Friday 18 August 2006

Bad seafood and trousers

It’s a constant source of astonishment to me quite how badly some stores treat their customers. Quite how much contempt they apparently have for us.

For instance we heard from a customer who went to a certain restaurant which can be found on the outskirts of Gaborone. She ordered a seafood dish that contained mussels. Very quickly she realised that at least one of the mussels was seriously off. Anyone who has ever had the misfortune ever to taste bad seafood will know that there’s never any doubt. It tastes completely revolting.

She reported the problem to the management who firstly alleged that she was making it all up to get a free meal. They told her that it is impossible for just one mussel to be off and that as she had eaten a couple of them already she was clearly making it up. Knowing that she was being abused she stuck to her guns and refused to give way. So what was the eventual reaction of the restaurant management? They knocked P8 (yes, I mean eight Pula) off the bill to compensate her for the cost of the one mussel that she disliked!

Well, when she contacted us we thought this was worth a few phone calls. We called the restaurant and asked for their side of the story. Their response was simple. Some customers lie in order to get a free meal and that’s all there is to it.

Good enough? Not a chance.

We called the expert, Nina Hamid from Foodsafe International, Botswana’s leading food safety specialist. Her reaction? The restaurant was talking rubbish. It’s perfectly possible for just one or a few mussels to be off and for the rest to taste fine. It happens.

We then called a couple of other food outlets and asked them what they do in such circumstances. Debonairs said that they always take the word of a customer if they take the time to call in and complain that food is off. They said that they would rather run the risk of being abused a few times than to insult the vast majority of customers who are reasonable and honest. Primi Piatti said that if ever this happens with them they always get the manager and the chef to taste the food in question and if they agree with the customer then not only do they get the meal for free but they get a free cup of coffee as well as an apology.

So feeling even more confident we went back to the original restaurant, explained a few basic truths to them and what happened? The customer has been promised a voucher for the cost of another meal. We have no idea whether she wants it or not, having been fed bad seafood and then being insulted but it’s better than nothing I suppose.

But think about the different responses from the various restaurants. Two of them are mature, responsible and treat their customers with some respect and the other Doesn’t Really Offer Service.

What about another extreme case?

We heard from a reader whose daughter had been deeply traumatised during a shopping expedition. While shopping for clothes at Riverwalk in Gaborone she was stopped by the management who insisted that she had stolen a pair of shoes from their store. When they failed to find anything in her bags they decided that she had somehow concealed the shoes in her clothing. Now that is rather curious given that she is very slim and apparently was wearing skin-tight clothing (No guys, you can’t have her number).

When she continued to protest her innocence the store management began to get very grumpy and threatening indeed. They insisted that she remove her clothing in front of a female employee or the police would be called. By this stage she was very upset and embarrassed and had lost any confidence she might have earlier had. Rather than insisting that they must call the police if a search is required she gave in and went through the trauma. Needless to say no shoes were found.

Now I don’t have daughters but I do have nieces and to be honest I’m not sure what my reaction would be if I heard that one of them had been treated in this way. Shall we just say that I’m impressed by the restraint showed by this young woman’s father. Even now, several weeks later the victim remains painfully embarrassed by the incident and the unpleasant memories still trouble her.

We contacted the store in question and to their credit they were appalled by the conduct of their staff. The young woman has received an apology and the employees in question have been sent for retraining. However I do think that they can be held accountable for a culture where employees think they can act in this way.

Just so everyone understands let me make this very plain. Stores cannot undress you. If a store demands that they search you or your belongings make sure that you have a witness who is either neutral or on your side. If in any doubt demand that the store calls the police.

Don’t allow any store or restaurant to abuse or insult you.

This week’s stars!

  • Tumi at Barloworld for fantastic service and for keeping customers informed.
  • Dipsy at Musica at Game City for sorting out a customer’s problem promptly and without any fuss.
  • Most certainly not me for getting facts wrong last week. Firstly we celebrated Calvin who is actually from Rescue One, not from MedRescue. Secondly the P150 prizes for service stars are from Stanbic, not FNB. Whoops. Sorry!

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