Saturday 6 September 2008

Awards warning

There was a very funny story in the Los Angeles Times a couple of weeks ago.  This exposed some of the fakery and “lack of foundation” behind many industry award schemes.

Every year Wine Spectator magazine awards prizes to restaurants around the world for the quality of the wine they serve.  This year they gave an “Award of Excellence” to a very fancy restaurant in Milan in Italy called Osteria L’Intrepido.  

So far so good?

No.  There’s a slight problem and the people at Wine Spectator magazine are very embarrassed.  The reason?

This very high class restaurant with the fantastic wine selection simply doesn’t exist.  What’s more the special “reserve wine list” this fake restaurant offered actually consisted mostly of the worst wines Wine Spectator magazine had ever reviewed.

In fact the whole fake had been set up by a wine writer called Robin Goldstein.  He had become suspicious about how the magazine selected the award-winning restaurants so decided to conduct a small experiment.

He set up a web site for the fake restaurant, managed to get a Milanese telephone number and then contacted the magazine to see what he had to do to get his restaurant reviewed.  Actually it wasn’t that difficult.  They didn’t need to check out his credentials, they didn’t need to taste his delicious (and extremely fictitious menu) or even taste his wine.  They apparently didn’t even need to read his wine list and notice that it contained the stuff they had previously said was so terrible.  No, all he had to do to get his restaurant an award from them was to give them cash.  Specifically US$250 which is around P1,600.

So let’s get this clear.  All he had to do to get an award from a prestigious wine magazine was to pay for it.  

Of course when he revealed his deception to the wine world the magazine was very cross.  They removed the award from their web site and tried a bit of damage limitation.  They claimed to have phoned the restaurant many times but in fact the only message that was ever left on the answering machine attached to the number in Milan was an invitation from the magazine to buy some advertising space, after the non-existent restaurant had already been given the award.

When the LA Times did the maths they realised what a hugely profitable scam this was.  Around 4,500 restaurants apply for the awards every year and the vast majority “win”.  That’s over US$1 million in income for the magazine for presumably almost no research at all.

So what’s my point?  What does this have to do with us in Botswana?

Well, you only have to look around and you see exactly the same thing happening here.  I know of at least three “awards” that our local companies get that work in exactly the same way.  All you have to do is buy a subscription to a dubious magazine, or buy a large booking at a function or simply give them a huge chunk of used bank notes and you get a prize.  

This isn’t “winning an award”, it’s “buying an award”.   This isn’t anything like an award.  Cast your mind back to school and ask whether the kids that got the prizes at the end of the year had to pay for them?  Did their parents have to give the head-teacher a donation first?  

Think about the recent Olympics.  Did the gold-medal winners have to “induce” the judges to give them top marks?

Of course not.  Real awards are won solely on merit.  Real awards are won by people who have achieved marvellous things.  Real awards go only to those who deserve them.

The lesson is to be sceptical about awards.  In fact not just about awards, consumers should be sceptical about everything they hear.  Don’t believe a store when it tells you that they have the best deals.  Don’t believe the charlatan herbalist who calls himself “Dr” when he’s no more of a doctor than I am.  Don’t believe the TV evangelist who is coming to town who calls himself “Bishop Dr Something or Other” when he made himself a Bishop and got his doctorate from a very dubious and unaccredited diploma mill.

So who can you trust when it comes to awards and prizes?

Well, to begin with you can trust us.  We are just starting to plan this year’s Consumer Watchdog Birthday Party.  This will be the third party we’ve held at which we get to celebrate the customer service stars of Botswana.  These are the people YOU have celebrated and who are mentioned at the end of these columns.  These stars all receive invitations to the party along with their MD or CEO to be celebrated in front of the nation.  We’ve been privileged on the last two occasions to have the former President attend to help us recognise that as a nation we CAN deliver the very best service.

The key thing though is that nobody has to pay to be celebrated by Consumer Watchdog.  All people have to do is deliver excellent service and then for us to be told about it.  The stars don’t pay, their companies don’t pay.  Not a single thebe.

It’s up to you.  All it takes is for consumers to celebrate anyone who delivers excellent service.  Drop us an email, give us a call and we’ll make sure that they get to be celebrated here in Mmegi and in front of the nation.  

For free.

This week’s stars!
  • Tiny from Orange at Trade Centre for outstanding service, excellent product knowledge and being very helpful.
  • Akrum from Furniture Paradise for “knowing customer care”.
  • Gaone at Game at Game City in Gaborone for “making service personal”.
  • Tamatie at Ministry of Local Government Recruitment Section for outstanding customer service

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