Friday 26 May 2006

Celebrating success yet again

Over the last couple of weeks I’ve done my best to identify those aspects of business process that really contribute towards customer satisfaction, repeat business and profitability. Those things that make a business successful, that make a store or restaurant popular and above all those that really become a customer service “brand”. I’ve given some real tips and last week even decided to give some ridiculous ones.

Sorry, it’s only been one paragraph so far and this is far too boring already. All this talk about brands, profitability and business process is just hugely dull. Particularly when there is a customer service issue that is WAY more important.

The Zebras won!!!!!!

Bafana Bafana lost!!!!!

Heroes, that’s what we need. We need them in sport, in politics and in customer service. People we can look up to, people we can admire, people we can show our children every time they appear on TV. I know it sounds VERY contrived but I think the Zebras have given us a great example. Their achievement didn’t come easy, it wasn’t something that they did first time they tried but they stuck with it, had their ups and downs and finally achieved victory!

Yes, I know that this argument seems artificial and is exploiting the Zebra victory to make a journalistic point but who cares. They won and I think we have a great opportunity to think about winners and losers as a result.

Like a sporting victory getting customer service right isn’t always easy. Sometimes it’s very hard work to get performance up to the level you want. In fact it’s almost always extraordinarily hard work. It takes concentration, team work and a firm conviction that it CAN be done.

Just as importantly it takes vision. Now “vision” is one of those words like “mission” and “re-engineering” that’s horribly over-used in business. However it need not be so. It can be as simple as saying that you want to win, to win against the competition and to be seen to be triumphant. As a mentor of mine once said “If you can conceive it and believe it then you can achieve it”.

Critically it also takes leadership. Leadership is another of those things that is sometimes over-emphasised and even misrepresented. It isn’t just about running around shouting at people, bossing them around and having an inflated ego. It’s more often than not about decision-making, leading by example and having a healthy dose of humility. Just like Jelusic Veselin led the Zebras to victory by guiding them, training them and giving them confidence and pride in their efforts a manager in business can create a well-formed team that can beat the competition very time. If you look at a well-run and profitable restaurant for instance you are pretty much guaranteed to find a group of people that look and sound like a football team. They all know their positions, they know each other well and know the rules of the game. They are all being led in the same direction and they know the rules. And they look and sound like winners.

Let’s be frank. It also helps if there is a competitor who is failing. Clearly in sport as well as in business there must be losers. Just as we beat our South African cousins in the match in business we need to beat our opponents. Particularly in Botswana where the market is small and competition is increasingly fierce we need to begin to understand the nature of competition. We need to understand how our opponents work, learn their strengths and weaknesses and exploit them. A football team will identify weak players or game plans within the opposing team. In the same way in business we need to see what our competitors don’t do well and then do it much better ourselves. If the restaurant you compete with doesn’t offer flexibility then you should. If the superstore doesn’t offer extremely fresh food then you should. If your bank doesn’t offer discounts for good customers then you should.

A few weeks ago I suggested that managers should run their business like a general runs an army. I think exactly the same thing can be said about a football team. I also think that given the fantastic example that the Zebras have given us should inspire us all.

So, a final message for the losing team. To Bafana Bafana. We were delighted that you came, we hope you had a great time and that you were shown the hospitality, courtesy and welcome you so richly deserve. We also hope you can come again very soon.

Oh and by the way?

We won!!!!! You lost!!!!!

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

This week’s stars!

  • Who else but the Zebras, all of them, and Jelusic Veselin who helped them to get it together. They are stars and they deserve our respect, our support and our pride.
  • All the guys at the BotswanaPost filling station in Fairgrounds Mall for friendly and efficient service. They even sing and dance we’re told!
  • Moses at BotswanaPost (again!). We are told that he brightens up the day when you call them.
  • Mogorosi at Standard Chartered Bank for resolving a very serious problem effectively and with respect and sympathy.

Friday 19 May 2006

The great Watchdog give-away – Part 2

Last week I gave away some free ideas to service providers. Very briefly these very simple ideas were as follows. Firstly make sure that you have good policies that help your customers rather than get in their way and irritate them.

Secondly make sure that your organisational structure enables your staff to work together properly, to allow good ideas to emerge and circulate and for service stars to shine.

Lastly we suggested that rather than invest huge amounts of money in training your staff in how to treat customers properly, maybe you should just start off by hiring people that are naturally good at it. They can do it already. Just go to your competitors, see who does it best and offer them a pay rise if they switch to your company!

Well this week I’m going to be rash and give away a few more bright ideas. Again all for free and all have been demonstrated by providers we’ve encountered in the last few weeks.

Deny everything

So a customer calls in and tells you that there’s a problem? Simple. Just tell them that in fact they are mistaken and that there isn’t a problem at all. Keep repeating this until they go away.

We called our Internet Service Provider this week to report a problem. All of our PCs were having problems connecting and when they finally did manage to connect the connection was intermittent. Their response?

“There isn’t a problem”.

So we repeated our situation and we were just told the same.

“There isn’t a problem”.

So eventually we went away and left them alone. The approach worked. We left them alone!

Accuse them of lying

Your customers are all liars. So tell them so and they’ll leave you alone.

We’ve had a huge number of calls reporting problems with a particular cellphone shop. I’m not going to name the place, let’s just call them Cell Town.

Anyway, several people took their cellphones back to Cell Town after they developed technical problems. Some of them were eventually told the problems with their phones were self-inflicted. Others were told that since they had lost their receipt after returning their brand new phone for repair they weren’t going to get their phones back. Or their money.

So we called Cell Town and asked them for a comment. Their response was fantastic.

“They’re all lying”.

What a response! It’s simple, direct and well, who knows, maybe it’s true? Probably isn’t of course but who cares? It makes most customers go away.

Call your customers stupid

They are all stupid aren’t they? Particularly the ones that complain. Of course they are. If they were smart they’d just keep quiet and not bother you with complaints.

We had a call from someone who had gone to a PC shop to buy a replacement print cartridge. She paid cash on behalf of the company she works for and was told it would be ordered for her. Six weeks later and still without the print cartridge she asked for her money back. They refused to give her cash and said she could only have a cheque. She called us. We called them. They said she’s stupid.

Maybe she is? Probably not but so long as it gets rid of her it’s OK.

Tell them it’s their fault

Of course if there’s a problem it must be the customer’s fault. Obviously. It can’t be a manufacturers problem because that would mean it was your responsibility to fix it and we can’t have that can we?

The same cellphone shop mentioned earlier, the one we’re calling Cell Town, insists that phones returned to them because they were faulty the day after they were purchased must have been broken by the customer. On one occasion a customer was told that he should have tested the phone before he left the shop. But don’t all phones need to be charged for 12 hours or so before being used for the first time? Should he have stood in the store charging it for half a day so he could test it before leaving?

Well, yes obviously he should! It’s obviously his fault for having bought a cellphone that didn’t work when it was taken out of the box it came in. Obviously.

Steal stuff

Remember that goods are worth money so given a chance steal them from your customers.

We heard from someone who hired a builder to build her a kitchen. The builder then went and bought loads of materials from various suppliers. One of the things he did was to take the woman’s microwave oven to a supplier so they could make a cupboard to fit around it. However pretty soon the builder got into money problems and ended up owing this supplier quite a bit of money for various jobs, not just this woman’s. So what did the supplier who built the kitchen units do? He refused to return the microwave and has demanded that the woman pay them for the units they’ve constructed. However, she’s already paid the builder for the units, it’s just that he hasn’t paid his suppliers.

So the cupboard-building supplier technically has stolen the microwave oven.

So what? Maybe he’ll get her to pay again. If she doesn’t at least he’s gained a microwave!

This week’s stars!

  • Lorato at PEP at Kagiso Mall. Our caller said she was incredibly helpful, made great suggestions and was generally amazing.
  • Clifford at Mr Price at Game City. Apparently he is very polite, courteous and delivered excellent service.
  • Justice at Primi Piatti at Riverwalk who makes everything run like clockwork.

Friday 12 May 2006

The great Watchdog give-away

It’s again time for us to give things away. Usually we just give away prizes to service stars you’ve nominated to us but occasionally we go slightly crazy and give things away to suppliers. Like ideas. Like new ways of working. Like values and attitudes that help them deliver a better service to you and me and, in doing so, make themselves lots of money to spend on flash cars or maybe even to give to their shareholders.

So here goes. Three free ideas for businesses. Like so many ideas that have been shown to work they’re all very simple. None of them actually require an expensive management consultant or motivational speaker to travel half way round the planet to lecture us on how they transformed UPS or Toyota. They are all plain obvious, they just need someone with guts to put them into place.


Almost every day we get a call from someone who has encountered a company policy that seems designed to irritate and confuse the customer and to make a perfectly simple transaction like opening an account an enormous pain in the you-know-where.

Take the example of BTC. Normally we say pretty good things about BTC. We think they really have turned the corner when it comes to treating their customers reasonably well. They don’t always get it right but on the whole they behave pretty well considering that they have a monopoly on fixed lines. They seem to have reacted pretty well though to the effective competition they get from the cellphone service providers.

However some of their policies are just plain silly and designed to irritate customers. Take the case of opening a business account with them. In fact take the example of a certain company that has for years been asking one of it Directors to pay it’s bill personally because transferring to a business account is such a pain in the whatsit. The reason it’s so difficult? BTC insist on seeing company bank statements. That doesn’t actually sound so unreasonable but ask yourself this question.


What will BTC actually learn from a company bank statement. And anyway, which account? The company in question has several Pula accounts and one in US dollars. Are BTC going to employ a forensic accountant to work out the company’s status? But why? What will they actually learn from them?

And why would a company want to disclose confidential information to them? What guarantees does the customer get that the information will be kept secret? How many BTC employees get to see these confidential company documents?

Obviously BTC don’t want to end up with bad customers who can’t afford to pay their bills but what’s the worst that can happen if they do default? If the company doesn’t pay it’s bill at the end of the first month BTC can cut them off instantly. And are BTC saying that all the existing business customers who DID show them their bank statements have never defaulted?

Surely doing an ITC credit check would be enough? At least that way they get an impression of the company’s credit history. Water Utilities and BPC don’t ask for company bank statements and they seem to be surviving.

I’m asking service providers this. Do your policies really protect you? Do they actually achieve anything? Or are they just out-dated, knee-jerk reactions to non-existent threats?

Improve your structure

Yes, this DOES sound a bit like management consultancy speak but some organisations have organisational structures that actually prevent them from delivering good customer service. We’ve seen a few of them and it almost seems like they were designed to prevent good ideas circulating, from allowing talented staff to progress and to stifle innovation.

If your organisation isn’t centred around the people that pay your salaries (that would be the customer, OK?) then your structure is getting in the way of good service. Change it.

Employ the right people

Some people can do customer service naturally. No matter how much you invest in training, education, skills development, personal transformation and growth, whatever you want to call it, there are some people who are just naturally better than others at dealing with customers. They were probably born that way. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t train those who aren’t so good at it but it does allow you to save an awful lot of effort, time and money if you hire the naturals in the first place. Why waste time on people who find customer service difficult when you can just hire the ones who find it easy in the first place?

The trick though is finding them. When interviewing potential customer service staff of course they are all going to say the right things, they will have read up on the right words to say. They will talk about putting the customer first, giving the customer what they want, the customer being king and all that nonsense but how do you know if they really have the skills you need rather than just the ability to deceive you during an interview?

Well it’s tricky but it can be done. It is perfectly possible to identify potentially good customer service employees during the selection process. Let me think, which company specialises in doing this…? I’m sure you can work it out!

This week’s stars!

  • The Attorney General Chambers for putting the laws of Botswana online at Thanks to Chee Wai Lai, Government’s webmaster for letting us know.
  • Tshego at FNB for listening to a customers problem, getting it sorted and phoning the customer back! Our listener says “was the first time I had been served so efficiently and effectively, congratulations Tshego and FNB”.
  • Lorato, the receptionist at Department of National Archives. Apparently she gives consistently great service, answers the phone within 3 rings and gives service with a smile. We are told her Director has already been congratulated many times on having such a service star in their Department!

Friday 5 May 2006

Caveat vendor

Last week I wrote about “caveat emptor” – a Latin phrase that means “Let the Buyer Beware”. The point is that it is generally speaking the buyer, you and me, who must be cautious when buying goods or services from a supplier. After all it’s our money that’s we’re spending. Once the money has changed hands we are the ones who have to make sure that things actually go well.

Well, yes, that’s all very well. We know that. We’ve all received poor service, poor quality goods, a generally second rate experience when we spend OUR hard-earned money. Everyone knows it.

However, I think things are changing. Maybe not very quickly, but they are. So here’s a new bit of Latin. Something for those of us who aren’t prepared to be abused any more. For those of us who’ve had enough.

Caveat vendor.

Let the Seller Beware!

Let’s take the battle back to the supplier. Let’s stand up for ourselves and use this as a battle cry when we go in for the kill.

I heard recently from a good friend who had a bad experience but who just refused to be abused. He showed all the courage and backbone that customers should show every time. It’s a very long story but this is an abbreviated version.

He owned a car that he wanted to sell. However this was proving to be harder than he originally thought. After a while he gave up and took it to one of those companies that does the selling for you in return for a cut of the sale price. Their cut was to be 7% which when you think about it is actually pretty reasonable. Isn’t it?

Well, perhaps in principle.

It took a while but eventually they told him that they had found a buyer who had bought it for P35,000. This was a bit lower than he hoped but he was happy to get it off his hands and get some cash for it.

Then things started to smell a little fishy. To begin with they told him that they had agreed with the buyer to spend P3,000 on repairs and a service for the car. No matter how reasonable this might be it was NOT what he had agreed with them. Then mysteriously they weren’t able to show him any receipts for the sale or the repairs. They then became rather elusive and after a long series of daily visits by him and even his wife they lost their tempers completely and said he should talk to their attorneys.

Now wouldn’t you be extremely suspicious by now? Wouldn’t you have a suspicion that in fact they’d sold the car for a higher price and were keeping the difference?

So anyway, once they became all difficult and mentioned attorneys he gave us a call. Kate made a few calls and we were about to consider using one of our favourite lines (“Oh Yes? Well our attorneys are MUCH bigger and better than yours!”) when we heard from my friend.

Being the sort of awkward, irritating and challenging customer that he is, he had been very smart and extremely ingenious. He had managed to find the guy who bought the car!!!

And how much did the buyer actually pay for the car? P40,000!

Well, not surprisingly the selling agency very quickly coughed up a cheque for the difference between what they had originally paid him and what he actually deserved. They knew that they had been found out, they knew our friend had a cast-iron case, they knew they had been very bad little boys. Oh and they knew our lawyers were significantly bigger and better than theirs!

So is my friend happy? Actually he is and feeling justifiably proud of himself.

So what is there to celebrate about his achievement? Well, firstly he did everything that we suggest consumers do. He had a profound sense that something was wrong and he did not give up. He made it perfectly clear to them what he wanted, he was confident that he was being reasonable and at all times he behaved in a calm and measured fashion. And most importantly he dug in his heels and absolutely refused to take No for an answer.

Secondly, almost everything that he achieved he did entirely by himself.

This is one of our most important pieces of advice to consumers. By all means call on us, on the Consumer Protection Unit, your attorneys, whoever it takes but remember that it’s fundamentally your responsibility. Caveat emptor, remember?

But take the battle to the supplier. Put on your armour (your confidence), load your weapons (your very reasonable, careful arguments) and practice your battle cry (“Caveat vendor!”). Then go and sort it out.

This week’s stars!

  • Geoffrey at Water Utilities for going out of his way to ensure that a problem was fixed. Not only did he make sure the problem was fixed but he called back to make sure it had been fixed to the customer’s satisfaction.
  • Motale at Debonairs Pizza for putting the customer first. Something went wrong but he fixed it with style. Not only did he offer the customer a replacement pizza the following day but it arrived with a top-of-the-range apology from the Regional Manager.