Friday 24 November 2006

Nobody is too important

We had an interesting experience this week.

We took a call from someone who had experienced what she thought was poor service. She had turned up at the airport in Gaborone with a friend and there had been some sort of mix-up with check-in and her friend ended up missing her plane entirely.

The details of this issue aren’t important though. What we thought was amazing was how the airline in question reacted. After we heard from the caller we phoned up the airline to get their side of the story.

This, incidentally, is what we always do. We never just accept one side of a story. We always see what the other side have to say for themselves. Only when we’ve done this can we really judge the true merits of a case.

Anyway, back to the airline. We called them and asked to speak to their Public Relations people. However, and we’re not quite sure how this happened, we got put through to the Chief Executive Officer himself. We explained that this probably wasn’t actually an issue for him to deal with but he wouldn’t take No for an answer. He insisted on hearing the details and investigating himself.

Half an hour later he was back on the phone to us, having made a few calls himself and he had a proper response for us. As it happens on this occasion he didn’t feel that his airline was at fault. He used a phrase we like to hear from managers when they firmly believe their staff haven’t made a mistake: “I have to support my staff on this one”.

So who was it? Isn’t it obvious? Air Botswana. Yes, the one’s going through privatisation as you read this. Surely you would think that their CEO has a million and one better things to do than respond to a customer’s complaint? In fact the opposite is true. If it isn’t related to pleasing customers then ignore it.

The lesson here is simple. It doesn’t matter who you are, what your fancy title is and whether you have a glossy MBA certificate on your wall, you are NEVER too important to take an interest in customer care. We teach this to our victims, sorry I meant “trainees”. Whoever you are, if you take the call, it’s your responsibility to make sure something is sorted out.

So the lesson is simple. If you work in a company that attempts to serve customers, but you aren’t prepared to risk speaking to an irritated customer, then don’t answer the phone. You’ll probably be fired, or your company will out of business sooner or later but you’ll have quiet life.

Something for free

As our regular readers will know, every so often we go crazy and give things away for free. Crazy I know but we’re just like that.

You may have seen in the papers in the last week an Invitation to Tender from the Ministry of Trade & Industry. Tender number MTI/MTC/DMM/57.3/2/60-07 (just printing that tender number in every newspaper probably cost them a few hundred Pula) asked for consultancy services “to undertake a detailed study to review and assess the impact of policies, laws and regulations on the operations of small, medium and micro-enterprises (SMMEs).”

Well, we seriously considered offering our services on a commercial basis because we know we have the skills. However being the crazy people that we are we’re going to give away our consultancy services entirely for free. So here we go. Here is our consultancy service regarding how “policies, laws and regulations” affect small businesses.

They get in the way!

The fact that small, new, struggling business have to pay the VAT they have charged their customers BEFORE they have themselves received it is crippling small businesses.

The fact that it takes up to six months even to start a business legally stifles the entrepreneurial spirit.

The fact that the citizen-owned businesses we all want to see succeed are GIVEN money to start themselves up, rather than not having it TAKEN AWAY during the first, really hard couple of years just adds to the complacency we see, the purchase of flashy cars, the occupation of fancy offices and their inevitable collapse and “In The Matter Between” notices in the papers.

In fact, the sooner the “policies, laws and regulations” that are there to regulate small businesses are themselves regulated the better. The word “regulate” comes from a Latin word regula which means “to rule” but conventionally it means “to control” or “to limit”. I don’t think that businesses should be ruled, controlled or limited at all. Yes, of course they should obey the law, that’s obvious. Companies shouldn’t behave like the Mafia. Murdering the opposition is a bad thing. Not paying your taxes is a bad thing. However, other than a few basics I think that small companies should be left entirely alone. Let business men and women follow their instincts and then succeed or fail.

Rather than submit their business to regulators, policy committees and the Government I think we should let businesses submit themselves to the greatest judge of all. The market. The free market is the very best judge of who should succeed, not regulators.

This week’s stars!

  • Lance Brogden at Air Botswana firstly for taking personal responsibility for a customer complaint and secondly for sticking up for his staff when he felt they had actually done nothing wrong.
  • Another company we dealt with who seem to believe their customers are beneath their contempt. You would think they would understand that their customers are all that matter. But they can’t. No, I won’t name them but if you email me I’ll give you a clue!

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