Friday 30 September 2005

Free tips for stores and suppliers

Over the last few months in this column we’ve advised consumers on all sorts of things they can do to protect themselves against crippling loan sharks, abusive credit schemes and the generally poor levels of service we consumers receive. This week we’re going to outline some tips, not for us but for suppliers. Some basic rules we think they should adopt to treat us properly and by doing so to gain our custom, earn our loyalty and perhaps even make themselves lots of money?

We realise that these tips are actually obvious but it’s a constant surprise to us that they are so often forgotten. Don’t some suppliers ever take the time to think about how they do business? Don’t some suppliers actually care?

Be honest with us

Don’t make stuff up. Don’t make up answers on the spot just to look good! If we ask you something and you don’t know the answer just be open with us. We’ll respect you for telling us the truth. Just tell us that you don’t know but that you’ll find out. Then make sure that you do!

This honesty extends to the special deals you offer us. Most of us have heard of the false offers we are sold. Only recently we were told of a clothing store that was offering 20% discounts on their range. When our shopper looked closely at the labels these showed the normal price and the new discounted price and yes the discount came to 20%. However when she looked closely she saw that underneath these labels were the original labels that showed that the so-called original price quoted had just been increased! Rather than a 20% discount they were only offering a 7% discount. We can only assume that they deliberately increased the price so that the discount seemed better.

Don’t forget. If you lie, you will get found out, sooner or later.

Show us some respect

We are your customer. We are the ones who are bringing OUR hard-earned money into YOUR store and who MAY consider giving it to you in return for a product. Please show us a little respect. Don’t treat us like we’re irritations, interruptions or idiots. As a community we are increasingly prepared to take our money elsewhere. There are actually very few companies that don’t have a competitor who’d love to get our business and take it away from you.


Don’t some of you realise this yet? Customers really appreciate being greeted with a smile. Doesn’t everyone know that smiling actually makes you, the person smiling, happier? A happier salesperson performs better, is more attentive and makes more money for the business.

Leave your problems at home. If your weekend was awful, you had an argument with your partner or the kids were awful don’t take it out on us. It wasn’t our fault!

So just smile when you greet us OK? Then smile again when we buy something. Then smile yet again when we leave. Smile a few times in between as well!

Be flexible

Allow us to have what we want, within reason. If we don’t want exactly what’s on the menu, why don’t you let us have something a little different? The best restaurants don’t see this as an issue, in fact they encourage it!

Be imaginative

Come up with some bright ideas every so often. Offer us some special deals (ones that really mean something). Give us new items on the menu, new products, maybe even something free?


Please take responsibility for your actions. If something has gone wrong with the products or services you supply, own up to it, remedy the problem and learn from it. When there’s a problem be polite, don’t get defensive, research the matter and if it turns out that you the supplier were at fault then just fix it without fuss. And don’t forget to apologise for the inconvenience your customer experienced.

The customer is not king!

Yes, you read that right. Despite what we’ve read recently in other papers the customer is not king. The customer is just an ordinary guy. It’s not just kings that deserve respect, we all do.

Furthermore the customer is NOT always right. Sometimes the customer is just plain wrong. Sometimes the customer is demanding way too much. Sometimes the customer isn’t worth the effort. Instead of wasting time and money fighting to keep a troublesome customer, sometimes you should willingly lose them and concentrate your efforts on us, the reasonable ones!

A free idea for bars

It’s maybe not our job to lecture people on road safety and drink driving but here’s an idea we’ve shamelessly stolen from another country where we saw it work.

When a group of more than 4 people arrive in a bar one should be able to declare himself the nominated driver. He then gets a badge he can wear which tells all the staff that he shouldn’t be given any alcoholic drinks. Instead he gets a free non-alcoholic drink in every round the group orders. The cost of this is met by the bar management. Like KBL’s great idea over recent holidays when they offered to contribute towards taxi fares it’s a way for the industry to contribute towards the safety of their customers and perhaps even to save a few lives?

Oh and make up some interesting non-alcoholic drinks, not just orange juice and Coke. We’ve put some fruit cocktail recipes on our website if you need inspiration!

This week’s stars!

  • Mojwadi in Customer Services at Bomaid who is apparently “efficient, friendly and helpful”.
  • Thato at BTC for great service. Our reader says that “he takes his time and is patient, and took all the rubbish I gave him without complaining”.
  • Willie at Dros in Gaborone for really friendly service. One reader contacted us to remark on the excellent service there and our mystery shoppers were impressed with Willie in particular.

Friday 23 September 2005

Be safe at the ATM

This week Consumer Watchdog have been thinking a lot about ATM security. This started when we heard from a reader who had been visiting Namibia and tried to withdraw some cash from a bank while she was there. She inserted her card into what she thought was a perfectly normal ATM but it immediately shut down and kept her card. Very sensibly she went straight into the branch and reported that there had been a problem but left her travelling companion and the security guard outside to make sure that the card didn’t emerge while she was inside the bank. She got the bank to cancel the card immediately and was told that no further debits would be allowed using her card.

So far so good?

When she finally got home to Botswana she was horrified to find that after she had reported the incident and stopped the card P2,000 had been taken from her account using a different ATM and there had been 9 failed attempts to use the card, all of which had been declined.

Somehow the crooks managed to get her card from the machine while she was inside the bank and her friend was surrounded by people.

She wrote to her bank demanding her money back and clearly she has a good justification for a refund. She did exactly what she should have done which is to report the incident as soon as she possibly could.

However, at the time of writing, the bank have still not refunded her the stolen amount and are suggesting that they may not be obliged to. You can rest assured that Consumer Watchdog will continue to pursue this one!

Meanwhile we’ve been thinking about the measures we should all take to ensure our money is safe and we don’t get ripped off at ATMs.

Card skimming

Many readers will have read reports in the papers or on TV about the schemes that crooks are using to steal money from us at ATMs. The most commonly reported is known as “card skimming”. The crook places a device over the card slot in the ATM. This reads the details on the card and records or transmits them to the nearby crook. At the same time a tiny camera attached to the ATM machine films you entering your PIN number. By now the crooks have everything they need to make a copy of your card and to go to an ATM and withdraw your money.

As far as Consumer Watchdog is aware this hasn’t actually arrived in Botswana yet but it has been seen in South Africa so no doubt we’re next!

What can we do?

There are some very simple precautions we can take. To begin with we should try to notice anything peculiar about the ATMs we use. Does the machine look the same as the last time you used it? Is it the same as other machines you’ve used? Are there any strange attachments that you’ve not seen before?

A simple precaution is to cover your hand as you enter your PIN. Use your other hand, your purse or your wallet to hide the number as you key it in.

We should all take some very simple precautions whenever we go to an ATM. Don’t allow strangers to help you. If you need help get a family member, trusted friend or perhaps even a bank employee to do it, not a stranger.

Concentrate on what you are doing. Criminals will try and distract you by engaging you in conversation while either they or their companions take your belongings.

Be aware of your surroundings as you approach, use and leave the ATM. Keep an eye open for anyone acting strangely.

If you have ANY concerns, don’t use the ATM. Go to another one or come back later. If you see anything strange report it to the bank immediately. The banks would much rather have a few false alarms than allow crooks to get away with crime.

When you travel, take the emergency phone numbers that you’re given by your bank. If there’s a problem phone them and cancel the card. It will cost you money to make the call but if your card is stolen it could easily cost you a thousand times more! The bank is responsible for everything that happens from the moment you tell them you think that card security has been compromised. Make sure that you keep details of the reference numbers the bank give you and the names of the people you speak to in case there are any disputes later!

Finally, and yes, like so much of our advice this is rather boring, but check your bank statements! Keep the slips the ATMs give you and check them against your statement each month.

We’ve put a few links on our website that go into more detail about ATM fraud. You can see them if you visit, click on Consumer Watchdog and then on Current Campaigns.

This week’s stars!

  • Jackie at Travelwise in Gaborone for being proactive and energetic and for getting the best travel deals in town.
  • Joe and the team at BB Motors in Gaborone for being fantastic, for being prompt, efficient, friendly and above all for doing what they promise they'll do!
  • Joel and Motsumi at BP filling station in Broadhurst for being really friendly and efficient, "it's clear you really want to serve your customers!"
  • Nandos in the African Mall in Gaborone for listening and changing the way they do things when customers ask!
  • The Reach for a Dream Foundation for doing such amazing work, particularly Jacqueline.
  • The staff in the Emergency Room at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone who responded very quickly to an emergency involving a child.

Friday 16 September 2005

Some more success stories

Consumer Watchdog has had another busy week helping to sort out consumer’s problems.

The dead decoder

One of our readers contacted us regarding a problem she’d had with her DSTV decoder. She bought it from HiFi Corporation in Gaborone last year but didn’t get around to installing it as she was moving house. When she finally plugged it in she found that it didn’t work. However, the bad news is probably during the house move she’d lost her receipt. To make matters worse she had paid for it in cash so there was no credit card or cheque record of her buying it.

When she took it back to HiFi Corporation as a gesture of good faith they sent it for repair only to find that the decoder was completely dead and couldn’t be repaired at all. Technically of course HiFi Corporation weren’t obliged to repair it as there was no proof it was bought from them. When she contacted us we made a couple of calls to HiFi Corporation who started investigating. Eventually, using the serial number of the decoder they managed to confirm that they HAD sold it and even though their supplier wasn’t willing to fix it, HiFi Corporation have now said they will replace the decoder for her.

The lesson? Well, we all know this anyway but we must do our best to keep receipts safe. However, even if they do get lost a decent supplier will do their best to track the purchase and will fix it when they’ve confirmed that it’s their responsibility. Even better suppliers, like HiFi Corporation on this occasion, will go one further and bear the cost of replacing it when they know it’s the right thing to do.

In future articles we’ll be covering in much more detail some of the things we think consumers should remember when buying expensive items as well as a number of proposals for our legislators and government that we think would provide us with greater protection.

What to do with a huge cheque

We heard from a reader who had waited and waited at a bank for assistance in opening a new account. Twenty minutes after being acknowledged and still without being served she walked out. She later phoned the branch manager to complain and she still hasn’t had her call returned.

Why was she so cross? Because in her pocket there was a cheque for P100,000 that she wanted to deposit in the new account.

When we got involved we spoke to the Marketing Manager of the bank who is now chasing the potential customer desperate for her business. Unfortunately another bank is now also chasing her and doesn’t have a failure to recover from!

The lesson? Well, we all know this as well but shop around! And if you happen to have P100,000 in your pocket then make the banks work for it. Make them come to you. We suggest that you send all the banks a fax saying:

“I’ve got P100,000. Tell me within 24 hours why I should lend it you!”

You’ll find out pretty quickly which is the best bank for you.

Mystery shopping

It’s hard work but someone’s got to do it. Consumer Watchdog have been mystery shopping bars in Gaborone. So far we’ve visited 5 bars and the results are as follows. In ascending order:

Pula le Thebe bar at the President Hotel
Shame. No atmosphere, dark and almost empty. The only redeeming feature was friendly staff. Extremely expensive beer! Overall score – 4/10.

Campers bar, Extension 10
Simple but bright, friendly and cheap. A good community bar. Overall score 6/10.

Keg & Zebra, Riverwalk
Prompt and very friendly service but no great atmosphere. Spoiled if you sit outside by being in the middle of a car park! Overall score 7/10.

News Cafe
Great atmosphere, particularly if you like your bars noisy, busy and friendly. Overall score 8/10.

Café Khwest, Main Mall
Wow! Only recently opened but full of people having fun, great staff and management and a fantastic atmosphere. Overall score 9/10.

We’ll continue the very hard work of reviewing bars over the next few weeks. Please let us know of your favourites so we can check them out!

This week’s stars!

  • 30 regular customers at Equatorial Coffee at Riverwalk in Gaborone emailed us to celebrate Blessing. They say that he “deserves the title of Gaborone's best, as he is attentive, quick, with just the right dose of familiarity and respect. We are lucky to have him.” We’ll be giving Blessing the last of the P150 vouchers very generously donated to us by Primi Piatti a few weeks ago.
  • Andrew, the manager at HiFi Corporation for sorting out the problem we reported on earlier. It shows that suppliers can be good!
  • The staff and management at Café Khwest in Gaborone for running a great bar and, above all, for NOT being a franchised operation! It’s fantastic that we really do have young entrepreneurs here who show that they understand about service and good management and have the courage to take a chance. Make sure you keep standards high!
  • Arne and the team at Arne’s Horse Safaris for running a little refuge of peace and tranquillity just outside Gaborone.

Friday 9 September 2005

How not to treat a customer!

Over the last couple of months we’ve addressed a number of issues relating to good customer care. These have covered some of the things we think that suppliers and store owners should and shouldn’t do in the way they deal with us. Very few of them are revolutionary and seem just plain common sense to us. However, it still comes as a surprise when things go dreadfully wrong.

The following is a list of events that have been reported to us in the last week. All are genuine and none have been made up!

What do you say when a customer complains to you, the restaurant manager, that most of the items listed on your menu are unavailable?

A. “It’s not my fault. I blame the chef”?
B. “I’m terribly sorry, we’ve been let down badly by our supplier but let me tell what we CAN do for you.”
C. “Yes, I’m SO sorry about that but can I get you a free drink to apologise?”

In case you hadn’t realised the wrong answer is A! And yes, that’s the answer that was given.

What do you say to customers who are complaining that the restaurant is understaffed and they can’t get adequate service?

A. “I’m the Manager, it’s not my job to serve you.”
B. “Yes, I’m sorry about this but what can I do for you?”
C. “One of our staff is off sick but I really hope you’ll bear with us. Would you like a free drink?”

Again, A is the wrong answer. Again A was the answer given.

What do you do, when 8 foreign tourists who are no doubt carrying loads of foreign currency, show signs of getting up and leaving in protest at not being served?

A. Watch them leave
B. Apologise, ask them what you can do to help, engage them in conversation and make them feel welcome.
C. Offer them a snack and a free drink while they wait.

Again A is the wrong answer. And that’s what happened.

What do you say when all the customers in the restaurant are ganging up on you in response to the dreadful lack of service?
A. “Will you PLEASE stop complaining?”
B. “Look I’m very sorry everyone, this is just a terrible night for us. I’m going to knock 50% off everyone’s bill tonight.”
C. “I’m so sorry everyone. Would you all like a free drink?”

Yes A is the wrong answer again. Yes, that’s what was said.

What do you say to a hotel customer who is checking out and complains that they had a bad experience in the hotel restaurant the night before?
A. “Yes, the Manager told me.”
B. “I’m VERY sorry to hear that you must have felt very disappointed. This is NOT the sort of service we aim for.”
C. “I’m really very sorry, we hope you’ll give us a second chance. Would you like a discount voucher for your next stay or perhaps a free drink?”

Finally, in case you hadn’t guessed already, A is the wrong answer. And yes, that’s what as said.

The really, desperately, dreadfully, appallingly bad news? Every single one of these events occurred during a single stay at the Sedia Hotel in Maun last weekend. Every one of them.

This was in Maun, one of the most important tourist centres in Botswana. What must tourists think of us? What are those 8 foreign tourists telling their friends and relatives in their home country right now? Are they telling them that they came to a great country with courteous and friendly people who were really proud to welcome them to Botswana? Not a chance! They’re laughing at us, right now as you’re reading this.

This really is not good enough. It’s shameful that visitors should see us behave like this. Also, it’s also just rude. Whether we’re tourists or on business we pay lots of money to stay in hotels and the very least we deserve is a little courtesy and respect. And a free drink every so often!

This week’s stars!

  • However it’s not all bad news from Maun! Kaone at Sedia Hotel actually did seem to care about problems at check and did her best to fix them.
  • Sylvester at the security checkpoint at Maun airport looked at our colleague’s ID and then thanked her by name with a huge smile. That sort of thing can make someone’s day and shows visitors to Botswana what we are really like.
  • We heard that Ignatius at Standard Chartered, Hemamo House Branch in Gaborone deserves special praise for always being courteous, patient and friendly and always going the extra mile.
  • Also Candy at Stanbic Bank, Fairgrounds Branch in Gaborone for being “amazing”.
  • Lalala, Lala and Osenotse, also at Stanbic Bank, Fairgrounds Branch in Gaborone for service that WOWs customers.
  • Sarah at Barclays Home Loans for keeping a customer updated and for being so efficient.
  • Kenanae at Barclays Carbo Centre for great after-sales service.

We’ve noticed something about the success stories we publicise. A growing number of the good news stories we hear are about banks! We don’t think it’s just our imagination but the service we all get from the banks genuinely does seem to be improving. Yes, there’s clearly a long way to go but all credit to the banks for actually seeming to do something about it.

Friday 2 September 2005

Consumer Watchdog has plans!

We’ve spent the last couple of columns showing off a bit about some of our successes. Some of our earlier columns covered issues that we feel are important to us, the consumers of Botswana. These included the need for decent Consumer Protection legislation and Data Protection laws that will limit the ways in which companies can use the information they hold on us.

However we think the time has come for us to listen to our readers. What do YOU want us to investigate? What do YOU think we need to protect us from unscrupulous traders?

We’d really like to get contributions from you, the readers of Mmegi, on what you think matters. Rather than just have us go on about what we think should happen we feel that there really should be a debate about what’s needed. Please drop us a line on what you think should happen and whether there are other issues you think we should cover.

In the meantime here are some of the issues we think we should concentrate on in the near future. DO let us know if you think we’re onto something.


We don’t think consumers are safe. We’ve heard of shops that are left open during renovation work and which end up injuring customers, supermarkets selling food that’s well past it’s sell-by date and some horrific stories of poor hygiene in many food outlets. All of these suggest to us that we actually operate in a pretty dangerous environment and that we need greater protection.

It’s not just consumers that are at risk. It’s the staff in the supermarkets as well. So what’s the solution? Well, read our future columns but there’s no surprises coming! We want the City Councils to be given REAL powers to intervene when there’s an obvious threat to our safety. We want consumers to be able to complain to authorities that actually use the powers they have to punish those who put us at risk. If they don’t have the powers then they should get them!

SMS “abuse”

We had an email from a reader this week who complained about the widespread use of SMS messages for marketing purposes. We’ve probably all seen the advertisements in the papers where you send an SMS from your phone to enter a competition, vote in a survey or to get cinema show times. Our reader also reports that some stores are selling discounted scratch cards but when you call to register them to your phone you are forced to listen to a lengthy advertisement which of course costs you money and wastes you time.

Some good news

Much as we’re very proud of what we do and what we achieve readers must remember that we’re only Consumer Watchdog – we have no real teeth. We have no legal powers and can only try and influence suppliers and stores through the promise of public accountability, in other words the embarrassment of being criticised in the press!

As we mentioned last week we do hear that mentioning Consumer Watchdog can have quite an effect on suppliers. It seems that when they are being unreasonable the thought of public exposure in Mmegi or on the radio suddenly makes them see sense! This is really encouraging as it suggests that suppliers really are beginning to get the message that they need to concentrate hard on us, their customers.

But please remember that we do have very little practical power.

However, the very good news is that we do now have a significant new weapon in our armoury! With the blessing of the Law Society of Botswana our good friends at Minchin & Kelly (Botswana), the highly respected Gaborone law firm have been the first to offer to donate some of their time to help out. They’re going to be a much better position to help with any issues reported to us that require a detailed understanding of the law. They’ve also volunteered to contribute towards our campaign to educate and inform the consumer so you’ll see their advice here in this column in the future.

Many thanks to them and to the Law Society for approving this.

But a plea for more support!

This is a plea to those in power, to community leaders, heads of businesses and above all to our politicians and law-makers. If you think we’re doing a good job and that we have some good ideas please get in contact with us. We really want to help you as leaders to achieve what the public want. All our materials and our ideas are at your disposal. Give us a call and let us know how we can help!

This week’s stars!

  • We heard recently from a reader in Francistown who had problems when he went for a working lunch at Diggers. The orders were taken well enough but they took more than 30 minutes to arrive. Some of the guests received their food so late that they had to take it away. Well, a few weeks later our reader got a call from Diggers management who apologised profusely, explained that they had fired the offending chef and, best of all, offered the entire group of 10 people a complimentary lunch! So congratulations to Diggers for taking action when it was needed and winning back a frustrated customer.
  • We also want to praise Payless in the Mall in Gaborone for having an excellent system for keeping belongings that customers accidentally leave behind. Our reader was delighted to get her parcel back.
  • Another reader contacted us to say that Spar at Kgale View in Gaborone should be commended for efficiently serving a variety of warm, clean and hygienic foods with a smile. She says “Keep it up Spar! Your bread is also delicious!”