Thursday 21 December 2006

Christmas stars

So who’s been a good child this year and deserves a visit from Santa?

It’s that time of year again when we at Consumer Watchdog appoint ourselves the judges of customer service and identify those people who we think deserve celebration.

Incidentally the temptation to name and shame those companies and individuals who have shown contempt for their customers is almost overwhelming but, as it’s Christmas, I plan to show some self-control and keep their names to myself. They say that at this time of year we should show “good will to all men”. Even towards those who really don’t deserve it. They know who they are.

So, in no particular order, here we go. Here’s a brief list of companies who really seem to understand how things work. They understand how to treat a customer and most importantly (well to us anyway) they genuinely seem to value feedback. Even when it comes from us. Even when a customer might have decided NOT to follow the official complaints mechanism and has approached us for help. Remember that there is no contractual obligation on customers to follow the sequence of steps a company decides they should follow, not matter how logical it might seem. What these companies understand is that what matters most is making sure that a problem gets fixed and that a customer walks away reasonably happy. They are the sort of companies who, when we alert them to a problem, actually thank us for letting them know.

The banks. Yes, I still feel a little odd writing this but they really do seem to get it. Of course mistakes happen. No company is perfect, things will always go wrong occasionally. With the number of customers they have the banks are a good example of this. However Barclays, FNB, Stanbic and Standard Chartered have all genuinely seemed to welcome us getting involved if it helps fix a problem. The best thing for us though is the genuine competition they demonstrate. They really do seem prepared to fight for our custom. The real beneficiaries of this are you and me, the ones that lend them our cash.

Air Botswana. Despite going through an enormous amount of change and huge levels of stress and uncertainty about the future, our national airline has continued to focus on customer care. The great news is that this can only get better when they become a properly commercial enterprise.

Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing. One of the best examples we know of MBWA. Management By Walking Around. Managers not spending all day in the office doing accounts, instead they are out there on the shop floor chatting to customers, preventing problems from occurring in the first place instead of having to fix them afterwards. Obviously this works particularly well in shops but it’s critical in all businesses.

Our prize donors. All 4 main banks, Barloworld Motors, Orange, Mascom, Wimpy, Debonairs, Primi Piatti, African Banking Corporation, Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and loads of other companies all donated either money, vouchers or merchandise to give away to the people we celebrate.

It’s not just companies we celebrate though. Loads of individuals deserve it as well. The list is huge but a few superstars stand out.

Kabelo from BTC. Hardly a month goes by without someone celebrating Kabelo for dealing with customers as if they matter, as if he welcomes their business and recognises that they are actually paying his company their hard-earned money in return for a service.

Lorraine from FNB. She’s the Managing Director’s PA, a great example of those employees who understands how to take responsibility for an issue. A caller came through to her, and although technically it wasn’t her job to answer the question, Lorraine dealt with it personally. Our reader says she was “wonderful”!

Finally, two prize winners.

Nikki from Optimum McCann who was celebrated twice, both times for outstanding work.

Morasho, a shop manager from Fairground Mall. A customer left her purse behind in his store and before she knew it he had worked out she was a student and had printed leaflets which he distributed around the University announcing that he was looking after the purse for her.

Both Nikki and Morasho win P1,000 in Barloworld merchandise. Barloworld also tell us that if either of them has a car from Barloworld they can use the value of the prize towards a service or they will knock double the value of the prize off the price of a new car!

Finally we need some advice. In 2005 three companies were so upset by things we had to say that they had a tantrum and threatened to sue us for defamation. Obviously these threats came to nothing because we had only spoken the truth and it is not defamation if it is true. All it achieved was to show us which companies can’t take criticism and are frankly rather childish when it comes to unhappy customers. But at least it suggested we were having some sort of effect.

Incidentally don’t they understand how fantastic it would be? Can’t they see what amazing publicity we would get? Us, the poor little underdogs being sued by a big company for standing up for a customer. Bring it on!

However, this year only one company has threatened to sue us. Are we doing something wrong? Are we being more diplomatic? Surely it can’t be that companies are maturing, can it?

In 2007 rest assured that we’ll do our best to get threatened some more!

Merry Christmas and a prosperous New Year to us all!

Thursday 14 December 2006

Who are the champions?

Many centuries ago there were champions. Real champions. Their job was to fight on behalf of Kings and Queens who, because they were royalty, were themselves only allowed to fight their equals. They were far too important to fight their own fights so they used to hire people to do it for them.

Now of course being sensible, if somewhat inbred, these Kings and Queens would seek out the roughest, toughest, most battle-hardened combat specialists most likely to beat off the competition. These champions were seen as heroes in the days when fighting prowess meant something. Thankfully we’ve moved on since then but the legacy of these champions remains with us in our language and also in things like sport. The Zebras are our champions when they take on teams from other countries on our behalf. Whether they win or lose they remain our champions in the original sense.

Now of course the word has now changed it’s meaning but I think it is useful to remember it’s origin.

And that’s where I think that there are parallels between these champions and the customer-service industry. The service champions we at Consumer Watchdog identify are very much like the champions of history. They are the ones that aren’t afraid to go into battle on behalf of their employer and against their competitors. They fight, although obviously not in the old-fashioned sense, to win, to beat their competitor and to bring glory and riches to those that they fight for. They aren’t armed with swords, battleaxes and bows and arrows any more but with much more complicated weapons. Our champions go into battle with good (or at the very least well-presented) products, policies that are customer friendly and with the occasional special treat for consumers.

OK, that is about as far as I can stretch the analogy. One big difference is that these days service champions can move from company to company. In fact a series of career moves is probably a sign that someone is pretty good at it. Sooner or later anyone doing a great job servicing customers will be recognised by other companies and head-hunted (another term with a violent history).

Normally when “head-hunting” is mentioned we think of CEOs and MDs but it’s not always the case. People can be head-hunted at all levels. In fact we were privileged to help bring about one of these several months ago.

In April this year we hosted the first Consumer Watchdog Birthday Party. We invited the 150 service champions we had celebrated in our first year to the Gaborone International Convention Centre to be celebrated in front of the press, their managers and the nation. Our guest of honour was the President who helped us to recognise the achievement of our service champions (see our website for pictures).

One of the champions worked at a well-known fast-food outlet, serving customers on the front line (yet another military term). Just a few minutes after getting his prize from the President he was approached by a very senior manager from a bank who offered him a job on the spot. Our champion doubled his salary instantly and now works in customer service helping the bank improve it’s relationship with it’s customers.

The bank manager didn’t care that the young man in question had never worked in a bank before. He didn’t care that our champion was unqualified to be an actual banker. Instead he saw that he was perfectly qualified to work in customer care.

What he understood is that champions are champions, regardless of who they fight for. Fighting skills are universal, whether you are serving fast food or helping customers in a bank. The qualities needed are actually quite simple but most importantly of all they are the same as those needed for the old fighting champions. Huge amounts of energy, excellent skills with the weapons available and most of all a passion to be the best, to win.

It also takes an understanding that there is nothing wrong with seeing business as like warfare. Some people seem to think that there is something morally reprehensible about competing, about taking on the competition and doing your level best to beat them. However the bizarre thing is that these same people are often avid sports fans. There are so many parallels between sport, warfare and business. All are about competition, victory and defeat. Can you imagine a boxing match with only one boxer? A football final with only one side? The reason football teams practice over and over again is not just to make them good at the game, it’s to make them better than the other side. Why can’t we see business as the same?

Lastly customers, like football fans, benefit when there is vigorous competition. We all want to see an exciting game involving two well-matched sides each doing their best to win. Same in business!

Christmas prizes

We have Christmas presents to give away! Barloworld have donated several thousand Pula’s worth of merchandise, from sweatshirts to baseball caps, for us to give away to nominated service champions. Barloworld also tell us that if a winner has a car from them they can use the value of the prize towards a service or they will knock double the value of the prize off the price of a new car!

So tell us, who do you think deserves to spend Christmas looking like a walking, talking advertisement for Volvo, Volkswagen, Audi, Ford or Jaguar? Let us know and there is still just enough time to give them an early Christmas treat.

This week’s stars!

  • All the staff at Vee’s Video at Molapo Crossing for being friendly, helpful and for service above and beyond the call of duty.
  • Moses from Lengaleng Bottle Store in Tlokweng for always smiling.
  • Barloworld for their generosity!

Thursday 7 December 2006

Bypassing sanity

I’m not sure what we’re doing. What’s going wrong? Why are we, as a nation, being so insane?

Yes, this week I’m going to go on and on, yet again, about road safety.

A couple of weeks ago I was outraged by encountering the aftermath of a traffic accident that took the lives of a mother and two children and was apparently caused by the recklessness of a government driver.

But this time it’s personal.

Last Monday one of the Consumer Watchdog team, in fact our longest serving team-member, narrowly avoided death. She was in a combi in Gaborone when the driver became distracted. Distracted by a junction? Distracted by another motorist? Distracted by one of the passengers?


The driver and his companion were busy discussing (and no, I’m not making this up, everyone heard it) the buttocks of a woman they had just passed. So busy was he gazing sideways and over his shoulder that he didn’t see the BMW that had stopped in front of him, waiting to turn right.

Well, not until he drove at great speed into the back of the BMW. Almost all the passengers were hurt and by a huge stroke of luck the accident happened about 60 seconds walk from the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone. An ambulance came along pretty quickly but unfortunately that’s where her luck ended.

I first got to the hospital about 15 minutes after she had arrived, only about 30 minutes after the accident and found her on a trolley, in some pain but patiently awaiting the attention of the emergency staff. That was at around 10am.

So when did she finally get some medical attention?

She didn’t.

Despite her being a formidable woman who rarely takes no for an answer, by 8pm that evening, 10 hours after the accident, she hadn’t even been assessed. I don’t mean treated, I mean just the first assessment. The assessment when they decide if you are already dead, dying or worthy of treatment.

When we called the hospital at 8pm they were not exactly optimistic or re-assuring. The nurse we spoke to, who refused to give her name, told us that there were only 2 doctors on duty and at that moment, 94 patients were awaiting attention. However I spent the first 8 years of my career in hospitals and have spent some time in Accident & Emergency Rooms. The Princess Marina A&E was NOT particularly busy during the day on Monday. The issue was staffing. There was only one nurse on the “shop floor” on the two occasions I was there. I refuse to criticise him because he was actually there doing his job but he was simply overwhelmed.

Now for some educated guesswork. I suspect that the Princess Marina must employ at least 100 doctors and maybe 500-600 nurses. I’m also sure that they don’t all work in A&E but surely we can expect some of them to be there? I also know that the A&E centre is used by many people as a primary health centre, arriving with headaches and minor cuts and bruises that should really be dealt with by a family doctor. I am also painfully aware of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the hospital.

But all I wanted was for my colleague and friend to be looked at by a doctor or nurse and to be given at least some indication that she would be treated at some point in her life.
By 8pm we had all had enough and we had her driven to the Gaborone Private Hospital where we are happy to pay for her to be examined. Luckily nothing was actually broken. Luckily there was no internal bleeding. Luckily she hadn’t sustained a head injury.

Not that anyone at the Princess Marina would have noticed.

So back to road safety. What are the authorities doing to curb the death toll? Well, no doubt over the Christmas break there will be police officers stopping us and giving out leaflets. No doubt there will be random licence checks, speed checks and the fire brigade there to deal with the results of recklessness.

But that’s just papering over the cracks. We need radical action.

What we don’t need is the frankly insane action of which ever authority it was that recently painted pedestrian crossings on the Western Bypass in Gaborone. Not crossing with lights, no, just zebras on the road. Nothing wrong with a little patriotic imagery on the road but are we all insane? They are at some of the fastest spots on that road. Yes, I know that the speed limit there is only 60 but we must face facts. If you build a dual carriageway that is meant to be a city bypass then people will use it for exactly that purpose. I assumed that the purpose of the Western Bypass was to allow people to drive past Gaborone swiftly and effectively so we can only expect people to do exactly that: to drive round it swiftly.

I’m not defending speeding motorists, I just think we should recognise what certain roads are for. City bypasses are there get people around a city, not through it. At the moment there are times when it’s quicker to drive from Game City to Broadhurst through the city than along the bypass and that’s a strange state of affairs.

Of course pedestrians need to cross the road. But surely if we really cared about them we would build them a bridge. Yes, the bridge would cost money but I think the time has come when we should begin to measure the cost of lost lives as well.

This week’s stars!

  • Staff Nurse Rosemary Makorie at the Gaborone Private Hospital for taking a decision that helped treat our Watch Puppy. You reminded us how patients should be treated.
  • Segametse at Nandos at Game City for being fantastic.
  • Tsaiamiso from FNB Main Mall who so overwhelmed a customer she thought she deserved a present. Don’t worry, we’ll give her one!
  • Edward at BPC for courtesy and reconnection!