Friday 25 November 2005

Watchdog dresses up as Santa

Christmas is coming and Consumer Watchdog wants presents!

Not for ourselves of course, but to give away to the deserving service stars of Botswana.

In the run up to Christmas we’re asking those service providers who really care about customer service to donate Christmas prizes we can award to the service stars we celebrate and maybe even to the readers who recommend them. The prizes can be as big or as small as the suppliers can afford and can be either in cash, goods or vouchers, whatever the supplier thinks would be best. All the prizes will be announced in this column and on our GABZ FM radio show and lots of recognition will be given to the donors!

So how are we going to choose the winners?

Between now and the last Monday before Christmas we’re inviting you, our readers, and listeners to the GABZ FM show to contact us with details of the service providers who you think deserve a Christmas present. We want to find the real stars, not the ones who go just a little further than the rest but the ones who you think the nation as a whole should celebrate.

The rules are simple. You can’t nominate your brother, lover or colleague. It has to be a genuine employee of a service provider. It can be someone at a supermarket, filling station, restaurant or even the security guard at a shopping centre, anyone who delivers a service. Obviously we’re going to validate every recommendation to make sure there’s no funny business.

The judging panel will be the team at Mmegi and the presenters of the radio show.

All you need to do is drop us a line, email us, phone us or fax us with who they are and why you think they are so special.

Back to the suppliers!

We’ve already approached a number of the organisations we know from past experience like to recognise and reward success and we’ve had a great response from them. So, who has donated so far? Well, no surprises, it’s the usual suspects! Primi Piatti in Gaborone we first off the mark and have offered 4 P100 meal vouchers.

We’ve also had offers from Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and KFC in the Main Mall both in Gaborone. Nandos have donated 15 meal vouchers. Standard Chartered Bank have very generously donated P1,000 which will be awarded in P100 Woolworths vouchers. First National Bank have also been very generous and have offered P500 in cash which we’re going to set aside for the winner of winners which we’ll announce in the last week before Christmas. More and more offers are coming as and we’ll keep our readers up to date as we hear more!

So, all you other suppliers our Christmas appeal is to join us and help us to celebrate success. Let’s help our service champions have a great Christmas!

Separating the wheat from the chaff

One of the things we’ve noticed in our dealings with suppliers over the last year has been the great variety in approach and imagination between suppliers when it comes to dealing with customers and the community in general. Some suppliers, like the ones mentioned above, really do seem to care about the quality of service they deliver but as importantly the general levels of service available.

A few weeks ago 30 people contacted us to celebrate Blessing at Equatorial Coffee for being a generally fantastic guy. We gave Blessing a voucher that had been donated to Watchdog by Primi Piatti, just a few metres away from his workplace. However, some people have suggested to us that it is a bit strange that his reward for being great at Equatorial was a meal at Primi, a competitor outlet.

We don’t think it’s strange at all. Both Equatorial Coffee and Primi Piatti recognise that everyone benefited from this award. Equatorial come across as great for employing Blessing, a service star, Primi Piatti come across as being generous and committed to quality service and Blessing got a free meal! Did anyone suffer? Of course not! Will either Equatorial or Primi to lose business as a result? Of course not! Is Blessing upset that his reward was for a meal somewhere other than his workplace? Of course not!

Companies that really understand about customer service seem to get the picture. Their business will boom when they are seen as open, friendly and competitive but not protectionist, not secretive and not unimaginative. These companies understand that they themselves will benefit when there is greater competition. Competition separates the weak from the strong, the good from the bad, the wheat from the chaff. In a competitive business environment all companies that deliver the best service will benefit. Did the opening of Primi Piatti put the Caravela Restaurant in Gaborone out of business (they are, after all, both great places to have a top-quality meal and compete with each other for business). Of course not, there’s room enough for two and each no doubt inspires the other to improve even further.

As Herbert Hoover said: "Competition is not only the basis of protection to the consumer, but is the incentive to progress."

This week’s stars!

  • Some while ago we twice celebrated Mojwadi from Bomaid for excellent service. We hear that in response to this Bomaid were so delighted with her being mentioned that they gave her a trip to Kasane as a reward. Good for Bomaid for recognising their star and for rewarding her!
  • The directors and staff of New Capitol Cinema, notably Gaone, for going out of their way to give a great time to a group of kids taken by SOS to see a film.
  • Cousin at Incredible Connection for putting a customer’s problem right and for compensating him very generously.
  • Tiro at Nandos for sorting out a customer’s reported problem so well.

Friday 18 November 2005

Do we want tourists or not?

Do we really want tourists to visit Botswana? Do we really? Are we sure?

We all know that our economy urgently requires diversification, that tourism has been identified as our great hope for the future and that we have some of the greatest tourist attractions in the world. We all know that tourists are already visiting Botswana and bringing with them foreign currency, international interest and can go a long way towards countering the negative coverage we may have received over the last couple of years.

So, given all that, why do we go out of our way to offend them?

Why do we treat them with contempt, discourtesy and disrespect?

So perhaps you don’t believe it? Perhaps you think that we treat them well? Here are two stories that were reported to us in the last couple of months.

At a hotel in Maun eight foreign tourists in a restaurant were completely ignored for ages by the owner and staff. When they finally began to show signs of getting up and leaving in protest at not being served, what did the owner do? Did he apologise, ask them what he could do to help, engage them in conversation and make them feel welcome? No. Did he offer them a snack and a free drink while they waited? No, funnily enough he didn’t.

He watched them leave.

So what are those 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.

The second story came from Kasane. Two foreign tourists had booked their stay at a leading hotel there in advance and had paid a deposit of P1,500. However shortly before they arrived they were forced to cut short their stay from three days to two because the travel agent had made a mix up with flights. The hotel was fine with this but insisted that the deposit they had paid was for three nights, not two and that the P500 that related to the third night could not be offset against their bill. They were told that they should pay the hotel the extra P500 cash instead and then claim back this amount from the travel agent when they were back in their home country.

After a lot of argument the hotel eventually cancelled P500 of totally unrelated items from their bill, like meals and drinks to compensate them for the deposit they had paid.

OK, so we don’t really understand this either. Does this make ANY sense to you? The point is why on earth should the tourists have to bother with all this? They had paid a deposit and that amount should be deducted from the bill. End of story. If the hotel have accounting and cash receipting problems that is not the customer’s problem!

It’s obviously beyond the scope of this column to comment on government economic policy, the diversification of the economy and how exactly to run a tourist centre but there are times when we at Consumer Watchdog really wonder whether some hotels and restaurants are actively trying to sabotage our tourism industry. They seem to be going out of their way to send tourists home with the very lowest impression of Botswana.

Is it really too much to ask that we treat all visitors, whether domestic or international, to excellent service? It doesn’t need to be ingratiating, fawning and servile. Regardless of where they come from most visitors just want a smile, a friendly welcome and staff that actually show an interest in looking after them.

One thing that perhaps we should all remember is that the vast majority of the tourists that come to Botswana aren’t millionaires. They’re not Bill Gates, they’re just ordinary people like you and me who have probably saved up for ages to have a once in a lifetime holiday that they hope to remember for the rest of their lives. The sort of holiday they’ll tall their grandchildren about.

As we’ve said before, contrary to what some people say the customer is NOT king or queen. The customer is just another guy who deserves good treatment. Everyone deserves it whether they live here or are a tourist, whether they are rich or poor, whether they are black or white. We all deserve the very best treatment.

However as we mentioned at the beginning of this article, foreign tourists may end up being our bread and butter, our pap and seswa. We absolutely must really examine the way we treat these visitors who may keep our economy going in the future.

We call on all the relevant bodies, including the Department of Tourism, HATAB, travel agents and, most of all, the service providers in tourist destinations to shape up. Commit yourselves to the very highest levels of service, to giving our visitors the greatest welcome and the best memories of the greatest country in Africa.

This week’s stars!

  • Montshiwa from Tyre Services for stopping a motorist with a flat tyre and advising them to get it fixed urgently. Great service and excellent business sense!
  • Maneo, also from Tyre Services, for fixing the tyre efficiently, quickly and with a smile.
  • Brian at Funrmart for “being a star”
  • Choppies Phakalane for being friendly, helpful and being really great with customers.
  • Staff at Akermans Riverwalk and Broadhurst for being helpful. Apparently they even look after your kids for you when you shop!

Friday 11 November 2005

How DO they justify it?

We’ve reported in this column on numerous occasions on some of the store credit options available to shoppers in Botswana. We’ve reported on the outrageous activities and charges applied by some of the less appealing micro-lenders. We’ve also reported on the rates charged by the stores around the country. Some of the rates charged have been truly staggering.

A few weeks ago we were stunned to find what is perhaps the highest ever store credit charge we’ve ever seen. The item in question was a budget DVD player. If you bought it for cash you would need to pay just P399 which is actually pretty cheap. Sounds like a bargain and it probably is!

However, if you were to opt for the store’s own credit scheme you would pay somewhat more than P399. Firstly you would need to pay a deposit of P95. Then, every month for 2 whole years, you would need to pay back P88. At the end of the 2 years you would have paid back a staggering total of P2,207. Remember that this is for an item that costs just P399 if you have the cash. For those of you without a calculator to hand that’s an annual percentage rate of 227%!

We at Consumer Watchdog cannot recall ever having seen an APR that high ever before, anywhere in the world.

When we mentioned these figures the store contacted us and disputed our figures, saying that we hadn’t taken into account the optional elements of the charges and were being unfair to them. Our response was that they had published the very figures we had used and we felt that our arithmetic was therefore correct.

So why do some stores charge such high interest rates? To make money of course!

However, to be fair to the stores (yes we are always fair, despite what some people say) they will say that they are forced to charge such high rates to protect themselves against the large proportion of customers that fail to make payments.

So what’s our response to that? The reason so many customers fail to keep up with the payments is that they are so high!!!!! It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. The higher the repayments, the more who will default, thus requiring the rates to be made even higher etc etc etc.

Surely if they lowered the cost of their credit schemes fewer customers would default?

The good news

Yes, there is good news. Not all stores charge 227% interest rates!

In advertisements last week we found the following.

Hi Fi Corporation will sell you a laptop computer for P3,699 for cash, but on their 2-year credit scheme you’ll pay back a total of P7,378 which is an APR of 50%. Still a little on the high side but a whole lot better than 227%!

OK Furniture have a fridge for sale for cash at P1,049. If you choose to pay over 2 years, you’ll pay back a total of on P1,526, an APR of only 23% (one tenth of the 227% figure!).

Best of all if you go to Game and like the TV they are selling for P1,199 for cash you can get it on 2-year credit for P1,536, an APR of only 14%! Searching through the Game literature we couldn’t find any APR higher than about 16%.

We confess that we are completely unable to explain how one store can get away with demanding 227% and another just a few hundred meters away can charge 14%.

Incidentally, before any angry store manager writes in and complains about our comparisons, yes we do know that rates vary according to the value of the item (cheaper items usually attract higher rates). We also know that some figures include delivery and insurance but that’s rarely made crystal clear in the advertisements. And anyway, Mr Store Manager, if you give figures in public advertisements that suggest you charge 227% in interest and you in fact don’t charge this amount we suggest you get a new advertising agency!

So what are our lessons for consumers?

Don’t buy on credit unless you absolutely must. If you can live without what you want for a few months, put the same amount you would have paid each into a high interest account and earn interest on it. That way the bank will actually help you pay for whatever you want!

Back to the DVD we mentioned at the beginning of the article. Instead of going for their credit scheme just put aside the P88 they would make you pay each month into a bank account. In less than 5 months you would have saved the total cash price of the DVD player. Yes, FIVE months instead of TWENTY-FOUR.

If you really DO need to buy on credit then shop around! Identical items can vary enormously when bought on credit. For almost exactly the same total repayment you could get a DVD player worth P399 or an entire home theatre system worth P1,899.

Check your budget. Yes, it’s very boring advice but please check first whether you can afford the repayment and whether you are really confident that you will be able to afford them every month. These credit schemes make no allowances for unplanned funerals, car repairs or school fees. Do you really want to sentence yourself to 2 years hard labour paying back a loan?

Do you really need it anyway? Won’t your current fridge survive for another few months? Patch it up and put the money aside in a savings scheme!

This week’s stars!

  • Dave at Skip Hire for being efficient and helpful
  • Gaborone Cricket Club for organising a fantastic fireworks event
  • Lyndsay at HRMC for being a star

Friday 4 November 2005

How to complain - Part 2

Last week we talked about some of the key rules about complaining. We did this because almost all of us actually find complaining very difficult and we often find it difficult to complain in a way that actually works. We end up either giving in because we are too polite or else we find ourselves shouting and screaming because we’ve been pushed beyond reasonable endurance.

The rules we outlined were quite simple but they can all be overlooked in the heat of battle!

Calm down. Keep it cool and you’ll stay in control.

Be reasonable. Yes, sometimes we get SO mad but it’s critical not to lose the battle by becoming the bad guy. Make sure you remain the good guy at ALL times.

Seek advice. Don’t forget that there ARE people out there who will help!

Put it in writing. Phone calls, emails and conversation aren’t good enough. If you mean it, write it and post it!

Keep records. Keep copies of everything. Every receipt, invoice and letter. Keep notes from how many calls you’ve made, including names of the people you spoke to. Everything.

Escalate. If the little guy on the other side doesn’t help you then talk to the big guy! “Never accept a No from someone not able to give you a Yes”!

Don’t give up. Do not let them grind you down.

Chase them. “Fortune favours the brave”. Take the battle to them. Phone them every week. For ever or until they give in!

Take control. They are in the wrong, you are in the right. You are in charge.

Manipulate their emotions. Appeal to their better nature. Even if they don’t actually have one they probably want the public to think that they do.

Get nasty. Set your MP on them. If that doesn’t work then call us and we’ll set Kate and her team of watchdogs on them!

So how actually do you do it?

This sounds very easy but how exactly do you do it? How exactly do you write a letter that sticks to these principles?

Keep it short and simple

Try your best to keep all letters of complaint short, simple and direct. Give the supplier enough information to research the matter but don’t go on and on. If they are faced with four pages of ranting they will not understand what actually went wrong. Be fair to them and make it easy to understand.

Give them facts

Give them all the boring dates, locations, names, model numbers and serial numbers. Say things like “On 15th October 2005 at 11:45 I purchased an Acme Widget 321 for P599 from your store at Toy City, serial number 123456789. When I first used the Widget the whatsit did not operate according to the manual and the thingamajig was cracked.”

Give them evidence

Give them photocopies of receipts or invoices. Do NOT give them the originals. Many stores really do have internal rules that require receipts as proof of purchase so they really can’t do much without a receipt.

If you’ve lost the receipt (we’ve all done it) you should still complain, explain that you don’t have the receipt but try and supply them with other evidence like a credit card bill, debit card transaction slip or the original packaging.

Give them a solution

Tell them exactly what will make you go away and give them a quiet life. Give them the solution you want. Say things like “I require an apology and for your company to compensate me for the phone calls, taxi fares and medical expenses I have incurred. So far this totals P400.”

Also make I clear what is NOT acceptable. Say things like “Unfortunately a replacement is not acceptable as I no longer have faith in this manufacturer.”

However, don’t go over the top. Don’t demand the earth when all that’s needed is an apology and a free voucher. Thankfully Botswana isn’t a litigation-happy culture like the USA and we really don’t want to see it become that way. A broken DVD player does NOT entitle you to compensation for your emotional trauma and the psychotherapy sessions you needed as a result. Be realistic!

Don’t be crazy

Don’t write in capitals, it just looks like your shouting. Don’t write a complaint letter in green ink. It’s just weird! Don’t become a stalker. Don’t give them an opportunity to reject you as a lunatic!

Do NOT let them pressurise you

A few companies just cannot take criticism. We’ve seen it often during our time fighting for consumers. When faced with a genuine complaint rather than fix it promptly and courteously they get defensive, they then go into denial and they finally get aggressive. We’ve been threatened with litigation by stores twice in the last couple of weeks just because we defended someone or reported facts. Clearly some stores think that by acting like this they’ll frighten consumers away from standing up for their rights.

If a supplier you are arguing with gets aggressive then you should understand that this is almost certainly because they realise they’re in the wrong and they don’t want anyone to know this.

So don’t be threatened or pressurised. If they get heavy with you then give us a call. There are few things Consumer Watchdog enjoys more than taking on a supplier who’s getting nasty!

If you can do all these things your complaint stands a really good chance of motivating the right person to fix your problem for you, of getting your what you want and allowing you to get in with your life!

This week’s stars!

  • Lawrence and the technical team at Securicor for being friendly, quick and really helpful
  • Kabelo at BTC for making things happen!
  • Also at BTC, Alice and Tsholofelo for listening to a customer and following up.
  • Kgomotso at Aluminium 2000 for being really friendly and great at customer service
  • Goitsemang at Stanbic Fairgrounds for going beyond the call of duty