Thursday 21 December 2006

Christmas stars

So who’s been a good child this year and deserves a visit from Santa?

It’s that time of year again when we at Consumer Watchdog appoint ourselves the judges of customer service and identify those people who we think deserve celebration.

Incidentally the temptation to name and shame those companies and individuals who have shown contempt for their customers is almost overwhelming but, as it’s Christmas, I plan to show some self-control and keep their names to myself. They say that at this time of year we should show “good will to all men”. Even towards those who really don’t deserve it. They know who they are.

So, in no particular order, here we go. Here’s a brief list of companies who really seem to understand how things work. They understand how to treat a customer and most importantly (well to us anyway) they genuinely seem to value feedback. Even when it comes from us. Even when a customer might have decided NOT to follow the official complaints mechanism and has approached us for help. Remember that there is no contractual obligation on customers to follow the sequence of steps a company decides they should follow, not matter how logical it might seem. What these companies understand is that what matters most is making sure that a problem gets fixed and that a customer walks away reasonably happy. They are the sort of companies who, when we alert them to a problem, actually thank us for letting them know.

The banks. Yes, I still feel a little odd writing this but they really do seem to get it. Of course mistakes happen. No company is perfect, things will always go wrong occasionally. With the number of customers they have the banks are a good example of this. However Barclays, FNB, Stanbic and Standard Chartered have all genuinely seemed to welcome us getting involved if it helps fix a problem. The best thing for us though is the genuine competition they demonstrate. They really do seem prepared to fight for our custom. The real beneficiaries of this are you and me, the ones that lend them our cash.

Air Botswana. Despite going through an enormous amount of change and huge levels of stress and uncertainty about the future, our national airline has continued to focus on customer care. The great news is that this can only get better when they become a properly commercial enterprise.

Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing. One of the best examples we know of MBWA. Management By Walking Around. Managers not spending all day in the office doing accounts, instead they are out there on the shop floor chatting to customers, preventing problems from occurring in the first place instead of having to fix them afterwards. Obviously this works particularly well in shops but it’s critical in all businesses.

Our prize donors. All 4 main banks, Barloworld Motors, Orange, Mascom, Wimpy, Debonairs, Primi Piatti, African Banking Corporation, Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and loads of other companies all donated either money, vouchers or merchandise to give away to the people we celebrate.

It’s not just companies we celebrate though. Loads of individuals deserve it as well. The list is huge but a few superstars stand out.

Kabelo from BTC. Hardly a month goes by without someone celebrating Kabelo for dealing with customers as if they matter, as if he welcomes their business and recognises that they are actually paying his company their hard-earned money in return for a service.

Lorraine from FNB. She’s the Managing Director’s PA, a great example of those employees who understands how to take responsibility for an issue. A caller came through to her, and although technically it wasn’t her job to answer the question, Lorraine dealt with it personally. Our reader says she was “wonderful”!

Finally, two prize winners.

Nikki from Optimum McCann who was celebrated twice, both times for outstanding work.

Morasho, a shop manager from Fairground Mall. A customer left her purse behind in his store and before she knew it he had worked out she was a student and had printed leaflets which he distributed around the University announcing that he was looking after the purse for her.

Both Nikki and Morasho win P1,000 in Barloworld merchandise. Barloworld also tell us that if either of them has a car from Barloworld they can use the value of the prize towards a service or they will knock double the value of the prize off the price of a new car!

Finally we need some advice. In 2005 three companies were so upset by things we had to say that they had a tantrum and threatened to sue us for defamation. Obviously these threats came to nothing because we had only spoken the truth and it is not defamation if it is true. All it achieved was to show us which companies can’t take criticism and are frankly rather childish when it comes to unhappy customers. But at least it suggested we were having some sort of effect.

Incidentally don’t they understand how fantastic it would be? Can’t they see what amazing publicity we would get? Us, the poor little underdogs being sued by a big company for standing up for a customer. Bring it on!

However, this year only one company has threatened to sue us. Are we doing something wrong? Are we being more diplomatic? Surely it can’t be that companies are maturing, can it?

In 2007 rest assured that we’ll do our best to get threatened some more!

Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to us all!

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