Tuesday 29 May 2007

Is there a colour difference in service?

We heard last week from a group of customers who went to a coffee place in Gaborone, were seated quickly but were then completely ignored. OK, perhaps that's just bad service? No, there's more to it that that.

While they were sitting there waiting for someone to look after them another group walked in and were served almost immediately.

So what was the difference? Isn't it obvious? The group that were ignored were all black. The group that was served like royalty were all white.

Haven't we got past all this by now? Surely in Botswana of all places this should be unthinkable?

What do you think? Are people just being over-sensitive or is it real?

Post a comment below and let us know.

UPDATE 29th May
The coffee shop were given the chance to respond and have suggested that we set them up and have defamed them! For reporting what THEIR customers said? For reporting a common observation around Gaborone? Come on!
Watch this space, we'll post a recording of the manager's response and you can make up your own mind!

Saturday 26 May 2007

New or used?

We heard recently from a shopper who had an incident involving his new cellphone.

We get quite a few calls from disgruntled shoppers about cellphones. I'm not sure whether this is because as a nation we are buying so many of the things or whether they are more likely than other products to be sold by crooks but whatever the reason there does seem to be a pattern.

This shopper had splashed out on a new top of the range phone that took pictures and videos and had all sorts of other clever technological features. He bought it from what he thought was a reputable store that, in the interests of self-protection, I'll just refer to as "Cell Town". That shouldn’t give it away, should it?

Anyway once he got his new toy home he began to become a little suspicious. Was it possible that the phone wasn't exactly new? Was it perhaps actually second-hand? Had someone used the phone before?

What gave him this impression? Was he being irrational and paranoid? Did he have any evidence?

Oh yes!

To begin with there were the entries in the phone’s “Address Book”. His supposedly new phone had in fact been used to store a number of phone numbers. Better still the phone already contained several amateur video clips. Not the demonstration video clips they often come with, these were clearly home made. Nothing naughty as far as I know but I’ll ask.

This is pretty damning evidence don’t you think? He isn’t complaining about fingerprints or scratches. He has real evidence that the phone isn’t new.

OK, it’s time for me to get all legal again. My current favourite reading material, The Consumer Protection Regulations 2001, states very clearly that a supplier

“fails to meet minimum standards and specifications” if:

“representation is made that the commodity is new when in fact it has deteriorated, or it has been altered, reconditioned, used or is second hand”.

Those last few words are pretty clear aren’t they? If you buy a cellphone in a cellphone shop and the phone you buy does NOT have the words “second hand” or “used” written all over it in great big glowing, preferably flashing, letters then you have a right to expect it to be new. If it then turns out to be second-hand or used then the store is in big mathata.

OK, so maybe one of the employees at “Cell Town” just borrowed the phone over the weekend? Does it really matter?

Well, I think it does. It matters. When I buy something new, when I’ve paid extra for something fresh off the production line I want it to be just that. New. Not handled, mucked around with or generally, well, used. That’s why I’m volunteering to pay extra rather than buying it second hand. There’s a principle at stake here.

We mentioned this story on our YaronaFM radio slot recently and what happened? Someone else called saying they had exactly the same experience. They bought a cellphone from the same place and found similar evidence that it wasn’t new. Is a pattern emerging here?

I suppose there are several possible explanations. Firstly perhaps “Cell Town” employees really are in the habit of borrowing phones over the weekend? It must be tempting when you are surrounded by all those wonderful flashy toys that will impress the guys and girls in the bar on Friday night but that doesn’t excuse deceiving your customers.

Second possibility. “Cell Town” take second hand cellphones from customers when they upgrade to the latest model. Quite often stores do this. They’ll discount the new flashy model in exchange for your old model which they can then sell as second hand. There’s nothing at all wrong with this except when they then sell your old, second-hand phone to another customer as “new”.

Third and final possibility. Are “Cell Town” by any chance receiving stolen goods? This one I’m prepared to reject immediately. It’s obviously not true. It can’t be. I refuse to believe it and neither should you. However it wouldn’t be that difficult for a store less reputable than “Cell Town” to pass off stolen goods as new. All it would take is some empty cellphone boxes and some stolen phones. But clearly that’s not the case here, so it must be either the first or second possibilities.

Frankly though it doesn’t matter. However it happened, whoever used the phone, it doesn’t matter. Our shopper bought a phone he honestly believed would be new and found out that it wasn’t. The store can either replace the phone with a genuinely new one or give the shopper all of his money back. And say sorry. And mean it. Otherwise it’s out of the shoppers hands, out of our hands and into the fists of the Consumer Protection Unit. End of story.

This week’s stars!

  • Tiny at HomeNet for helping to solve someone else’s problem. Seeing that the hairdressers next door was closed when a customer appeared he helped out, took a message and got the hairdressers to call back. Someone who sees the bigger picture!

Wednesday 23 May 2007

DBES - no excuses permitted

An excellent item in the Daily News today.  Well I thought it was anyway.

The Assistant Minister of Works and Transport, Mr Frank Ramsden, when asked whether lack of transport was a reasonable excuse for poor delivery by DBES, said "regardless of whatever resource shortages, the department must ensure good service delivery at all times."

Despite challenges and problems there is almost always something that can be done.  Making excuses is rarely good enough!

You can see the Daily News item by clicking here

Friday 18 May 2007

Who are we?

Who actually are Consumer Watchdog? What do you do? Are you part of the Consumer Protection Unit? Can you help me? How much do you charge?

We get asked many questions about Consumer Watchdog and by far the most common is the last one. How much do you charge?

It’s time to explain again who we actually are.

Firstly the boring bits. Consumer Watchdog is a non-profit-making, registered division of Business & Enterprise Solutions Botswana (Pty) Ltd, a private company that focuses on things like customer service, organisation effectiveness and HR management. We work with all sorts of companies helping them to run their business a bit more effectively, keeping their customers happy and their shareholders even happier.

We set up Consumer Watchdog a couple of years ago because we’d had enough. Enough of stories of people being abused, of companies treating their customers with extraordinary disrespect and of charlatans and crooks doing their very best to get our money away from us.

So what do we actually do? How can we help you? It’s actually quite simple. Any time you feel that you’ve been given second-rate service, that you’ve been ripped off or that a supplier has deceived you call us and we’ll see what we can do to fix it for you. Obviously we can’t guarantee anything but we have a pretty good track record. We’ve helped injured shoppers get hefty compensation from negligent stores. We’ve helped banks to change the way they operate so that customers are better served. We’ve even got the occasional apology for a customer when they’ve been disappointed. Miracles DO happen!

Are we connected to the Consumer Protection Unit? No. The Consumer Protection Unit is an official body with official powers. They are the ones that have the full power of the Consumer Protection Act and Regulations behind them and even an obligation to act when a complaint is raised. They are the ones who can prosecute people who refuse to play ball. We can’t do any of those things but bizarrely we think that’s actually an advantage. We have much more freedom to investigate things that interest us without waiting for a complaint to come in. We can operate with a lot more freedom because the only people we report to are the readers of Mmegi and listeners to YaronaFM.

We also have two really serious weapons. We have this column in Mmegi and we also have a weekly radio program on YaronaFM at 7:20am every Tuesday morning. We can use publicity to educate, to persuade and to even on a good day, to entertain!

So the big question. The one everyone asks. What do we charge? How much will it cost you if you need our help? The answer is simple. Nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. It’s free. On the other hand it might end up costing a supplier or store quite a lot if they have abused you. It will cost them when we force them finally to offer you compensation, a refund or a replacement. It will cost them huge embarrassment when they are obliged to apologise in public for deceiving people. It might even cost them their business if their sales go down when the public hears that they don’t treat their customers with a little respect. But the consumer? It costs nothing. Our services are free. How many other ways can I put this. No cost. No money. Free.

The other thing we can do is campaign for change, for a better understanding of the things we think are most important and maybe even to educate to a small extent. We do our best every now and then to encourage other bodies to get their act together and to use their powers, their role and their position to help us all.

We have a range of very profound beliefs that we use this column and the YaronaFm radio slot to broadcast. Firstly there’s competition. There are so many examples of how free and fair competition in the market place helps us all. Look at the keen competition between Orange and Mascom these days. They are constantly launching new ideas, actively trying to get customers to buy their products and services rather than from the other guy. Banks are an even better example. Hardly a week goes by without one of the banks launching some new form of account, a new cheaper account or service guarantees, all in an effort to persuade us to take our money to them rather than anyone else.

Then there’s privatisation. Yes, I know it’s controversial at the moment but the obvious challenges arising from the Air Botswana privatisation don’t change the general idea that a company freed from state control is one that’s free to address customer’s needs rather than some grand government plan.

We make no apologies for going on and on about these things because we believe that they genuinely make things better for us customers.

The last thing we do, and I sometimes think it’s perhaps the most important, is we celebrate. We take every chance to celebrate the excellent service that is available out there. We celebrate it here, on YaronaFM and at our birthday party every year when we show the nation and the world every single person we’ve celebrated in the previous year.

So who deserves to be celebrated this year?

This week’s stars!

  • Godwin and crew from the A-Team for great building work.
  • Aunty Betty at Thornhill Primary School for “being Aunty Betty”!
  • Babadi at FNB for fixing a problem with efficiency and a smile.
  • Heather and the team at Face and Body Care for soothing and relaxing service.

Friday 11 May 2007

Balancing your bank account?

I hate it when this happens. When I feel the need to be nice about a bank. It’s not something that I find comes naturally but every so often a bank does something that actually impresses me. First it was FNB and their “Islamic” fixed-repayment loans, then Stanbic and their no-minimum-income accounts and loans and recently Barclays have been suggesting the extremely rapid issue of debit cards.

This week Standard Chartered Bank announced two rather remarkable new ideas. Both involve at least one customer getting some money although the amounts in question vary enormously.

The first is particularly impressive when you look at the amount of money involved. They’ve launched a competition. All you need to do to enter the competition is take out a loan before the end of December and you stand to win a prize of P1 million. Yes, a whole million.

There are a couple of conditions of course. You must borrow P30,000 or more over a period of at least 3 years and it must be one of Standard Chartered’s No Mathata or Scheme Personal Loans. The only other catch, and to be frank it’s not much of a catch, is that if you win you must donate 10% of the million to charity of your choice.

Yes, I suppose it’s only going to benefit one customer and his or her family but it’s still the biggest competition prize I’ve ever seen in Botswana. Also the obligatory chunk of cash going to a charity is a nice touch.

So where’s that application form?

The other new idea is actually the one that I think is most impressive. Something that’s actually much braver than the P1 million competition even though it involves a lot less money. Something that might actually benefit all of us. It’s something I’ve not heard of before in Botswana. Automatic compensation.

Standard Chartered now pledge that any customer who calls their 24 hour call centre and who does NOT then get their problem resolved within 24 hours will get P100 paid into their account.

In their statement announcing this, the bank say that they are “putting back the control of the client/service provider relationship where it should lie, namely with our customer”.

I think that might be putting it a little strongly but the idea is a sound one. If they get something wrong and don’t fix it quickly they’ll say sorry in a much better way than just saying it out loud. They’ll give you money. Straight into your bank account.

There are several aspects of this that I think are worth considering. Firstly they are introducing something like a Service Level Agreement. This sort of thing is common in other industries, particularly information technology. There you get guaranteed levels of service and very often penalties when the supplier fails to meet them. It’s a way to recognise that customers have rights and that they deserve a service in return for the fees they pay.

Then there’s the encouragement this sort of thing offers to staff within the bank. Standard Chartered aren’t going to go around giving disappointed customers P100 without keeping detailed records of when this happens. One of the details they’ll obviously record is whose fault the problem was. Bank staff are really not going to want their name cropping up over and over again against these payments. There’s going to be a healthy fear of this mechanism within the bank. At the end of the year you can imagine the MD demanding to know which bank employee incurred the most P100 penalties in the last 12 months. Quite an incentive.

Lastly I like this approach because it does seem to balance things a bit. Bless them, banks are usually very quick to punish us customers when we transgress. They are eager to write us nasty letters when we fail to repay our loans, go overdrawn or commit some other misdemeanour.

But this new idea changes that slightly. Now instead of just writing to us to tell us off they’ll be writing to say sorry and offer us a little cash. This may seem like a small thing but it does re-balance the relationship a little bit.

Most importantly this adds to the competition between banks. In the last few months we saw most of the banks competing for the lower income end of the market. They were all trying their best to out-do each other in offering services to this under-serviced section of the market.

Now perhaps we’ll see banks competing to sell us their products on the basis of the quality of the services they deliver, not just the mechanics like interest rates and bank charges.

So congratulations to Standard Chartered for taking the leap and let’s hope we see more of this from the others sooner rather than later!

This week’s stars!

  • Wapula at the Shell Filling Station in Kanye for “excellent” service and for being so cheerful and friendly.

Friday 4 May 2007

Plain language? Where?

A few weeks ago I had a bit of a rant about plain language, or rather the lack of it. Amongst other things this was prompted by a very important person saying at a conference that it:

“should provide much-needed leverage to enable the country to upscale its present operational threshold through taking advantage of the latest concepts.”

And I, like most people, had absolutely no idea what that meant. If you read it a few times you eventually realise that what he was trying to say was:

“we will learn new things and get better”.

Would any of us have disrespected him for being so direct?

My problem is that so much of the language we hear from VIPs seems largely designed just to show off. It is the sort of language we hear from people who have been on expensive courses, usually funded by taxpayers like you and me, where they learn how to impress us with fancy language rather than with what we really need: new ideas.

Now clearly I don’t expect this sort of “Look at me, aren’t I clever?” behaviour to disappear overnight just because I mentioned it but I was surprised to see so much of it in the papers in the last couple of weeks.

To begin with there was an enormous advertisement entitled “Service Procurement Notice” from, I think, something to do with the European Union in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government, to help in their efforts towards “strengthening the Capacity for Community Development”.

Apparently one of the purposes of their project is to “strengthen the capacity of the MLG/Councils to address community development as a key performance area by offering a framework for implementing a change process”.

After reading this even more times than the previous bit of showing-off language I think what they are saying is that they want an expert who can help them to “be more adaptable so we can help people better”.

Well, I think that is what they mean. Perhaps.

Later in the advertisement it stated that no more than one application can be submitted “by a natural or legal person (including legal persons within the same legal group) whatever the form of participation (as an individual legal entity or as leader or partner of a consortium submitting an application).” And it went on, and on, and on. Frankly I could not be bothered to count the number of words in the advertisement but I suspect there were between 1,500 and 2,000 of them wasted on something that I imagine any half-decent writer could have cut down to about a tenth of that.

The usual subject of jokes about being long-winded is the legal profession. They have a reputation for overdoing the heretofores and whatsoafters but they seem to be slipping down the league of wofflers. Now it seems to be pretty much anyone with a big desk who feels the need to use 100 words when 20 would normally do.

But then I remember that Mmegi readers are pretty smart people. Maybe we can all see through the forest of words and make out whatever meaning is hidden in there? Well, I thought that until I read the announcement last week announcing that the Local Enterprise Authority and the Botswana Training Authority had signed a Memorandum of Understanding, no doubt destined to be called the LEABOTAMOU. The first sentence read as follows:

“There is seamlessness bottom-line between organisational mandates and maybe even worse through the eye of a customer”.

Where should I begin? One confusion of a noun and an adjective, four bits of redundant jargon, one completely meaningless sentence and a one-eyed customer. That is such a magnificent achievement. Unlike the quotes earlier this one completely stumps me. I genuinely have absolutely no idea what it means. In fact I’m convinced that it actually doesn’t mean anything at all.

And this was regarding a “Memorandum of Understanding”? Don’t they see the irony?

Perhaps when it was printed they missed out a few words? When you read the rest of it you see that it is, in fact, in keeping with the rest of the text. It rambles on for another 600 words explaining how much the remits of the two august and respectable bodies are actually the same thing. So perhaps they should have saved some space and just said:

“We do pretty much the same thing so we should merge into a single body. Goodbye.”

So here’s our free tip for the week. If you are a consultant, Managing Director or even a journalist and you find yourself using words or phrases like synergy, burning platform, best practice, critical mass or paradigm then stop, walk outside your office or conference room, give yourself a firm slap in the face and then go an buy a thesaurus at the nearest bookshop. Remember that there over 1.5 million words in the English language. Why don’t we start using them creatively and stop trying to show off?

This week’s stars!

  • Modise at Game Stores at Game City in Gaborone for great warmth and attention. Our reader was moved to buy a bicycle on the spot as a result of his service!
  • Tebogo at Riverwalk Mascom for really trying hard to fix a customer’s problem.