Friday 28 April 2006

Caveat emptor

Yes, I know it’s usually just lawyers and academics that still insist on speaking in Latin but there are certain Latin phrases that just summarise a point very nicely.

Caveat emptor means “Let the buyer beware”. It expresses rather well one of the fundamental legal points that keeps on cropping up in all the work we do with our readers and listeners.

Beware. It’s up to YOU to look after yourself. If you buy something, if you sign something, if you accept something then it’s up to YOU to make sure any problems get fixed.

Face facts. Very few suppliers will come back to you after you’ve bought something to check that everything’s OK. It’s up to you to raise an issue if it emerges. Very few suppliers will do what decent restaurants do, coming round halfway through your meal saying “Is everything OK with your meal?” When was the last time a second-hand car showroom called you the day after you bought a car to see if it was still OK?

We’ve had a couple of situations over the last few weeks when this phrase kept going through our heads. Curiously several of these are to do with so-called training institutions. Our impression is that there’s something really rather suspicious about a large proportion of the training suppliers we have here.

We heard for instance about the so-called Gaborone University College of Law. These people distribute a leaflet that advertises what they call their “Introduction to Law Course”. The leaflet states that this course will “prepare students for admission into the University of London Bachelor of Laws (LLB) degree and into other programmes offered in other universities in England or elsewhere in the world”.

The course apparently includes “The Legal System, Criminal Law and Law of Contract”.

Mmm impressive eh?

Well we probably need to pass this by our attorneys before we comment on the content of the course but doesn’t the UK have a distinctly different legal system compared to ours? Isn’t criminal law in the UK quite different in England compared to Botswana? Which do they teach? Does what they include relate to what is taught in Universities in the USA, South Africa and Australia as well?

Note how carefully they have phrased their leaflet. No guarantees are made. They just offer to “prepare students for admission”. It doesn’t say “qualify students for admission” or “entitle students for admission”.

Another curious thing. When one of our mystery shoppers went to visit them (they are based above a garage) they told her that she should get her Form 5 certificates certified by the British Council. Now why would they insist on that do you think? Maybe to lend themselves some credibility? When we spoke to the British Council they told us that in fact they want nothing to do with this bunch. In fact they wrote to them over a year ago insisting that they stop even mentioning the British Council at all.

Isn’t is also a little strange that they suggest that with Form 5 certificates alone you can get into a British University? That’s probably best described as “ambitious”…

Oh yes, one other thing. The leaflet includes the three magic words: “Registered with BOTA”. Funny though that their name isn’t included in the list of approved training institutions published by BOTA on their website. Maybe that’s an oversight? We haven’t heard back yet from BOTA but we’ll let you know what they say!

The total cost of this course? P1,500, not including a non-refundable registration fee of P100.

Now we would never suggest that our listeners and readers shouldn’t choose to take this course. It’s absolutely up to you. Your choice entirely. We’re very much in favour of people taking every opportunity to better themselves, to learn more and to develop new skills.

But just remember that bit of Latin. Caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware.

And something else we’ve said before. Something seems too good to be true? Then is almost certainly is.

Celebrating Government

Great news since last week when we asked for people to nominate service stars from within Government! Within hours we heard from someone who wanted to celebrate Millicent Qampi at the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone. Apparently she strode into the Emergency Room during a busy period, took charge, explained how things worked to everyone in both Setswana and English and left everyone feeling as confident and content as anyone can be in the ER. We’ll be writing to the Minister of Health, the Permanent Secretary and the Hospital Manager to let them know.

And another one! Special Constable Machai at the Central Police Station has been celebrated for her exceptional customer service. She is friendly, pays attention to details, and assists efficiently and on time. Needless to say we’ll be writing to the Commissioner of Police to let him know.

Are things already turning round in Government? Is this the beginning of something new?

The Daily News reported this week that civil servants had a meeting in Selebi-Phikwe with the Permanent Secretary to the President (PSP) Eric Molale, and said that “it was imperative for civil servants to go back to the drawing board and come up with better ways of improving service delivery”.

Furthermore, when he was in Francistown the PSP was saying things like “there should be openness and that service should always be delivered with a smile”!


This week’s stars!

  • Gaone at Plascon Paints for being wonderfully proactive and for being really great at customer service.
  • Dr Sabondo at the Gaborone Private Hospital for saving a small child’s finger. Our reader says “I want the world to know that my son's finger is intact, you will never believe it! A big thanks to Dr Sabondo and the nurses at the emergency room for the unbelievable miracle.”

Friday 21 April 2006

The largest service provider in the land

Who is the largest provider of customer service in Botswana? Who has the largest number of customer facing staff, the biggest budget for service delivery and the greatest obligation to deliver top-quality service?

Botswana Power? They employ a couple of thousand people. No, not them. BTC? They’re pretty big. Water Utilities? No. Nor is it any of the banks, not any chain of supermarkets or filling stations.

The largest customer service provider in the country is the Government. Employing well over 100,000 people surely they must have the largest obligation to deliver top-quality customer service in the country. Don’t they?

Well, OK, not everyone in government is customer facing. We can exclude the BDF for instance. Their customer care skills are necessarily a little, well, “forceful”. I’m not sure we should complain about that although last time I was stopped at a checkpoint manned by the BDF they were very friendly.

And err…. who else is there that DOESN’T deliver a service to us, the people, the taxpayers? I can’t think of anyone else actually. Let’s go through the professions, the Ministries, the departments.

Our teachers and police clearly deliver a service to us. They are obvious examples.

Then there are the various departments in government who deal with the general public as the very nature of their work. In no particular order I can think of the following departments that are meant to deliver a service to us. DCEC, BURS, Culture & Youth, Civil & National Registration, Sports & Recreation, Immigration & Citizenship, National Museum, Prisons (yes, in an indirect sort of way!), Industrial Affairs, Consumer Affairs, Department of Roads, Road Transport & Safety, Water Affairs, all of the Ministry of Health, Administration of Justice, all the Embassies and High Commissions, the Ombudsman, Lands & Housing, Broadcasting Services, BTV, RB1 and RB2, Wildlife & National Parks, Sanitation and Waste Management, Meteorological Services and the Industrial Court.

All of these deliver service at some point to you and me. Whether it’s directly like the National Museum and BURS or indirectly like the Department of Roads their role in life is to deliver services to us. After all (and this may be a slightly radical idea for some people in Government) we are the ones who pay their salaries. Don’t forget that every one of us now pays tax to government. We may not all pay income tax but all of us pay VAT sooner or later.

My question is this. Why are they so terrible at it?

I’m the first to say that there are some seriously talented people working in Government but why is good customer service from the frontline staff so incredibly rare? Why is it that whenever we are forced to deal with some of these departments we come away either depressed or furious? Or both.

In much of the customer care development work we undertake with organisations we talk about the transformation they need to undergo towards being “customer centric”. To move away from employing a few people who try to fix things after they’ve gone wrong to a culture where everyone has responsibility for ensuring customers are satisfied. A culture where everyone recognises the part they play either in satisfying customers themselves or helping someone else to do so.

Can this ever happen with Government? Yes, I think it can. Hard work though.

So who’s responsible for dragging Government into this new customer-focussed culture? Well, the Permanent Secretary to the President is always on about productivity improvements, more enlightened ways of working and so on. Whole teams of people are working on performance improvement. So is it their responsibility? I don’t think so.

I’m certainly not saying that the work they are doing isn’t worth it. I think it’s fantastic that there are some people in Government who want to improve things. But fundamentally it’s not their responsibility.

It’s ours.

I really do think that it’s up to us to start demanding exactly the same sorts of service from Government staff as we expect from a bank or a supermarket.

Why can’t we expect the basics from them, like a smile, basic courtesy and a demonstration that they understand who the customer and supplier are? Perhaps also some evidence that they recognise that they are not law makers or law enforcers. Their role is to do things, not to dictate rules.

But our policy is always rather than just criticise, let’s start celebrating those people in government who do get it right. They do exist, honestly. Trust me. At our birthday party we celebrated three government employees and three police officers. All of them had gone the extra mile to make our callers and readers happy.

But we want more. Who do you know who does an excellent job dealing with customers in Government? Let us know!

This week’s stars!

  • Brian and the team at Broadhurst Motors for going beyond the call of duty to get a problem fixed.
  • Annah at Stanbic Bank Industrial Branch for being really pleasant and helpful.
  • Modiri at Barloworld Motors for being really friendly and welcoming and being proactive when it comes to service.
  • Loungo at FNB Head Office for making sure a problem was fixed quickly and efficiently and with a smile
  • Selotegeng at BTC installation department for being diligent and making sure deadlines are met.
  • Jafta the Security Officer at BAMB for outstanding service. He is really friendly, pays attention to detail and although he has to search bags and asks questions always does so politely and with great courtesy. Our listener says he gives a good name to the security industry.
  • Wesley at Gaborone Delta for going beyond the call of duty to get a problem fixed.
  • Lesego at Plascon Paints for being wonderfully proactive, friendly, helpful and efficient.

Friday 14 April 2006

This IS an ad for Standard Chartered

Oh sorry, no it’s not. We mustn’t be biased in favour of any particular bank just because they sponsored and paid for the Consumer Watchdog 1st Birthday Party at the GICC last Friday!

Oh no, just because they were incredibly generous, organised the best function we’ve ever been to and allowed us to stare at their Managing Director as he warmed up the audience and danced in a way that most Brits couldn’t do, well that doesn’t mean we have to be nice to them and advertise his bank, does it?

In case you haven’t heard us going on about it on GabzFM, seen the coverage on BTV and in the papers we had the most amazing night of celebration last Friday. 150 service stars, the ones named in this column every week, were invited to the Gaborone International Convention Centre along with their managers and a range of VIPs so they could be celebrated in public and in front of the whole nation they so ably represent.

Best of all, and none of us can quite believe that we managed this, the guest of honour was the President himself. His presence really enabled us to make the noise these service stars deserve. Every one of them deserves to be celebrated by the entire nation and his presence helped us to do this in staggering style!

We went out of our way to make a night of fun and we’ve discovered how to do it. This is our donation to the nation for this week. How to make a public function go with a bang. It’s a radical idea and I’m not sure if the business community is ready for it yet but here goes.

Keep the speeches few and short and the partying to a maximum.

Simple really.

I promised myself that this column wouldn’t be like an Oscars acceptance speech but there ARE some people who need to be thanked. None of what Consumer Watchdog has achieved would have been possible without their contribution.

Nina Hamid from Foodsafe International gives her valuable time and skills every time there’s anything to do with food safety and hygiene. Her skills are helping to save lives.

Minchin and Kelly Attorneys have been there for us, and more importantly the abused and disrespected customers of Botswana whenever we’ve needed to wheel out “the big guns”. Several people have benefited directly from their interventions and we thank them for it.

GabzFM, of course the best radio station in Botswana, and everyone who contributes to the Daily Grind show are stars, all of them. Of course Warona and Thebe, Kate’s co-hosts and “partners in crime” have created an unopposable force for consumer’s welfare but just as importantly for celebrating all the good service we get, even though it’s sometimes hard to find!

And Mmegi. This column has allowed us to get out to the entire nation and help us to spread the word about service, about competition and about success. Kabo Makgoboane and the team do a great job and they deserve huge credit for it.

When we started Consumer Watchdog early last year I don’t think we had any idea what an impact it would have and we certainly had no idea that it would end up in a party with the president giving out awards. My suspicion is that the general level of service has genuinely increased in the last year and it would be great to think we’d contributed a little towards that.

Two final thanks.

To the President. To be honest if he hadn’t been able to attend we still would have had a great time but the fact that he did, in between two state visits by foreign Presidents, the day before BDF Day, while running a country when most mortals would have chosen a quiet Friday night at home with the family is just amazing. We’ve been told by several people that to be celebrated by the President was a once in a lifetime event. Thank you Sir!

To Standard Chartered Bank. To Nigel, Prabhu and Basadi and the entire team who worked so hard to get things organised, to get t-shirts, certificates and awards produced, to arrange catering and drinks, sounds systems and lighting. Your efforts and generosity were astounding and will not be forgotten!

But, like we said 2 weeks ago, this isn’t an advertisement for Standard Chartered, OK? Well, perhaps just a little one.

And now a few appeals.

How can we improve? What should Consumer Watchdog be doing in the next year? What issues should we take on? Please let us know. It’s only by our listeners and readers making suggestions that we can respond properly so get in touch, OK?

And another appeal. To suppliers. Who in your organisation deserves to be celebrated? Which backroom staff help your company to excel and to make customers happy? It’s usually the frontline staff that are celebrated but it’s very often the people behind the scenes that enable them to do it. It might be the company accountant, the HR manager, the cleaner or the driver. It might even be the guy in charge, you never know. Celebrate them!

And yet another appeal! This might be a bit of a challenge but here goes. At our party we celebrated three Government employees. Yes, that’s right. They work for Government. Despite what all of us say about Government staff this goes to show that they can get it right. I know for sure that there are others in Government who understand, who realise that they are the largest customer serving organisation in the country. Which of them are service stars?

This week’s stars!

  • Brian and the team at Broadhurst Motors for going beyond the call of duty to get a problem fixed. They even came out after hours just to help out a customer.
  • Annah at Stanbic Bank Industrial Branch for being really pleasant and helpful. Our listener says “we need more people like her out there”.
  • Modiri at Barloworld Motors for being really friendly and welcoming and being so pro active when it comes to service. We are told she even phones her customers during the day to keep them up to date with progress on their car service.
  • Loungo at FNB Head Office for making sure a problem was fixed quickly and efficiently and with a smile!

Friday 7 April 2006

This is not an ad for Stanbic…

Two weeks ago this column was entitled “This is not an ad for Barclays” so I should stress that we’re not advertising Stanbic either. So why am I carefully not advertising Stanbic’s products and services? It’s because for the second time in 2 weeks I’m going to say nice things about a bank and frankly that’s not something that comes naturally.

However, every now and then banks surprise us by doing something really rather good.

Barclays did it by introducing a new vehicle financing scheme and mentioned customer service before any boring details about interest rates and conditions. Stanbic have delighted us by tackling one of the most serious issues we think face Batswana.

Financial literacy.

We’ve highlighted on several occasions in this column and on GabzFM how worried we are about this. About the dreadful lack of financial knowledge among all sections of society but youngsters in particular.

Yes, it sounds very dull when you’re 15 years old to be lectured on financial matters but it’s incredibly important that our youth learn about things that can make or break their lives and careers.

I’m not exaggerating. We have heard from people who have taken out what seemed like a very modest loan but have ended up with crippling debt. The really bad news is that with a little thought before agreeing to these loans they could easily have seen what would happen. In many cases the mathematics of these loans are actually very simple. It’s just that people either fail to understand or, worse still, ignore the maths.

This deliberate carelessness is just crazy. Intelligent people who can do maths in their heads willingly sign up for debts they know they will have trouble repaying but they are seduced by the lure of something new and shiny.

However, that’s actually their fault and on most days I’m not very sympathetic.

The cases that worry us are those where people who genuinely don’t have a good knowledge of how money works fall into financial traps that they sometimes can never escape.

This is where Stanbic have taken the lead. They have produced 4 booklets designed for use in schools that go into vast detail about money matters. The booklets are called:
• Personal finances
• Money and banking
• Saving and investing
• Introduction to business finance

Each of the booklets is about 40 pages long and they are filled with practical examples. They cover some of the critical issues like compound interest, how to understand a bank statement and practical budgeting. All are done in language that is simple, easy to understand but without being condescending and insulting.

The booklets were originally designed by Stanbic’s parent company in South Africa and are in widespread use in 9 of the 11 provinces in SA and in over 15,000 schools so they are proven to be useful.

At the launch of the booklets at the GICC last week, the Managing Director of Stanbic, Dennis Kennedy said:

“We can help Batswana to avoid the problems of getting too deeply into debt, of learning to ask about the interest rate they are being charged and above all, to avoid falling into a debt trap where you have no choice but to accept exorbitant interest rates. If we can achieve this, than we at Stanbic Bank will have made a difference.”

Later that evening, one of the guests of honour, Linah Mohohlo, the Governor of the Bank of Botswana said:

“As a nation, it is important that we should learn to build up a store of wealth through saving so that we can live without debt related stress and retire from our occupations with financial security. Our beneficiaries would then be in a position to inherit wealth and not debt.”

“There is no doubt that Stanbic Bank’s response to an obvious call for public education has set an excellent example of what a responsible corporate citizen does in areas complementary to its core business. I hope others in the financial services industry, particularly commercial banks, will want to emulate this good customer education deed in which Stanbic Bank is now engaged.”

She’s absolutely right. Strange though it seems the best people to advise us on financial literacy are the sensible lenders, lenders who realise they will benefit when they get sensible customers signing up to sensible finance schemes. Critically we must get to our kids years before they ever need to borrow money. If we educate them early I’m convinced that we as a nation will go a long way towards avoiding the dreadful cycle of crippling debt.

Like I said with Barclays two weeks ago, clearly Stanbic are smart enough to know that taking the lead with things like this will make them look good. They’ll be seen as caring about the community and the nation and courageous enough to address some of the failings of their own industry. But there is clearly a sense of social obligation on show here.

One request though. Don’t just give the booklets out in schools. Let’s all have them?

So to Stanbic I say this. Good for you. Good for taking the lead, good for recognising a problem and even better for understanding that you as a bank have a role to play in helping. And best of all for actually doing something about it!

But, like we said 2 weeks ago, this isn’t an advertisement for Stanbic OK?

This week’s stars!

  • Who else but Standard Chartered Bank for so very generously funding the Consumer Watchdog 1st Birthday Party at the GICC today! Every one of the service stars mentioned here and on GabzFM for the last year has been invited along with their managers as well as a range of dignitaries who can help us to celebrate them.
  • Batsho at BDO Spencer for cheering up a customer
  • Lemogang at Cape Union Mart at Game City for going the extra mile
  • Tlhabologo at BTC fro demonstrating what service is all about
  • Mike at Veterinary and Agricultural Consultants for being helpful and caring