Friday 19 January 2007

New Year resolutions

Actually I am normally very dismissive of New Year resolutions. Usually made after a period of hideous over-indulgence and while moaning about expanded waistlines, sore heads and empty bank accounts they are rarely made in the most logical frame of mind. And how often do people actually keep these resolutions to get fit, eat sensibly and stop misbehaving?

However, and despite all my cynicism, I do nevertheless think it is a very good time of year to think about the next 12 months. In particular I’ve been thinking about things suppliers as well as customers can do to perhaps make their lives just a little better.

Firstly for suppliers. Stand up! A manager on his backside isn’t a manager, he’s someone sitting on his backside. A manager should be active, participatory and “out there”, walking the floor of whatever it is he’s running, chatting to customers, checking on the staff and generally making sure things are running as well as possible.

The word “manager” comes from the Latin word manus, meaning “hand”. A manager is literally “hands-on”. If he isn’t getting his hands dirty, he’s not a manager, he is just a guy with a better salary than the rest.

The examples are out there. Go and watch Will at Primi Piati, Matt at Village Super Spar, Bruce and the team at Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing, John and Jane at CafĂ© Dijo, Lou at the Caravela and you’ll see them actually out there, not stuck in a back office doing the accounts. They do the accounts at night, when the customers have gone home. At these places, problems rarely occur and if they do, they are fixed so quickly you probably don’t even notice they happened.

It’s not just the managers though. Leading by example, all the other staff perform at their best as a result. The staff understand that the manager is there to monitor them but also to help out if something does go wrong. The reason leaders are called leaders is that they lead!

It’s also not just restaurants and shops. We’ve seen it recently with Air Botswana when Lance Brogden found himself facing a service problem and he insisted he dealt with himself rather than delegate to someone else. We know MDs of banks actually hitting the shop floor and cashing cheques for customers. Apparently Danny Zandamela of FNB sometimes just goes walkabout in a branch and chats to the customers.

Real managers also do that magical thing, that thing that makes even the most aggressive customer calm down and get reasonable. They look customers in the eye and smile at them. They do their best to remember their regular customers and give them the impression that they are really welcome.

Some while ago we actually had a complaint about Primi Piatti. A reader went to Primi for the very first time and loved it but noticed that there was a group of customers that got even better treatment than he did. No, they weren’t all politicians or celebreties, they weren’t all white, they weren’t all big spenders. Who were they? They were the regular customers.

So what about customers. What should they do this year?

Well, firstly, get real about credit agreements. Avoid them. Many of the stores we buy from have wonderfully tempting offers that allow you to buy things over an extended period, paying what seem like small monthly amounts that allow you to get some fancy, flashy item just like your neighbour.

However, many of these schemes are catastrophically bad. The amounts they charge on top of the basic price of the item can double or even treble the total amount you pay. They are clever though, they don’t always call it interest. Instead they make you pay for ludicrous “insurance schemes”, “benefit protection plans”, contract fees and delivery charges even if you take the item home yourself.

This way they can say to you that their interest rate is something like 30% when in fact it can be much, much more.

Now they say that they have to charge such huge amounts because so many customers default on their agreements and that this costs the store money. Yes, I DO know that many customers default but one reason for this is that these schemes are so damned expensive!

The answer is just not to get into them. So how DO you get that flashy DVD player or TV just like your rich cousin?

By saving up for it.

Instead of signing a credit agreement you set aside the same amount you would pay each month, but put it in a savings account at your bank. That way you can probably afford to buy the item for cash in less than half the time you would take by buying it on credit and for less than half the price. AND the bank would pay you some interest as well! It wouldn’t be much but it would probably buy you a pizza to eat while using your new toy. You would actually be making money rather than throwing it away. Isn’t that a good thing to resolve this year?

This week’s stars!

  • Pinkie at the GICC for “going the extra mile for our events and for always doing things with a smile even when we know we are frustrating them”.
  • The staff at Chobe Mowana Hotel for helping a customer who had left some luggage at the hotel when they departed for the airport. With only 30 minutes to go before the plane took off, the staff found the luggage in the hotel room and got it to the airport within 15 minutes!
  • Standard Chartered Bank who have donated cute little Service Star badges to us to give away to those that excel. Who deserves one?

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