Friday 21 July 2006

Grow up!

Why are some companies like children?

No, this isn’t some silly riddle, I mean it.

Perhaps they need someone to wipe their bottoms? To learn some basic arithmetic? Maybe they just behave like uncontrolled little brats who have never experienced any basic discipline? Alternatively they could just be very egocentric, so self-centred that they can’t cope with not getting what they want.

Well, yes, frankly some of them are all of these things. Just like my own darling little offspring who occasionally need some paternal guidance, some companies need to be repeatedly told what to do. The reason is that some of them are just so incredibly immature.

Like a good wine, a good cheese or a really good bit of Botswana beef, companies need maturity if they are going to excel.

Of course maturity doesn’t just mean age. Just like a wine needs to get to the right age, not necessarily the greatest age, maturity can come to both people and companies at various times. However, the sooner a company develops maturity the better. This is because it is probably the single most important attribute a company can possess. Well, apart from all the others that I talk about like honesty, good recruitment polices and a competitive spirit. However this week let’s just assume that maturity is the thing that matters most.

One of the most profoundly mature things any company (or individual) can do is to take constructive criticism and to see it genuinely as an opportunity to improve and not as a personal insult. On many occasions a reasonable complaint or criticism is the best Christmas present any company can get. Surely it is better to hear from customers as soon as a problem arises than to find out later as customers just start drying up?

In our work with organisations we see enormous variations in maturity levels. Luckily we see plenty of companies who are grown up enough to admit that things go wrong sometimes but there is still a proportion who just can’t take it. They seem to think that valid and constructive criticism undermines them completely and threatens everything they hold dear. The result is the sort of defensiveness and occasional massive over-reaction that almost always results in tears. Not ours. Theirs.

Just recently we had some issues with a company who had just launched a new product. A number of people contacted us complaining about certain aspects of what was being sold. We spent some time investigating and researching and finally concluded that, in our opinion, there were some issues but on the whole we still thought that the item was fundamentally a good one. However, when we raised the issue on both radio and here in Mmegi, all hell broke loose. It turns out that criticism simply wasn’t welcome on that occasion by this supplier, not even the very mild words we had to say. Not even when we explained that the product was actually very good, just not quite perfect yet. It turns out that the people there at the time had a slight maturity crisis.

So just how immature was their reaction? I’d say they were at the 8-year old child stage. Still some way to go I think.

So what’s our message to suppliers when it comes to taking criticism?

Be mature. Act like an adult. Grow up.

And now some excellent news.

We are delighted to announce that the Consumer Watchdog radio show is about to be re-launched on Yarona FM.

The first broadcast will be at 0715 every Tuesday, beginning on Tuesday 1st August. Co-hosted by Kate Harriman, the program will present new, exciting and provocative program elements addressing new sections of the community, will offer fantastic competitions and will continue the work of Consumer Watchdog in educating, informing and entertaining consumers.

Several people have asked us why we chose a Gaborone-based station and not a national one. Well, with a little luck and some public support Yarona will soon be a national station and then we can talk directly to everyone and you can talk back to us and test OUR maturity! Also, we do feel that if there is to be any significant change in customer service levels in our country then the drive for change must come from two specific directions. First from consumers themselves but also from the private sector. That’s why a young, dynamic and talented group like the guys at Yarona FM are exactly the right people to help us.

Listen in and hear the new show if you can!

And finally some thanks.

We have been overwhelmed by the support we have had over the last few weeks after we chose to take some decisions about how we communicated with the public. Loads of listeners to the old radio program have contacted us to demand that we get back on air as quickly as possible and that has made the disruption we’ve experienced utterly worthwhile for us.

However we’ve also been staggered by how many CEOs, managers and employees of service suppliers have said exactly the same thing. It seems that all the mature companies out there understand that what Consumer Watchdog and other consumer campaigners do actually helps them. One manager of a company actually said “Excellent. We’ll get to hear what’s wrong with our service again!” Now THAT is maturity.

This week’s stars!

  • Omphile and Kabano at the Department of Road Transport who helped a visiting expatriate from Canada to sort out a driving licence issue. Our reader says that Omphile and Kabano “surpassed the level of customer service that I am used to in Canada”. See, we are as good as, if not better than the rest of the world when we try!
  • Kalahari Quilts and Hazellwood for fantastic displays at the Home Expo and for proving that we produce excellent crafts!

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