Friday 31 March 2006

We’ve had complaints!

Someone has complained about us! Apparently we tend to treat important issues like customer service without the necessary seriousness. We tend to be jokey, we tease poor performers and we should be much more somber and dry about it.

So what’s our reaction?

Tough. If you don’t like it don’t listen to us on GabzFM and don’t read what we say in Mmegi. We don’t care what you think. Your opinions are worthless and irrelevant. In fact just go away and leave us alone, OK?

Hang on, sorry, I’m not sure what came over me. Maybe I thought I was the CEO of a parastatal monopoly for a moment. Sorry.

We welcome feedback. We really do want to hear what people think about the work we do on consumer issues. Obviously we much prefer to have people say nice things about us but, well, we can’t always have it our own way.

So what did our correspondent have to say? Well, before you think that I’m not willing to listen, I should say that everything he said was reasonable, considered and thoughtful. However I disagree with pretty much everything he said.

So what did he say? Several things. Here goes…

Apparently we tend to “ridicule companies that experience service delivery problems”. Not sure I agree with that. Yes, we have been known to tease them, to take them a little bit less than seriously and to make jokes about them but is that ridiculing them? Actually, yes it is I suppose. OK, maybe he has a point. Yes, we ridicule them, but I make no apology. They deserve it. If they treat their customers with contempt then why shouldn’t they be criticised in the most effective way? With humour, with jokes and with, well, ridicule.

Our friend goes on to say that we “don’t seem to realise the serious consequences that can result to shareholder value as a result of [our] treatment of these very serious issues”.

I think that this is a point we need to think about carefully. If he’s correct, a company that disrespects it’s customers and then is criticised by Consumer Watchdog may see it’s share price go down.


Remember that companies are like politicians. They don’t have a right to be selected. They don’t have a right to be popular. They don’t have a right to success.

They must earn our support.

Politicians do it by keeping to their promises and putting our interests above their own. Companies do it by providing us with competitively priced products, choices and above all, good customer service. If they do that then they will become profitable. Then, if they are lucky, people with money to invest will want to buy shares in the company and their share price will probably increase. But the key thing is that this only happens when they make real money as a result of good customer service. Simple eh?

Our position is very simple. If you deliver poor customer service then you simply don’t deserve to make money. You don’t deserve to attract shareholders. In fact you deserve to lose shareholders, become the sort of company from which investors disinvest and see your share price plummet.

Another thing our friend said was that we should be acting as mediators “as fault can lie with the customer or the organisation”.

I need to think about this one. Should we act as mediators? Is that what we are here to do?

This is what we said when we started Consumer Watchdog just over a year ago:

“Consumer Watchdog aims to educate and inform on a wide range of consumer related issues, to make service providers in Botswana accountable and most of all to celebrate success.”

Nothing about mediation there.

However he does have a point. The customer can be the one at fault. In fact in our experience quite often the customer is at least partly to blame. Either he’s signed a wicked finance agreement, borrowed money from someone dishonest or has failed to stick to a contractual agreement. We’ve seen customers make up stories and, in a few of the cases we’ve seen, the customer complaining is a certifiable lunatic.

There are times as well when the company has bent over backwards to accommodate a customer’s requests but they are dealing with a customer that will never be satisfied.

However, our focus is always going to begin on the side of the consumer. That’s why we call ourselves the Consumer Watchdog. Companies have attornies, PR Departments and loads of money to throw at problems. Most consumers don’t. The people we stick up for are rarely affluent, rarely legally experienced and often are scared or threatened into submission by companies bigger than them.

Our (admittedly self-appointed) role is to educate, to inform and to hold accountable those suppliers who aren’t acting in the way they should. Part of that educational role is to celebrate when we find things to celebrate. For instance last week this entire column was devoted to celebrating Barclays Bank for introducing competitive new products that seek to improve customer service.

But as I said earlier there’s quite a good reason we’re called the Consumer Watchdog.

Oh and good news! Someone else threatened to sue us this week! Apparently a manager at a car distributorship (that will remain nameless) felt that us phoning him and asking questions on behalf of a customer is enough to for him to threaten legal action against us. Keep Instructing Attorneys is all that we have to say!

In fact, as an aid to companies that feel like sueing us, we’ve created an online form to fill in on our web site. Isn’t technology wonderful?

This week’s stars!

  • Toffee for 10 years of the very best service at Liquorama in Broadhurst
  • Lebo at GabzFM (yet again). Clearly she has loads of admirers but is that because she speaks French, she has a naughty laugh or people have been using the GabzFM webcam?

Friday 24 March 2006

This is not an ad for Barclays…

Let’s make this clear up front. This is not a free advertisement for Barclays Bank. We’re not advertising for or against any bank.

However, I’m going to use Barclays as an example of something that I think is good.

The growing awareness that, whether they like it or not, commercial organisations increasingly have to think about how they treat their customers.

The Watchdog team were invited last week to the launch of the new Barclays Vehicle Finance Scheme. This is basically a new mechanism for borrowing money to buy cars. I’ll leave it up to Barclays themselves to sell this facility to you. They, after all, are the ones paid to do this. They are the ones who will make money from selling it to you.

Apart from being tempted to spend astonishing amounts of money on the new cars on display in the GICC car park (several of which cost more than the price of a house!) we were then invited to listen to Thuli Johnson, the Barclays Botswana Managing Director introduce the facility.

A strange thing then happened.

He didn’t mention any details about the scheme at all. Not a single word did he say about how much it will cost, what the terms are, what sort of car you can buy with it. Nothing at all.

Instead he spoke about how this new thing will improve customer service.

He spoke about how customers will get faster decisions, a simpler process and generally better service.

It really was very refreshing to see that a major company like Barclays mention customer service first.

Now clearly the Barclays Public Relations machinery was operating in the background. Barclays is a huge international organisation that is very good at what they call “spinning”. Telling a story in a way that will most impress the customers. Making us feel good about the things they sell. Selling it to us.

Presumably though Barclays here have realised that there is a growing understanding that customer service actually matters and that customers are beginning to demand higher and higher levels of service from everyone, everywhere they go.

To an extent I’m not actually concerned whether Barclays mean it or not, whether it’s all spin, whether it’s just them manipulating us. I suspect they do care because they realise it will increase their market share, the return on their investment and will make them more money but that’s not the issue.

The issue is that it’s clearly something that they have realised that they need to do in order to gather customers. To get new customers who are not currently buying a car, but also to tempt customer away from other banks towards Barclays.

This is the most important issue. Competition. Barclays, being smart, are going to try and tempt customers away from other banks, from their competitors. There’s absolutely nothing bad about this. This is how a market economy works. The way the customer benefits is quite simple. We go to Barclays and get a good deal on a new car purchase. Even better though is that you can be sure that within months all the other banks will come up with their own new car purchase schemes to tempt customer away from Barclays and back towards them. If they already have one they’ll relaunch it and make it seem new. The way they do this is with better customer service, better rates, cheaper car purchases. We as customers can start shopping around, playing bank against bank, encouraging them to offer us a better deal than the others. There are few things as powerful when you’re buying a car on a finance scheme as being able to say “Well, Barclays offered me x% interest. Can you beat that?”

Go do it. Shop around. It might take you a few hours of chatting to banks but it could save you a couple of percentage points on your car loan. Sounds just a little but it could save you thousands. That’s a year’s worth of petrol! Just make sure that you tell them you’re shopping around. Tell every one what the others have offered you and see if they can beat it. If they can’t beat it or aren’t interested then just turn your back and leave.

Competition is the essence of good customer service. If you don’t believe me take a look at those areas where there is no competition, where there are monopolies. How does the quality of their customer service compare? Look at the water, power and satellite TV monopolies we have. Aren’t they amongst the worst at customer service? Aren’t they the ones that seem like they don’t care?

Well, why should they? Why should they care? Where else are we going to get our water or power from? It’s not like we can run a pipe across the border and get it there, is it?

That’s why we think organisations should employ internal competitors. Employ someone insde your monopolistic enterprise whose only job is to say things like “If we had a competitior they could do that 10% cheaper than we are” and “If we had competition we’d have lost that deal”.

If they cared they would, but they don’t, and why should they?

So, to Barclays we say this. Good for you. Good for you for taking the lead and offering us better customer service. Even better for you for starting what we hope is an avalanche of car financing schemes that give us choice, better deals and cheaper motoring.

But this isn’t an advert for Barclays, OK?

Friday 17 March 2006

Strategies for keeping customers happy…

Sometimes I wonder if some organisations actually enjoy making their customers angry. I have this image in my mind of a department within a public utility that has frequent strategy development retreats in Kasane. In between the obligatory game drives, adultery and drinking sessions extremely well-paid international consultants lead them in workshops with titles like:

“10 new ways of decreasing consumer contentment”
“The customer is always an idiot – how to let him know”
“The blank stare – international best practice”
“How to remind him we’re a monopoly and can do what we like”
“How not to give a damn – and show it!”

This may be ridiculous but which one of us hasn’t been into a store, a restaurant, a bank or a utility company and been met with what seems to be an obvious desire to drive you crazy? Procedures that are deliberately confusing, forms to fill in that miraculously appear when you thought everything was done and my particular favourite: “The computer won’t let me”.

I’m not sure what’s most difficult - buying a house, getting married or setting up a company. They are probably all equally difficult to do. However none of them are quite as infuriating as opening a bank account, particularly if it happens to be a company one. Endless forms, copies of company documents and contracts, Omang and passport details, birth certificates, blood samples and custody of the children all seem to be essential requirements before you give them large quantities of your money that they then bet on horses.

Why must it be so complicated? Why do they need our stress levels sky-high? Is it just for that wonderful moment when you’ve finally done everything they’ve demanded? It can’t be because almost certainly they’ll call you in the next day saying that you forgot to sign Section 3(a) of Form 27. In triplicate. In front of three witnesses. No, those witnesses won’t do, it has to be these witnesses.

Why must it be so difficult?

Well, obviously it doesn’t need to be that bad. It can be done simply. It is possible to make a business run in ways that don’t irritate customers too much. It just doesn’t seem to happen that often.

In all the work we do with organisations we so often encounter rules and procedures like these that do genuinely seem like they were created at the retreat to Kasane I made up earlier. Organisations create rules that go out of their way to confuse, irritate and, at the end of the day, drive customers away. I can, if I try hard, see how this comes about with a monopoly but how on earth does this happen in a bank, a supermarket or a restaurant? Don’t they remember that they have competitors? Don’t they realise that if they really irritate me I’m going elsewhere?

Oh and just because I can see how it happens with a monopoly that doesn’t excuse it. Sooner or later they’ll have competiton, trust me (I hope) and the sooner they start competing against potential competitors the sooner they’ll become competitive and customer-focussed. We often suggest to monopolies that maybe they should just pretend that they have a competitor. Pretend that there’s someone round the corner ready to take their business away from them. Maybe they should establish an internal competitor, like they have an internal auditor. Someone who’s job is just to say how it could be done better, cheaper and friendlier.

We spend a lot of our time with these companies helping them to move from a negative customer handling standpoint to a positive one. Away from one that says “You can’t”, “You won’t” and “You “mustn’t” towards one that says “You can…”, “Of course…” and “Yes”.

Most scary for some organisations is that we try to move them towards a culture where complaints are seen as something to be welcomed, something that actually helps them to improve and allows them to make more money. Nobody likes to be criticised but it’s only really by failing that we learn how to succeed. It’s probably only when a customer says that something isn’t correct that we learn about it. We are all so often so set in our ways that we don’t realise that we’re not actually delivering the best. Only when we tell the restaurant staff that there’s too much chilli or not enough garlic will they realise. The really clever service providers will turn round and the very first thing they say will be “Thank you for telling me”, not “What do you mean?”, not “That’s not true” and certainly not “It’s not my fault, it’s the chef”.

Service is about two-way communication. It’s not just about the supplier telling us how it should work. We as the consumers must start to take the communication back to them, whether it’s good or bad news. However the suppliers must put in place mechanisms to allow us to do this, not to prevent it happening and even encouraging us to do it!

Here’s a free tip for suppliers that will make you look as though you care, even when you don’t give a damn and have better thing to do but you realise that the customer deserves to think you that you care.

As the customer is complaining, make sure your eyes are at the same level as his. Sit down if you have to. That will show that you see him as an equal. Look him in the eyes as he speaks. That will show that you really want to make emotional contact with him. Tilt your head ever so slightly to one side. It shows you you are listening.

Then finally, when he’s got it off his chest, take a deep breath and say the following, or your version of it:
“Look, I’m really sorry that you’re unhappy about this
but before I fix it I want to thank you for telling me.”

Chances are you’ll get away with it.

Then you just have to fix it.

This week’s stars!

  • Tebogo at Hi Fi Corporation for patience and handling customer complaints so well.
  • Tshwenyego and Neo from the bicycle section at Game for going the extra mile to help a customer with a bike that was on promotion but that had a fault. They fixed it and the customer went away extremely happy and inspired to tell us and you all all about it.
  • Tshiamiso from FNB Main Mall for going out of her way to help a customer.

Friday 10 March 2006

Run your restaurant like an army

Have you ever noticed how really good and successful stores and restaurants are run a bit like an army? No? Maybe you think that there’s no real connection between customer service and military service? Think again. Think of all the similarities between serving customers and serving your nation with a gun.


Look at Primi Piatti and the team all running around in bright orange jumpsuits, wearing utility belts full of equipment and having regular group “huddles”. Just imagine how it would feel if they were wearing dark green, camouflage uniforms. Just a little bit threatening perhaps?

But because they are in bright orange uniforms they come across as light-hearted and jolly. The almost paramilitary nature of their appearance is hidden by the colour.

Even in restaurants and stores that aren’t quite as paramilitary the uniforms still achieve the same things that they achieve in the army. The staff are easily identifiable, the uniforms encourage them to operate as a team and the uniforms are much more practical that ordinary clothes.

(However it’s probably best not to give waiters guns for their utility belts, it might be just a bit too tempting when that particular Customer From Hell arrives next time.)


Armies give their soldiers activities to keep them occupied when they’re not actually fighting. They make them run up and down to keep them fit, they train them in new skills, the get them to practice their skills over and over again until they can do them in their sleep. In an army a soldier should be able to dismantle and reassemble his gun in complete darkness. Surely a waiter should be able to fold a napkin or lay a place setting in the same way? If waiters are unoccupied they should be practicing something so they can do it with military efficiency.

(Unlike at a certain bar/restaurant the Watchdog visited last week where almost all of the staff were standing around looking at Kgale Hill while waiting to greet new customers but not actually doing anything for the people already seated.)


Decent restaurants and teams of soldiers operate with tight discipline. The rules of engagement are understood and recognised by all parties. Waiters and soldiers know their mission, the weapons they have available and who’s in charge.

They also know that if they break the rules there will be consequences. It’s sad but inevitable. Restaurants have to fire staff who transgress.

(Just don’t think you can have them shot, Labour would hear about it.)

Participation by management

The best leaders aren’t removed from their team. When necessary they grab a gun, put on their helmet and join in the fight. A certain slightly crazy pizza place at Riverwalk in Gaborone is a good example. The manager will take your order, he’ll pour your wine and he’ll check your food is OK. He’s not above doing the menial tasks like firing his gun (as well as some waiters) when the enemy is in sight.

(Just don’t get so involved that you end up getting yourself killed, OK?)


All the best armies have pride in themselves. They’re proud of their comrades, are proud of their regiment or division and, above all, are proud of themselves. They know that they are well-trained, know that they have excellent skills and know what they are capable of doing. This doesn’t come across as arrogance to customers, it is seen as confidence. Who actually wants a waiter who is servile, cringing and apologising all the time? Surely we want someone who knows the menu inside out, can advise you on what you might like and remembers what you order?

(Just remember that the customer is the one paying. If he wants white wine with his steak then that’s just fine, OK?)


All good restaurants have a leader. Whether it’s the owner or a manager doesn’t matter. There is someone who takes control, defines the way the place should run and maintains standards. This leader should have extra keen eyesight – always watching to see that glasses are being refilled, empty plates are being removed and that there are smiles on every customer’s face.

(However, if your parents called you Adolf, change your name, OK?)

Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea about this military business, I’m not suggesting that Wimpy should send a raiding party to Primi Piatti and steal their cutlery. Nor should O’Hagans nuke the Keg. Both actions would probably be excessive although quite fun to watch!

Also I have a feeling that someone will complain that this idea is very masculine and excludes women from military style customer service management. Nonsense. Go to the internet and do a Google search for Boudicca, Elizabeth I, Indira Gandhi, Golda Meir, Joan of Arc and even (Dad please forgive me for saying this) Margaret Thatcher. Gender is simply not relevant to someone’s ability to lead, govern and direct.

Leadership is not connected to race, skin colour, tribe, gender or shoe size. It’s not that common but if you’ve got it you’ll go far. Just think one day you could run an army! Who knows, you may even end up running a country!

Or even a restaurant.

This week’s stars!

  • Dzene at Stanbic Head Office for understanding that customers sometimes deserve more than just an apology.
  • Bogadi in the Government Department of Information Technology for being proactive.
  • Oratile at the Total Filling Station at Game City for service with a smile.
  • Margaret at Woolworths at Riverwalk for keeping a customer’s debit card safe until they returned.
  • The staff at Kgale Spar for keeping a customer’s debit card safe.
  • Kagiso at Riverwalk Ackermans for being friendly and helpful.
  • The team at Incredible Connection for running a very efficient repairs service.
  • Chee Wai also in the Government Department of Information Technology for running a fantastic web service for Government Internet users.
  • Mathata, the Securicor guard at Riverwalk New Capitol cinema for being helpful with kids.
  • Sylvia at the Standard Chartered Bank call centre for being tremendously helpful.

Friday 3 March 2006

A new way of doing business…

Yet again we’ve been inspired by the way in which some companies operate. So much so that we ourselves are going to change the way we do business to see if we can make as much money as they must be making.

Incidentally, yes we do actually do paid work as well as doing the Consumer Watchdog (which for all of you who have asked we do entirely for free). If you want to find out what we do to earn our keep then check our web site at

Anyway, that’s the free advertisement (Thanks Mmegi!), back to our new business approach. To all our existing and new customers - here’s how it’s going to work in future.

To begin with before we actually do any work we’re going to make you sign enormously complicated contracts that are written in exceptionally small letters that an eagle would have difficulty reading. They’ll be written in that special legal language with loads of “notwithstanding”s, “hereinafter”s and perhaps even the occasional “domicilium citandi et executandi”. There will be several Annexures, endless cross-references and quite a bit about how we don’t want any “delictual interference with contract or prospective business advantage”. In other words you won’t understand a word of it, we’ll sound very clever indeed and we can include all sorts of weird things that allow us to repossess your mother’s dining table if we feel like it.

We also plan to include a variety of special clauses that tie you into the contract so that you can never escape our clutches.

One will say that any work we do is automatically satisfactory or that if someone has to decide if we’ve performed well enough then it will be us, not you. After all we can’t have you judging our work, can we?

Another clause we like a lot is the one that says that simply signing the contract with us you have understood and accepted everything in the contract and that you promise never to say you didn’t, even though we know you didn’t understand a word of it.

Next thing we’ll do is to include in the charges for our work a hidden insurance scheme. If by any chance you find out that it exists we’ll just tell you that we’re insuring your life and well-being in case anything happens to you and that it will be for the benefit of your family. That sounds good doesn’t it? Sure it does. It not true though. In fact the insurance scheme will insure US against you dying, going bankrupt, being fired, going mad, being imprisoned or in any way getting between us and your money. The simple fact is that even though only a very small number of our customers are liars, cheats and crooks we’re going to assume that you all are. We simply don’t trust you to keep to our agreement so we’re going to make you pay to insure us. Of course it’s reasonable!

Oh and by the way, this is a VERY special form of insurance. It’s the Lamborghini of insurance schemes. It benefits the driver (us) hugely, shows contempt for pedestrians (you) and costs a HUGE amount of money. Which YOU pay for. Sure, most insurance premiums cost less than 1% of the payout each month at most. This one is better though. It’s going to cost you maybe as much as half of the cost of what you’re buying from us. If we happen to keep for ourselves the majority of the so-called premium you’re paying, well, that’s not a problem is it? So long as you don’t find out of course!

And if you DO find out? Well, do you remember that clause in the contract where you said you understood everything in the contract and accepted it all?

Oh yes, something else. We’re going to charge you for everything. We’ll charge you for the time it took to meet you and sign the contract although we’ll probably just call it a “handling charge” or an “arrangement fee”.

We’ll charge you extra money every time you’re just a day late paying us. You don’t remember agreeing that we could do that? Check the contract that you promised you understood fully. In between the sections on “Liability” and “Breach” you’ll find a clause that talks about “remedial pecuniary disadvantage recovery mechanisms” or some equivalent gibberish that allows us to punish you and earn even more money from you.

So are we going to be totally open about all of this? Of course not! If you get a hint that we do business this way you’re going to think that we’re somewhat less than honest and we can’t have that can we? We can’t have anything getting in the way of our inalienable right to make money at your expense, can we?

I suppose you could always deal with our competitors though. Maybe they’re not going to be quite as awful to deal with in which case we’ll just lose our customers to them. Mmmmm, didn’t think of that.

Maybe on reflection, honesty and openness are the best policies after all?

This week’s stars!

  • David from Mr Price Home at Riverwalk for being really friendly and helpful
  • Rose at Pick N Pay for always being so friendly
  • Calvin at Kudu Filling Station in the Main Mall for being cheerful and jolly