Friday 29 September 2006

They don’t want my money!

Last week I promised to give feedback on some mystery shopping we did with the main banks. This was inspired by a comment made by Iqbal Ebrahim, the President of BOCCIM, who suggested that if Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft and now the richest man in the world, had arrived in Botswana 30 years ago he almost certainly would have been turned away at the border as someone unlikely to contribute towards our economy.

This prompted me to see how a potential investor would be treated in 2006.

So I decided to phone round the banks pretending to be a foreigner planning to arrive in Botswana the following week and who just wanted to open a personal account to start with. Oh yes, arriving with over a million Pula to open the account.

I set some basic rules before calling. To begin with I wasn’t prepared to be kept on hold for more than 3 minutes. Any more than that and I would hang up. I would tell the banks that I had whatever proof of identify they might require and I would only be seeking a personal account at this stage, business accounts could come later. My basic need was for a personal account that I could use to live while I set up the business, filled in endless forms and acquired permits.

So how do you think I did? Was I treated with courtesy, with interest and with an overwhelming effort to get my money into one of their accounts?


To begin with two of the big four banks couldn’t even put me through to someone who could help me in the time I allowed. With one bank I was on hold for a total of 5½ minutes. Yes, I know I said I would limit it to 3 minutes but I’m a big softy and wanted to give them a chance. I confess I did phone them around 4pm so maybe I should expect less? Perhaps they were all tired after a long day of ignoring the phone and losing business?

With the third bank (still no names mentioned) I had a long conversation about the requirements for opening an account. To begin with they did quite well but it didn’t last long. It seems that until I get both work and residence permits I can’t have an account. Strangely they were the only bank that demanded this so it can’t be a legal requirement. Actually the law makes no reference to permits so it must be a particular requirement at that bank. Only uncomplicated customers there please!

With the last bank I had a long discussion about how they wouldn’t accept my fictitious money transfer from the UK unless I gave them “confirmation of where the money is coming from”. No, not a letter saying that it wasn’t the proceeds of drug deals or terrorist funding. Just a letter saying which account it was coming from. My argument that they would see from the transfer where it came from wasn’t good enough. However they did redeem themselves slightly at the end by suggesting that if I visited one of their senior managers they could probably do something for me which is perhaps a reasonable recovery. Internal rules are fine but there are often times when these rules need to be bent slightly.

Trouble it’s still not quite good enough. Not one of the banks gave me even a hint that they wanted me as a customer.

Let me say again what I said last week. I have absolutely no problem with a bank having to confirm my identity, my address and whether I have any money. In these days of terrorism, international crime and money-laundering that’s only reasonable. I wouldn’t want to lend my money to a careless bank. I would however like to lend it to a bank that gave some impression that MY money was of value to them.

The funniest bit was when I was on hold with one bank. They played a message warning me that for training purposes my call might be recorded. It most certainly was. By me!

Why must it be so difficult? Why do our banks, one of the key industries contributing towards our national development, actually seem to impede business rather than support it? Remember that this wasn’t a test of the way the banks deal with ordinary folk like you and me, it was a test of how they deal with an investor. Someone with loads of money that he wanted to invest in OUR economy. Someone we should be treating like a donor.

How might our fictitious visitor and potential investor feel right now? I imagine justifiably irritated and despairing of whether he would ever be able to open an account. Probably also wondering about whether he could do business here at all. Whether we like it or not and regardless how xenophobic we might feel some times a successful country attracts money from outsiders as well as insiders. People who think the country will be a successful investment.

So why do some of us do our best to make it look like it’s not?

This week’s stars!

  • Victor at Barclays Mall Branch, Business section is apparently “a service champion”. Our reader says that he is “every customers dream, courteous, competent, consistent and extremely helpful”.
  • The anonymous bank official, from a bank that cannot be named, who seemed to realise that their procedures were too rigid and suggested that I take it higher up the line to a manager for review. She knew her limitations and was prepared to escalate!

Friday 22 September 2006

Television is compulsory

Why do people make stuff up? Why do service providers go out of their way to make life so completely difficult? Do they actually want us to give them our money? In particular do they want foreign investors to give them their money?

I was at a business function a couple of weeks ago at which Iqbal Ebrahim, the President of BOCCIM spoke. He said a number of things that I think really made a lot of sense but he joked about the barriers we put up sometimes to foreigners. He jokingly suggested that if Bill Gates had come to Botswana 30 years ago saying he wanted to found a company called Microsoft we would have turned him back at the border saying he was offering nothing to the economy. This is the same Bill Gates who has since given truly staggering amounts of his own money to Botswana in the fight against the pandemic.

Well, this inspired us to behave badly. Yes, again.

We’ve been mystery shopping.

Actually this is one of the things our company does for a living. Companies come to us and pay us to pretend to shop with them and then to report back to senior management on how good (or how bad) the service they give can be. We’ve done this for all sorts of private companies, and even for places like restaurants and supermarkets. As well as being sometimes very depressing it can also be very funny.

However, because we are naturally naughty we sometimes do it just for fun. We call up an organisation pretending to be a potential customer and see what sort of service we get.

This week one of our team called up a certain bank, one you’ve all heard of, one of the big ones. Our caller pretended to be the wife of an expatriate who had just arrived in Botswana to work in a very exalted and impressive position in Government, in short someone who no doubt has lots of money to dispose of and wanted to lend it to a bank so they could bet it on horses or whatever it is banks do with our money.

OK, that bit about betting it on horses was an exaggeration but when you think about it, it’s not so far from the truth.

So what sort of service did our fictitious expatriate lady get? Well, not so good. It turns out that unless you have a Multichoice account you can’t have a bank account. Yes, that’s true apparently. This bank requires you to watch DSTV before you can bank with them. Well, that’s what the guy from the bank said. Shame they don’t offer to pay you for the DSTV account though.

It seems that unless you can provide this bank with a utility bill, I guess like water or power, but this guy just mentioned Multichoice, you simply can’t have a bank account. Despite offering a copy of a lease, endless ID documents like passports and CASH to open the account it’s impossible it seems.

Now before you think I’ve gone completely off the deep end I DO recognise that banks have to exercise some caution when opening accounts. Of course they have to establish the identity of potential customers. We can’t have Osama Bin Laden just wandering into a bank in the Main Mall and opening an account. Or George W Bush for that matter.

In fact the law demands that banks ensure the identity of the potential customer. The Banking Act says that banks may only open bank accounts “when they are satisfied, having acted with due diligence and with reasonableness, that they have established the identity of the person in whose name the funds or securities are to be credited or deposited”. So far so good and perfectly reasonable.

Nothing there about the compulsory TV though is there?

Perhaps they just need the Multichoice bill to prove where you live? Well, maybe except your Multichoice bill just has your postal address, not your residential address. It’s not like they can use it to send in the Deputy Sherriff is it? The lease however DOES say exactly where you live so surely that’s much more useful?

The message from this particular bank seemed actually to be quite simple. It was something like “Sorry, we simply can’t be bothered, you’re too much trouble”.

Oh and I forgot to mention, we record all these calls so perhaps that can be one of the first podcasts we put on our website!

So anyway, what sort of treatment would the next Bill Gates get if he came to Botswana planning to start a new company?

Well, by the time you read this we will have found out. We will have phoned all the banks to see what sort of service someone bringing huge amounts of money into Botswana receives. Can they open an account quickly, offering suitable services and all within a few days? Can they, in fact, respond to an important customer’s needs in the way an important customer would want?

Because if they can’t, what hope is there for the rest of us?

Read this column next week to find out!

This week’s stars!

  • Judith at Moviemax Bonnington for going beyond the call of duty
  • Shaula and Haranka at BTC for taking personal responsibility for a problem and getting it sorted
  • Kabelo at BTC yet again for just making things happen. Can this man do no wrong?
  • Marilyn at Multichoice for being really friendly and helpful
  • Famida at Stocker Fleetword Bird for really efficient and quick service
  • The staff at Mahogony’s restaurant for fantastic service

Friday 15 September 2006

Something new!

Business is not actually about stability, it’s much more about change. It’s about adapting to new circumstances, taking every opportunity to consider what you are doing and asking yourself all the time whether you are achieving the best you can.

The thing nobody prepares you for is that almost every time it happens, change is unexpected. Just when you think things are nice and stable something happens that completely throws you.

However troubling this might be, and no matter how much I hate sounding like some management, or worse still, spiritual guru, these unexpected changes can a huge opportunity for development and growth. Whether this growth is financial or purely mental is irrelevant. Personally and in business these opportunities are too valuable to be ignored or rejected. As they say in Latin (well, they would if anyone had actually spoken that ridiculous language in the last 500 years) “Carpe Diem!” Seize the Day!

Consumer Watchdog is no exception to this. As you may have seen in the press over the last few months we ourselves have undergone some changes. At the time the need for these changes seemed challenging but we decided to make the most of the situation and do you know what happened? We now have a much more dynamic and exciting radio show, a new sense of energy and things are genuinely better as a result.

However, much more importantly our imaginations are running at top speed. Hardly a week goes by without one of the team coming up with a fantastic new idea, some new mission or some new target for our attentions. Whether they want it or not!

One of our latest ideas is a first for Botswana. Something new, a little experimental perhaps but we think it has great potential.


The trouble with radio shows is that you need a radio to listen to them. You also have to be near that radio at the right time. Also if you hear a radio program that you really enjoy it is virtually impossible to allow a friend to hear it as well. Yes, some radio stations will send you a transcript or maybe even a recording if you pay them but the whole process is really inconvenient. Hence the podcast. A podcast is a recorded radio program that the producers make available on the Internet. Anyone with access to the internet can then download the program and play it on their PC. Every PC these days, regardless of manufacturer, whether it uses Windows or is a Mac, they all contain the software needed to play a podcast. If you have one you can also copy the material to your portable music player such as an Apple iPod (hence the name “podcast”).

Broadcasters such as the BBC, CNN, radio stations all over the world now make some of their programmes available as podcasts, but it’s not just huge organisations that podcast. Anyone with some fairly basic equipment can record a program and post it to the web.

A podcast is totally portable for each individual listener but in the same way an organisation can download it and distribute it within the company. Most companies these days have top-of-the-range communications networks that would allow them to download a program once and circulate it internally. They can then use our material in staff meetings, training sessions or just as interesting material for their managers, their staff and even their customers.

Podcasting also fits into the original philosophy behind the internet. It allows information to be freely and easily accessible to the world. Yes, I DID say free. Podcasts are almost always free and ours certainly will be. You will be able to download anything we produce entirely for free so long as you respect the simple licence we give you.

So what are these podcasts going to contain? Well, to begin with all the things that we don’t have time to broadcast on our sparkling radio show on YaronaFM every Tuesday at 7:15am.

There will be detailed follow-up on cases reported to us, all those cases that don’t make it on air or in this column. However we’re going to take it further. We’ve already lined up some of the most important business leaders in the country to come along and record interviews, conversations and arguments about the important issues of the day. Competitiveness, national branding, privatisation and liberalisation, the role of government, the education of consumers, localising our economy and developing our home-grown talent, we’ll cover all of these things. Also, as it’s recorded we can edit out the boring bits and keep the material simple, fresh and interesting.

So what do YOU think we should cover in our podcasts? Let us know what you want to hear about, who you think might be an interesting person to interview or profile. Maybe it was someone who gave you great service, maybe it was someone who gave you dreadful service but recovered well and learnt a lesson from it. Maybe it’s you! Are you interesting, do you have something to say that you think our readers and listeners should hear? Just let us know. You could end up a famous internet personality!

Just keep reading this column, checking our website and listening to YaronaFM for updates. We’ll keep you informed!

This week’s stars!

  • Wonder at the new Village Super Spar for being cheerful, incredibly friendly and attentive.
  • Joel Konopo from Mmegi for winning the MISA award for Business Reporter of the Year.
  • BTC for saying that they are going to almost double the price of local calls and line rentals and to drop the price of international calls at the same time that they announced an 18% increase in profits to P139,000,000. How does this help the poorest in our developing nation? Is this perhaps a sweetener for any potential investment partner so that when they finally get involved it’s not THEM that has to increase prices to make a profit? Perhaps they shouldn’t be in this section after all?

Friday 8 September 2006

Fair business practice?

It’s been a strange week. I’ve seen examples of good management, had some major disappointments and seen more examples of companies just not really understanding some business basics.

The Consumer Fair

Consumer Watchdog visited the Botswana Consumer Fair last weekend, just before it ended.

There are some things I don’t understand about the Consumer Fair. For instance, where did it actually have to do with Consumers? Yes, of course we consumers could go there and buy things but that doesn’t make it a Consumer event does it? We don’t call restaurants “Consumer refreshment outlets” just because consumers go there do we? Was calling it the “Consumer Fair” perhaps just an attempt to cash in on the growing awareness of consumer issues in our community?

In fact what was there was what I think we all knew were getting: an old-fashioned trade fair. Endless rows of stalls most of which were selling cheap and nasty children’s toys. The sort you know will be broken two days later. Yes, there were a few craft stalls but they were grossly out-numbered by those selling utter rubbish.

Oh and why the [removed so I don’t offend the editor and readers] were we obliged to PAY to get in to be sold things? The exhibitors had to pay to have stalls but that’s how things work. But making the shoppers pay just to enter the grounds seems way too much to me.

In the advertising the Consumer Fair was styled as our “Spring Shopping Oasis”. My dictionary defines an oasis as “a fertile place in a desert”. Well, it’s true, I certainly left feeling well and truly fertilised. Actually that’s not the word I’m looking for. What’s another word for “fertilised”? I’ll leave that up to you.


Actually the only good thing we saw while at the Consumer Fair was the Orange area. Loads of noise, dancing, things being given away and what looked like a couple of hundred people having a great time. It’s things like this that make a public event like a trade fair fun and memorable. Such a shame it was the only one there.

Orange (again)

Earlier in the week I read, like most of us did, a full page advertisement from Orange. Apparently they are upset that another “company offering mobile services” (now who can that be?) is trying to take their business away from them. OK, if this other company is telling lies then that’s going too far but they are accused in the advertisement of trying to “lure Orange Botswana’s customers to change SIM cards at no cost”. Orange say this is a “questionable tactic” aimed at “diminishing our brand, reducing our customer base and compromising achieved market share growth”. Let’s overlook the fact that this is really horrible English for a moment and think about what is happening. One company is trying to gain business at the expense of another. They want Orange customers to stop being Orange customers and instead to become customers of a competitor. How terrible. It should be illegal, surely?

Come on Orange! Get a grip! Big business is competitive. Companies make money by trying to modify customer’s choices, to encourage customers to buy from them rather than the other guy. So long as it’s legal, well, it’s OK. In fact I’m tempted to follow the example of this naughty and mysterious company.

Here goes.

This is a message to all the customers of our competitors. Our competitors are all very bad at what they do and we are much better than them. We’re also much better looking, we tell funnier jokes and we give you lots of sweets. So can we have your business? Please?

There, that wasn’t too painful was it? Do you think our competitors will complain? Perhaps they want to sue us? Visit our website and you’ll find we’ve devoted a whole page to people who want to sue us. It will be great to hear from you!

So now some good news.

In the papers recently were large advertisements from Air Botswana explaining in wonderfully simple terms their new e-ticketing facility. Every single question I had was answered and I was really impressed both by the new service itself but also by Air Botswana’s efforts to educate their customers. It’s things like this that allow us to differentiate between competing companies. Rather than just try to be as good as your competitors, find ways to keep ahead of them. Find ways to stand out from the crowd.

In the past I confess that we’ve been a little bit less than positive about certain Spar supermarkets. In particular we’ve been very critical about standards of cleanliness and hygiene. So it was really refreshing to visit the new Village Super Spar near Riverwalk in Gaborone. So many specialist products on offer that they barely have the room to display them, helpful and very friendly staff and a management team headed by Matt Price that are constantly on the shop floor running around making things happen.

So you see the variety that exists? Disappointment, excitement and some that are just perfectly average and forgettable. However it makes choices so much easier doesn’t it?

This week’s stars!

  • Matt and the team at Village Super Spar in Gaborone for a great start.
  • Orange for being the one up-beat thing at the Consumer Fair.
  • Ofentse at Penrich Employee Benefits for “going the extra mile to get a problem solved”.
  • Lesego at Department of Taxes for proving yet again that things can be done efficiently in Government!

Friday 1 September 2006

Who needs regulation?

Last week I went off on a bit of a rant about privatisation. This was in response to some comments in the press by people who are opposed to the whole process. I felt that some, in fact, now I think about it, ALL of their arguments were out-dated, poorly conceived and just plain wrong.

I suppose my biggest objection to the objectors is that their view of business is just so old-fashioned and what’s more has been proven wrong so many times. Look at Eastern Europe during the various communist regimes they suffered, look at even some of the developed economies like the United Kingdom during their quasi-socialist lunatic periods and look just across one of our borders and see economies that have been utterly ruined by central control. Economies where endless committees, and worse still, politicians, decide on what can be bought and sold, what prices we have to pay and even who can buy certain things. Economies where farmers are told what to grow by committees of political functionaries, not actually anyone who knows anything either about farming or what the market actually requires. The European Union has been a particularly bad example of this, paying massive subsidies to farmers to grow crops that nobody wanted to buy and that ended up being destroyed.

The whole idea of centralised control of the economy has shown itself on every such occasion to be a catastrophic failure. Surely it is better to allow the people who actually know about production and trade (the people actually doing it) to decide for themselves what is sold and how? Would you want to be on a plane at 10,000m that was being flown by a committee or a trained pilot with thousands of hours of flying experience? What’s the difference between that and entrusting the economy to government?

The whole centralised approach seems to me to deny some very basic truths about human nature. I’m not afraid to suggest that there are certain attributes of human beings that, while they should be moderated, should nevertheless be understood and even encouraged. For instance a sensible amount of enlightened self-interest is a good thing. Good for the person concerned, for his or her family and even for the nation as a whole. People who are looking after themselves and their family are going to be the ones chasing the best deals, the best jobs and the best salaries. Then take it one stage further. What do people earning more money actually DO with that money? Well, some of it they invest in other companies, even if they just put it in the bank, but more importantly they spend it! They spend it on products and services that are what? Yes, they are made and delivered by other people demonstrating their own enlightened self-interest. Also these people spending their hard-earned money pay taxes, taxes that can be spent allowing other people to earn money, to protect what they have earned and to educate all our children to become successful in turn.

The very best way to help all this happen is to keep governments away from any position where they can ruin a business by meddling. The very worst people to take charge of an economy are people who want to control it. Like the heart in a healthy body the market will keep itself going perfectly well if it’s left alone. That is the essence of the free market operating in a liberal democracy. Left alone it will look after itself.

Oh and one minor point that is often mentioned that is a useful by-product of trade freedom. No two free market liberal democracies have ever waged war upon each other.

As I’ve said here before the marketplace has been here since the very first cave man sold a dead antelope to his neighbour in return for an axe. It’s nothing new, it’s been with us since the beginning of humanity. We are, at our core, hairless, social, trading apes and the marketplace is our natural habitat. It’s what we are and every social experiment to construct something “better” has been a miserable failure.

The fact is that the liberalisation and eventual privatisation of organisations like Air Botswana and BTC offer us a real opportunity to get better, cheaper and more exciting products at lower prices. Surely that is much better than electing a government to ruin, sorry, run them for us?

By coincidence on the day I wrote this I heard on South African radio a telecommunications expert discussing the central state control of telecoms. He pointed out something I had never realised. Central government control of communications is only ever found in developing economies, never in those that have actually got there. In most of Europe, the USA and Australia there is no Ministry of Communications. In New Zealand, he said, they have even abolished the telecoms regulator. He finished by saying something that summarised it all for me:

“The best regulator is competition”.

This week’s stars!

  • Arne and the team at Arne’s Horse Safaris for being great with kids as well as adults
  • Fred at AON for really speedy and efficient service
  • Felicitus at Minchin & Kelly for keeping customers informed and for being really friendly, upbeat and helpful.