Friday 23 December 2005

Why celebrate?

Why do we celebrate people every week?

Is it perhaps that we’re just good natured, big-hearted, lovable characters at Consumer Watchdog? Well, you certainly would not think we were if you listened to certain stores, a number of micro-lenders and all loan sharks. Oh, and a certain cult masquerading as a Church trying to help people. That’s not why we celebrate service stars.

Is it because it’s Christmas? Not a chance. We celebrate (and criticise) all year round.

So why do we do it? It’s simple. We do it for our own self-interest. We want better standards, better service and better prices.

Our strong belief is that the only way really to make things better is by having truly effective competition. We, as consumers, benefit when stores see their only chance of survival as being better than their rival next door. The constant pressure not only to maintain standards but actually to continually improve them gives customers a constantly fresh range of choices.

That’s not to mean that only the first across the line will survive. There’s room enough for two, three, maybe even several decent supermarkets, restaurants and car repair centres in a city the size of Gaborone. However, just as some will survive, others will fail and that’s actually a good thing. We must understand that the failure of a proportion of businesses is actually a good thing. Yes, of course it’s desperately sad for the investors, managers and staff but it’s just the way of business. In most economies it’s well known that half of all businesses fail within the first 18 months.

So why do we celebrate service stars? Because they give an example to follow. They are role models that other people can aspire to be. Whatever the industry we work in it’s great to have someone we can look up to, someone whose example we can copy and who can be a genuine hero. The more service champions that we have, the more others will try harder, the more money their employers will make and the more competition we will have.

And that’s what we want. More competition, more winners and losers and consumers who genuinely benefit from the fight for survival and the inevitable end-result: better customer service.

Our Christmas stars!

We have had so may Christmas stars to celebrate. We knew there were service stars that we should all celebrate and but we were delighted to realise quite how many of them exist. For a full list of all winners check out our website at

So who wins the star prize? Who is our Christmas superstar?

The winner of our star prize, P500 donated by First National Bank, is Blessed Monyatsi, one of the senior managers at Tebelopele. We received an email from someone who had visited the Tebelopele Testing Centre in Gaborone in a desperate emotional state. She was apparently very upset and needed a test during the lunchtime break. Finding nobody on duty she didn’t know what to do. When Blessed noticed her he took charge, arranged for her to be seen and tested during the break.

So what’s so special about what Blessed did?

It’s simple. He understood that even though Tebelopele are not a commercial organisation they nevertheless have customers who deserve attention and that as a service provider his convenience was not as important as a client’s needs.

He also didn’t see himself as a manager who should remain aloof and removed from his client’s needs. Despite the fact that it wasn’t actually his job to deal with the client he took personal responsibility for the situation and dealt with it.

He also realised that the emotional components of service are critical. OK, so maybe we can’t compare Tebelopele with a restaurant or a supermarket but nevertheless the feelings expressed by the client made it clear that rules needed to be broken, flexibility was required and that the personal needs of the client are paramount.

So, congratulations go to Blessed for demonstrating how it can be done, and also doing it so professionally and in anarea of Botswana life that is so important.

Friday 16 December 2005

A new target for Consumer Watchdog

This week’s column is going to be a little different. This week we’re going to do our best not to say anything bad about stores, restaurants, banks, micro-lenders, loan sharks or indeed anyone who sells us anything. All of these people have been on the receiving end of our attention over the last 9 months and for just one week we’re going to give them a break.

So, who is our target this week? Who is the poor, unfortunate victim? Whose weekend are we going to spoil?


Yes, you, the consumer.

OK, so maybe you think our job is to stand up for consumers? Maybe you think Consumer Watchdog is here just to support consumers who have been exploited, abused and disrespected?

Well, yes, that’s one of the things we are here to do. However, one of our most important (self-appointed) missions is to educate and inform customers and BOY have we got a long way to go!

Yes, we realise that the consumer community in Botswana is still young. We know how recently we got large shopping malls and what limited choice we had 10 years ago. So much of what we have now is recent so perhaps many of us aren’t used to variety, choice and competition.

But this is no excuse for gullibility, for accepting abuse like we don’t deserve better and for not standing up for our rights.

Why do we continue to fall for appalling store credit schemes? Why do we voluntarily sign up for store credit schemes that make us pay back so much more than the cash price? A recent offer we saw involved the highest proportional finance charges we had ever seen. The item on offer was a DVD player. If you had cash it would cost you P399. However if you opted for their credit scheme you would pay back over 2 years a grand total of P2,207! These figures are just ridiculous! If, instead of signing the credit agreement, you invested the monthly repayment amount in one of the new high interest, zero-charge bank accounts you could buy the same DVD player for cash after just 4 ½ months! And on top of that the bank would give you enough interest to rent your first DVD!

But the worst thing is that the reason this store advertises this scheme must be that people actually fall for it! Why would they waste money advertising if people didn’t select it?

It also still surprises us when we hear of consumers giving away their ATM cards and PIN numbers to loan sharks and the slightly more legitimate micro-lenders. Surely everyone knows that this is extreme foolishness? Would they trust any other total stranger with something as important as their ATM card?

Why do shoppers fall for it? We sometimes feel that consumers switch off their higher order brain functions when they see something they want. They are willingly persuaded by suppliers to do things that they must know are deeply foolish.

As we’ve said before in this column the answer to all this can be found in our pocket or purse. Look at a P5 coin. What does it say?


We need to rely on ourselves. Read what Dichaba Molobe has to say in his column in this paper every week. He writes a lot of good sense about self-reliance and the “entitlement mentality” we sometimes show. It’s genuinely not government’s fault that we sign up for these agreements. It’s not society’s fault either. Yes, some of the stores are exploiting us but it’s fundamentally our own fault. We really must begin to take responsibility for our own actions, particularly when it comes to money.

Don’t we all know by now that credit schemes are hugely expensive? Even if we aren’t so good at the maths surely we can tell that they’re ripping us off?

Don’t we know that loan sharks do NOT have our best interests at heart? They are lending us money so that they can make money and many of them go to extremes to get our money from us.

We must mature, get a grip and show some self-reliance. We can’t expect Government, suppliers and society in general to take the blame when we get ourselves into desperate financial problems because we’ve done something unwise.

As Karl Marx almost said, “Shoppers of the world, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your bad credit rating!”

This week’s stars!

  • Meshack nominated the team at TJ Trimmers who attended to his needs and didn’t even charge him! Both the manager and Paul win a Watchdog Christmas voucher for being service stars.
  • Tom called to nominate Enrico at Debonairs who not only apologised in writing for a mix-up but sent Tom’s kids ice cream to say sorry. A Woolworths voucher worth P100 donated by Standard Chartered goes to Enrico.
  • Neo celebrated Topollo at FNB who arranged to have Neo’s replacement credit card sent ahead to her in South Africa. A Game City worth P250 voucher goes to Topollo.
  • Boitumelo nominated Mr Bossman from Lewis who gets a Woolworths voucher worth P100 donated by Standard Chartered for responding to a customer’s complaint so well.
  • Lydia nominated Otsile from KFC for delivering a real “wow factor” and she’ll get a voucher.
  • Kabelo at BTC gets a P250 voucher donated by Stanbic bank for being a star. Kabelo is clearly passionate about service and has been nominated over and over again. BTC should be proud of him.
  • Lalala at Stanbic was nominated by Richard for being just fantastic and she gets a P250 voucher donated by Barclays.
  • Ellen nominated Teddy from TD Builders. She says he’s the first builder she’s ever met who does a job on time and within the quoted price. He’ll get a Christmas voucher for being unique!

Friday 9 December 2005

Watchdog’s Christmas wish list

Dear Santa Claus

We know that only good children are visited by Santa at Christmas but we think we’ve been pretty good all year. We’ve only been threatened with legal action twice and given that we make a habit of exposing extortionate interest rates, hidden charges and the occasional supplier or store who has no idea about standards we think that’s pretty good. So surely we deserve something?

We’ve given it a lot of thought and here’s our Christmas wish list.

Service stars

Send us some more service stars. We know there’s quite a few of them in Botswana already but we can’t get enough of them. So far we’ve celebrated around 100 people for delivering customer service over and above consumer’s expectations but we’re greedy and we want more! Every store, every restaurant, every bank should have service champions who can lead teams, train newcomers and, every so often, fire those who just can’t make it in a service setting. They can take the lead in improving our whole service culture and making us a country people talk about for being welcoming, friendly and hospitable. It shouldn’t be so difficult, surely? We are welcoming, friendly and hospitable aren’t we?

Suppliers who “get it”

Just as there are individuals who deliver top of the range service there should be suppliers that realise that excellent customer service makes them competitive, makes them achieve the best and makes them lots of money. There are a few companies that do this already but a few isn’t enough. We want more of them! We want much more competition in Botswana. Real competition. Yes, there’s room for it and things can only get better when those that excel make those that don’t either shape up or ship out.

More assertive shoppers

Please Santa, send us a large dose of assertiveness that we can share amongst shoppers and consumers. We don’t mean aggression, rudeness or confrontation, just assertiveness. Just the strength to stand up for our rights, to say “No” when we’re being abused and some backbone when the supplier tries to bully us.


Please send us some reason? We urgently need to send some to those suppliers that get all defensive when we raise our perfectly justifiable complaints with them.

We also need to distribute just a little bit among consumers themselves. Very occasionally the customer is wrong. Completely or partially wrong. Sometimes even unreasonable. Every now and then we need to give a consumer a dose of reason for when they have either been driven crazy by an awkward supplier or they just happen to be unreasonable in their expectations.

Some smiles

This should be easy as smiles are cheap! Send us a huge load of smiles that we can give suppliers, and indeed customers, to use when they deal with each other. We know that a smile at the beginning or end of a transaction or a complaint makes the whole thing much easier and much more satisfactory.


Some outlets urgently need some imagination. Restaurants need new menu items occasionally. OK, keep the items you know people love but be adventurous occasionally. It may not work but at least nobody will be able to criticise you for not trying.

Oh and give us some special offers. Just make them ones that work in Botswana please? Not ones limited to South Africa. We are not a province or a colony of South Africa. We are a separate country and you know what? We rather like it that way.

A little legal protection

Send us a few laws that can help to protect us. We don’t want many, just a few that will regulate the micro-lending industry, control store credit schemes and punish those that transgress. However, if you and your little helpers don’t have many laws to go round there is one we want more than any other. We want every company, whether a bank, a micro-lender or a furniture store to be forced to tell us every time they advertise what the total cost of a lending scheme will be. Make them include every charge, make them say what the annual percentage rate is and make them give us a compulsory cooling-off period so when our husband or wife blows a fuse we can change our minds!

However, and this is a big however, please do not send us anything like the litigation culture they have in the States. We don’t want to sue a company for compensation for our emotional trauma and psychotherapy bills every time they upset us, we just want the right to get our problem fixed. We really don’t want every tiny complaint sorted out 2 years later in the High Court having incurred huge legal costs, we wanted it sorted out for free on the shop floor this afternoon.

Legal threats

Lastly, can you please send us a few more suppliers who, the moment we criticise them by pointing out their outrageous interest rates or their complete contempt for their customers, will threaten to sue us for defamation? It does make us laugh such a lot!

Lots of love

Consumer Watchdog

This week’s stars!

  • All the guys at Kudu Filling Station in the Main Mall in Gaborone for being great fun
  • Raj at Plascon for being “just great at customer service”
  • Daniel and the team at BSPCA for being so caring, friendly and great with the animals
  • Enrico and the team at Kgale Debonairs Pizza for responding SO well to an issue a customer raised (free ice cream all round!)
  • Debbie and team at Waterbabies for donating an Adult swimming course as a Christmas prize