Friday, 29 March 2013

Be positive

Several times in the last week I’ve been told that service in Botswana is dreadful. I’ve been told that service in other countries is much better. I’ve been told that compared to other countries we suck.

I’m not convinced.

I’m not sure we can compare the service we get here with the service we get in other countries for one specific reason. The service we get here at home is the ordinary, mundane service we get when we do our normal shopping whereas the service we get in other countries is largely because we’re tourists. Tourists in general get better service than locals, that’s just the nature of the tourism industry. Even here in Botswana we’ve grown to understand that although everyone is equal, tourists are “more equal” than others.

But IS service so bad in Botswana? I don’t think it’s a simple as just saying service is poor. If you were foolish enough to try and quantify it you might decide, hypothetically, that the overall service score for the nations is 30%. Let’s just assume that for a moment. But then you encounter “the average fallacy”. The average score for anything doesn’t mean everyone scores that way. Just because men are taller than women on average, you can’t assume that all women are shorter than all men. We all know some women who are taller than most men and some men who are shorter than most women. What matters most is an individual’s height, or service score that an individual achieves. Average scores hide individual scores.

Averages also hide variation. I can think of two restaurants at Riverwalk in Gaborone, both franchises. I suspect that if you measured the quality of their service they’d probably score about the same but that’s not a fair comparison. One of the restaurants (you can probably guess which) is absolutely consistent. It’s food and service are neither good nor bad, just consistently middle of the road. The other restaurant (you can guess this one too) is one day fantastic, the next day dreadful. It’s impossible to predict when you walk through the doors what service will be like today. If you were to score it over a month you’d probably get the same score as the first restaurant but that score would just hide the second restaurant’s massive variation and unpredictability.

It’s the same with customer service It’s probably true that, on average, we get poor service but that covers up the truth. Service is generally poor but it’s also massively variable. There certainly are stores, like one I can think of at Game City where the staff simply don’t give a damn, presumably because their management don’t give a damn. This is the store where the staff simply look at you when you want to be served. They do exactly the same when you want to buy their products and give them your cash. It’s like they’re doing you a favour by taking your money.

There are other stores, like the one I was in a couple of weeks ago, also at Game City where a security guard threatened to arrest me if I didn’t leave my rucksack containing my laptop with him. This was a store, need I mention, that does not sell laptops, it sells food. When I politely explained that I didn’t like being accused of being a criminal he told me that “Only you know if you are.”

However there are other stores where the service is much better than average. I can think of a certain spicy chicken restaurant where the service is very good. I can think of another restaurant at Game City which has developed a strong following of customers who delight in good food and good service.

So what makes the difference? How can there be such variation? That’s easy to answer. I have an old-fashioned view that it all depends on the leader. If the person in charge of an organisation cares about service then the organisation will. If he or she doesn’t give a damn, then no matter how caring and devoted the rest of the team might be, the organisation won’t give a damn.

The challenge is getting the message across to the people that matter most of all: the shareholders. If the shareholders or an organisation want their company to offer good service, and often they do because they understand it leads to greater profits then things might take a turn for the better. They can instruct the MD or CEO to focus on better service.

The challenge is that some companies actually thrive on poor service. Some companies only make profits by deceiving their customers. Like a lot of furniture stores.

There’s secret about furniture stores that I think is worth disclosing. This is the secret that the managers and shareholders are really keen for you NOT to know.

They’re not really furniture stores. They’re moneylenders. Many of these stores make much more money from their store credit schemes than they do from selling furniture. That’s why they sell the credit schemes so hard when you go in. They really don’t want you to pay with cash, they don’t make nearly enough money that way.

But lets be more positive. Despite the efforts of certain stores to mistreat us, there most certainly are people out there that deliver good service. There are people who have that certain something, that light in the eye, the smile, the cheerful welcome and a commitment to making us happily spend our money with them. Let’s celebrate them when it happens, you never know, it might be contagious?

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