Friday 16 March 2007

Bodies everywhere

We were asked recently whether we thought that the country would benefit from a “Stakeholder body” to oversee and guide the development of customer service.

My heart sank.

Yet another “body” to sit around long tables, drink weak and over-sweetened tea and discuss at great length our terms of reference, read minutes from previous meetings and to receive endless apologies for absence?

Yet another “body” to take up endless amounts of money, probably yours and mine, discussing at length pompous strategies, visions and missions?

Yet another “body” to spend half it’s time on flights to Kasane, because of course these committees must have retreats in a luxury hotels, drinking hugely alcoholic cocktails from glasses with little umbrellas in them and watching hippos and crocodiles go past? And of course there are the obligatory game drives. After all they do help the committee members to pass the time pondering how they can “uplift” their expenses claims.

So perhaps you’ve guessed already that I’m NOT in favour of setting up another body to waste time wondering how we can make things better.

Correct, I’m not. What we need is action, not words. Winston Churchill was famous for writing on top of lengthy documents the words “Action This Day” in green ink. Like him we need to stop pussy-footing around discussing things and instead actually to roll up our sleeves and make change happen.

I think that we need to adopt the J.F.D.I. methodology. This approach has been successfully used throughout the world in a wide range of environments but is particularly known in military circles. It’s a remarkably successful approach to dealing with the sort of problem that usually results in the formation of a working party, a project or sometimes even an entire Department. J.F.D.I. stands for “Just Flipping Do It”. OK, that is not quite true. Mmegi won’t allow me to say what it really stands for but let me give you a clue. The second word is not quite right. I’m sure you can work it out.

We need more committees, working parties and consultative forums like we need a hole in the head.

We already waste a staggering amount of the taxpayer’s money on these things and what do we have to show for the investment already made? Have service levels improved as a result? Yes I think there HAVE been real improvements in service but these have not come from committee meetings, seminars and conferences but instead have come from genuine competition entering the market, not “stakeholder bodies”.

There is a very closely guarded secret in business that management gurus don’t want you to know. There haven’t been any new business ideas in decades, just old ideas recycled. Yes, there have been plenty of new ideas about new products and services, but nothing really new about the WAY in which things are done. Yes, we have internet shopping sites like Amazon and clever things done with cellphones but these are just the old business practices being done with new technology. Emails and SMSs are just messages. An email is just a letter and an SMS is just a telegram, they are just sent electronically rather than by hand. When did a bank last introduce a genuinely new type of product? Current accounts, savings, loans, investments and pension schemes have all been around for hundreds of years.

The same is true for customer service. We all know what has to be done, just like a store-owner a hundred years ago knew. Products offered at competitive prices, served with courtesy and some follow-up if things go wrong.

The trouble is that so many organisations just fail to deliver. Just as business has not really changed in centuries, neither have customers. The endless list of closed restaurants, supermarkets and clothing stores we have seen in recent years shows that this is true. Even in a relatively small and new consumer community like ours, shoppers know to shop around, to pick the cheapest offers and to avoid outlets that rip them off. When there is oversupply it will always be those that forget the old lessons of hard work, focus on customers and fair prices that fail.

So in short I think we should forget about new bodies, new committees and new agencies and instead just get on with the work we all know we need to do. Every minute we waste in a meeting or at yet another conference is a minute we could instead spend on thinking up new special offers, checking our competitor’s prices and finding ways to beat them and actually making ourselves and our shareholders some money.

We don’t need “stakeholder bodies”. We need “shareholder bodies”. The good news is that we have them already. They are called “owners” and it’s them we should be satisfying and the best way to do that is actually to deliver excellent customer care, not just to think about it.

Stop reading this now. Go away and J.F.D.I.

This week’s stars!

  • The staff at Diagnofirm in the African Mall for being lovely. Even the owner came and held the hand of an anxious listener and told her everything would be OK.
  • Gase and Doreen at Air Botswana for amazing service. They worked hard to get their customer the very best price and even gave him a wine bottle holder to say thanks for his business!
  • Minah at FNB Kgale branch for no hassle account opening and follow-up.
  • Bruce, De Klerk and the team at Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing for allowing us to celebrate International Consumer Rights Day by bothering their customers with leaflets on their rights. Check our web site for details.

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