliers? In so many areas of business, whether it’s the initial start-up, those tricky first eighteen months or that terrible month when you get no business it really takes what in Spanish they call cojones to run a business. However it often takes considerable courage just to deal with customers.

A few weeks ago we reported on a cellphone provider who appeared to be letting down a number of its customers. We didn’t name them because they hadn’t yet been given a proper opportunity to resolve the problems but now they have. This week we heard from Mr Kader, the Managing Director of Cell City (yes it was them!) who had just heard about the problems and was very upset at the service these customers had received. He explained to us and to the customers what had happened and very quickly fixed all the problems. All the customers who contacted us now have new phones and one of his staff hasn’t got a job any more.

I think that Mr Kader showed courage in facing up to the problems, taking personal responsibility for them and most importantly for fixing them. It can’t have been easy. Nobody likes to take criticism and it’s always difficult to take decisive action with employees who aren’t performing but he had the cojones to deal with the situation decisively and promptly.

In general terms as well I think that service providers, while being sympathetic to customer complaints should also have the courage to stand up for their staff. So long as the case isn’t completely clear-cut (like the incident we were told about where a waiter assaulted a customer with a black pepper mill in front of the entire restaurant!) I think that a manager should first of all apologise for the upset but then, before anything else happens, offer to investigate without making any instant judgments. There are always two sides to a situation and sometimes the person complaining is wrong, trying to con the supplier or (I make no attempt to be polite) is just an idiot?

So how would you describe a manager who, at the first criticism of his team, instead of offering to investigate and returned with a considered opinion, just knuckles under and capitulates?

Well, what’s the opposite of someone courageous? Wasn’t it a word I used last week?

Finally, an announcement. You may have heard already that we will no longer be broadcasting Consumer Watchdog on GabzFM. This column will obviously continue but we are taking the opportunity to review exactly how Consumer Watchdog operates. So what do you want from us? How do YOU think we should operate? Please let us know…

This week’s stars!

  • Mompati from Liquorama at Kgale Hill in Gaborone for being cheerful, responsive and friendly.
  • Shadrack at New Capitol Cinemas at Game City for dealing with a technical problem well, with courtesy and making up for it very well indeed.
  • Percy, Boi and their team at Aluminium 2000 for excellent service. We are told that not only are they professional but remarkably efficient.
  • Charles at Lesedi Motors for great customer service and taking care of his customers.
  • Brian and Andrew at Stanbic for “seeing the bigger picture”.
  • Thuso at Botswana Life for service above and beyond the call of duty and for dealing with the aftermath of a bereavement with sympathy, professionalism and promptness.
  • Theresa at BTC’s Corporate Department for being “remarkable” and for getting things done without a fuss.

No comments: