Friday 29 June 2007

"Racing to push my trolley"

Some people think that there are certain subjects we shouldn’t talk about. I don’t agree. Taboo subjects sometimes need to be addressed head on. For instance these days most of us have started openly discussing sex as part of the fight against HIV/AIDS. By confronting the issues honestly we can probably achieve some good.

There’s a slightly taboo subject that customer service people don’t like discussing.


No, not desert races, I’m talking skin colour.

A couple of weeks ago we heard from a group of black shoppers who had been to a popular restaurant in Gaborone and came away feeling that their skin colour had led to them being given second rate service. Well, actually no service at all. Meanwhile a white couple who walked in after them were served instantly.

When we reported on this issue on YaronaFM the reaction from the restaurant wasn’t quite what we expected. Did we get a heartfelt comment that such things were unacceptable and loathsome and that a full investigation was going to be undertaken? Did we get a fulsome apology and would the shoppers like to come in for a chat with the manager over a cup of free coffee?


Instead we were accused of setting the store up, of sending in “stooges” and of making utterly baseless accusations. We had not, incidentally, done anything of the sort. These were senior managers from a local company who went away feeling abused. We were told by the restaurant that as the managers of the restaurant were themselves (white) Batswana discrimination was impossible. I’m not quite sure how the logic behind that works but never mind.

Of course it’s perfectly possible that this was just an unfortunate experience and the skin colour of the people in question was irrelevant. This may be the case but that doesn’t excuse not treating the complaint with respect and instead dismissing it out of hand.

Anyway, back to the issue. Are black and white shoppers treated differently? If you ask around you get a mixture of reactions. Some people I’ve spoken to said that of course there is discrimination. Others said that it was unthinkable in this day and age and particularly in the country founded by Seretse and Ruth and which has a future President of mixed-heritage and that has a zebra as a national symbol. Others said that I shouldn’t even talk about it.

Too bad, it’s too important not to discuss.

I heard a debate on the radio recently about a hairdressing salon that was only capable of doing white women’s hair. They didn’t employ anyone capable of doing black women’s hair. Along with the presenters my instinctive reaction was that this was somehow wrong, but I couldn’t exactly say how. Then I wondered whether there is any difference between that and a car showroom that only sells BMWs. Maybe it’s not discrimination; it’s just that they are “specialists”.

A few months ago someone called us and suggested that at a certain supermarket white shoppers had their trolleys pushed for them more than black shoppers. Always up for a challenge we decided to investigate. We sent one of our mystery shoppers to sit across the road from the supermarket for 3 whole days with a notebook and count the shoppers who emerged and categorise them by sex and skin colour. The results were curious.

About a quarter of black women who emerged with trolleys were being assisted. Exactly the same proportion of white women was being assisted. Again, exactly the same proportion of black men was having their trolleys pushed. So far, no evidence of discrimination. Then we got to the white guys. None of the white men who emerged were being assisted. This was a bizarre result, nothing like what we expected. Our conclusion is that either white guys are the victims of cruel and heartless trolley-oppression or perhaps, more simply, white guys just don’t like having their trolleys pushed.

I think at least part of what we see is what we expect to see. If I go into a store expecting to be treated badly then I’m probably more likely to see just that. Clearly I’m not saying that discrimination doesn’t occur, I believe that it does to some extent. I just believe that much of it is to do with expectations, confidence and assertiveness.

I have two female colleagues who are like twins. Both are intelligent, attractive and fun to be with (such a hard life I lead), the only difference is that one is black, the other white. My experience is that they both get identical service. Neither of them would, for a moment, put up with anything less than respect and courtesy. Nobody in their right mind would dare to treat them badly and hope to get away with it.

So what do YOU think? If you are white do you get better service? If you are black are you treated badly? Any more badly than your white friends? If you are somewhere in between what happens? Give us some evidence and we’ll send out the investigators.

In case you’re wondering, no, nobody EVER pushes MY trolley.

This week’s stars!

  • Segametse at Nandos Game City for friendliness and going out of her way to help.
  • Arnold and the team at Supreme for actions “above and beyond the call of duty” in solving a customer’s credit problems.
  • Daisy recently of Land Utilisation, Grace from the Bee Keeping Unit and Mr Ellard from the Forestry Section, all in the Serowe Regional Office of the Ministry of Agriculture.

Tuesday 26 June 2007

More on race

So what's the issue with race?  Is it something that affects service?  In Botswana of all places, in the country founded by Seretse and Ruth, the country of zebras does your skin colour affect the service you get?
We heard that at a certain book store in Gaborone if you're black and you flick through the magazines you'll be told to stop but if you're white you'll be left alone.  What's your experience?  Is it your skin colour or your attitude that determines how well you're treated?

Friday 22 June 2007

Is the law an ass?

A character in Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens is famous for saying that “The law is an ass, an idiot” but is that true here in Botswana?

I’m not so sure. Maybe I’m just a sad individual but I’ve been reading the laws of Botswana. I confess that I’ve skipped the delights offered by the Seeds Certification Act, the Hypothecation Act and the Collective Investment Undertakings Act because they are, well, astonishingly dull.

But there are some really entertaining laws. Laws that are useful, practical and that empower us all.

My personal favourite is the Consumer Protection Act and the Regulations that followed them. They give us all a right to have a deposit refunded, goods that are “fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased” and a right to demand that “new” goods are exactly that.

We also have a right to products that do what they are meant to do. This isn’t just for things like microwave ovens and DVD players, it also covers those bizarre health supplements on sale in all sorts of places. Whether it’s oriental herbs that can promise unrivalled sexual performance, colloidal silver (whose only known property is to permanently turn your skin blue if taken to excess) or rubbish that claims to cleanse your blood the charlatans that sell this quackery can be prosecuted for promising results that “have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”.

Every time you see these things on sale, or any time you see a homeopath or a reflexologist offering their pseudoscientific services you really should DEMAND to see what evidence they have that they can actually achieve any results at all. Not just anecdotes like “My Aunt Agatha got better” or “everyone KNOWS it works”, you should demand evidence that “can be readily substantiated” which is what the Regulations demand. Unfortunately you’ll find with almost all of these charlatans that the only thing they can help you do is lose weight. From your wallet or purse.

In a similar vein there is the Witchcraft Act. I’m not going to describe it, it’s so simple and easy to understand I’m going to quote Section 7 of the Act.

“Any person who for purposes of gain, pretends to exercise or use any kind of supernatural power, witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration, or undertakes to tell fortunes, or pretends from his skill or knowledge in any occult science to discover where or in what manner anything supposed to have been stolen or lost may be found shall be guilty of an offence and liable to the punishments provided by section 3.”

Those punishments can be anything up to 5 years in prison. So why don’t we start showing these crooks a real miracle? Free food and drink courtesy of the Prisons Department.

Then there’s the Food Control Act. Did you realise that an “authorised officer” can enter any premises where food is prepared or sold, take samples, examine documents and even seize food that he or she believes may have contravened the hygiene rules of the Food Control Act. What exactly is an “authorised officer”? It can be anyone named by the Government but also any registered medical practitioner, a customs and excise officer or even just “a police officer of or above the rank of sergeant”.

So why aren’t we seeing this happening all the time? Why don’t we see just a few store owners behind bars? The act allows them to be sent away for up to 6 months and if it’s a “continuing offence” an extra two months for every single day they offend.

Those of who live in Gaborone will have seen every so often the enormous plume of smoke emanating from behind Riverwalk Shopping Centre. I’m not sure who it is that burns all that rubbish but I wonder if they know about the Atmospheric Pollution (Prevention) Act? I wonder if they are aware that an Air Pollution Control Officer can inspect their premises without warning at any time? I wonder if they realise that they aren’t allowed to throw huge amounts of muck into the atmosphere without a registration certificate?

Finally did you know that the Prohibition of Pretentious Terminology Act makes it an offence punishable by public ridicule to use a long word or phrase when a shorter one with exactly the same meaning exists? Perhaps we’ll now see an end to words like “utilise” and “re-engineer” and phrases like “upscaling present operational threshold through taking advantage of the latest concepts”?

OK, I confess I invented that last law. But I’m allowed to dream aren’t I?

Incidentally, if anything I’ve written makes you a little hot under the collar and you feel like suing me or Mmegi for defamation you should remember Section 195 of the Penal code which states that defamation cannot have occurred if what was published:

“is true and it was for the public benefit that it should be published”

I think the law is great. We just need a bit of enforcement, that’s all.

This week’s stars!

  • Serame, Tlhomano and Dixon from the Department of Road Transport & Safety in Gaborone for incredibly friendly and efficient service.
  • Waynie at BTC for friendly help when a technical fault was reported.
  • Nancy Ramphomane, the Minister of Finance’s secretary. Since being celebrated at our recent party three people have contacted us to say they agree she is “wonderful”. Take a look at our web site to see Nancy being celebrated.

Monday 18 June 2007

Don't ever sign anything!

Well, OK, sometimes you have to but we keep hearing of consumers who are forced, sometimes quite forcibly, to sign contracts without fully understanding what they contain.
Whether it's a holiday time-share contract that turns out to be "irrevocable", a store credit scheme even though you have been offered something on a three-month zero-interest basis or, most recently a "Voluntary Repossession Order" that means you have to pay for things you have returned to a store and have never actually used, it's all very scary.
Our suggestion is just don't sign things.  At least not until you've read them several times, passed them by your husband or wife or by your cousin the lawyer.
If you aren't 100% certain then just walk away.  Demand a copy of what they want you to sign and if, as often happens, they won't let you take a contract away to read in the comfort of your own home then don't just walk away, RUN!

Friday 15 June 2007

Time to be nasty

Over the last few weeks we’ve been very nice about service providers and, in particular, some of their employees. It all culminated in our recent Consumer Watchdog Birthday Party, very generously sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank. Hundreds of service stars were celebrated in front of the President and loads of other VIPs and we all had a great time.

Take a look at our web site at for some pictures from the party.

Incidentally we had huge fun at the party being entertained by the cast of Bye Bye Birdy, Stuart White’s latest show, opening very soon. If you haven’t been down to Riverwalk and bought your tickets already then you better hurry! It’s going to be a blast.

Following the party and all the good news we were in a pretty good mood and we were still in the mood to be positive.

Well, that was until we picked up our email and letters. A whole series of stories of disrespect and abuse from disreputable suppliers.

First there was the customer who bought a cellphone from a store only to find when she got it home that the instructions were written only in Finnish and Dutch. Not surprisingly she speaks neither so they were utterly useless to her. Our argument was that these days cellphones are so complicated that the instructions are a core part of the product. If they are unreadable then the product is effectively unusable. That’s where the Consumer Protection Regulations come in. If a product isn’t usable it’s "not of merchantable quality". This means that it’s not "fit for the purposes for which commodities of that kind are usually purchased" and therefore the supplier has failed to meet his obligations under Section 13 (1) (a) of the Consumer Protection Regulations 2001.

Eventually the shopper got her money back but this should never have happened. There seems to be an epidemic of cellphone problems these days and according to my sources part of the problem is that some cellphone stores are importing a load of second hand phones from Europe (hence the Finnish and Dutch instructions?) and selling them as new. Very dubious so be warned.

Next was the shopper who left a bag containing a pair of jeans she had bought elsewhere in the changing room of a store. She later called the store who very nicely offered to put them aside for her until she could get back to them. So far so good. Well, until she got back to the store a few days later and found to her distress that the jeans had gone missing.

However, the store people were apologetic and gave her P300 to cover the cost of her jeans that they had lost. Again so far so good!

Well, it was until she got a call from the store saying that some very (self-)important Area Manager had heard about this, blown a fuse and instructed the store staff to get the money back from the shopper. She was summoned to the store to return the money. At this stage she contacted us. Our recommendation was simple. She should tell the store to “go forth and multiply”.

When she got in contact with the store again they updated her. It turns out that they had now established that one of their staff had errrr….. “borrowed” the jeans and had now returned them. I still think that given that the jeans had probably been used she should stick with the P300 but she decided she wanted her jeans back and, quite fairly, she did return the P300.

But where do these people get the idea that they can insult customers in such a way?

Then there was a major store who engaged a debt collector to get some money back. When one of the customers who owed them money went to the debt collector he admitted that he got a little angry but was it necessary after he left to call the police and lay charges? Perhaps that was just a little excessive but there were certain things that surprised us and confirmed a theory I have.

Firstly, the debt collector didn’t have a conventional phone number, just a cellphone number. They didn’t have a fax number, email or indeed anything you would expect a reputable company might have. Apparently they have just moved offices but isn’t it just a little strange that a company wouldn’t sort those things out before an office move? It just struck us as a little strange.

My theory is that you tell a lot about a company by the communication tools they use. There is obviously nothing wrong with having a cellphone. Nor is there anything wrong with having a free email account from Yahoo, Gmail or Hotmail. We all have one of those these days, no matter how big our companies are, they are always useful as a backup. However when a company relies on these as their primary means of communication it just shows everyone that they aren’t really established. That may be fine for a decorator or a mechanic but a debt collection agency?

This week’s stars!

  • Botsalo at DHL who keeps her customers up to date with shipments really well. According to our reader “she is my star”.
  • The staff at the Land Utilisation Division of the Ministry of agriculture in Serowe who “have provided exceptionally good, cheerful, interested and effective service”.
  • Also in Serowe from the same Ministry the Bee Keeping Unit for “splendid service”.

Friday 8 June 2007

Party time!

Last week we had the night of the year. On Thursday 31st May the service stars we had celebrated over the previous year in this column and on the radio all came to the Gaborone International Conference Centre to help us celebrate our Second Birthday Party.

In fact we had 180 service stars there along with their managers, all sorts of business and government leaders and our extra special guests The President and the Minister of Finance.

Again the party was VERY generously sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank.

Go to our web site and take a look at the pictures!

Last year we held a very similar party where we celebrated a mere 130 service stars. After the party someone approached me and semi-jokingly said “Yeah, I bet they’re all Zimbabwean”. The bad news was I simply didn’t know. We hadn’t asked. So this year we determined not to make the same mistake. This year we asked.

To begin with 54% of the service stars were women. As David Cutting, the new MD of Standard Chartered Bank said, “That’s no surprise” and I think I agree with him. It’s probably worthy of a PhD thesis but it does seem to be the case that women are just slightly better at customer care than men. Maybe it’s to do with traditionally being slightly more caring but it’s probably more to do with not having a large dose of masculine pride. Men just don’t seem to be as able to back down and apologise when necessary.

Then there was their average age of only 32. Service stars seem to be young. Despite what some of us more mature types often say about the younger generation it seems that in fact they are a hard-working, dedicated bunch. Perhaps we oldies should start being more generous?

So the big question. Were they all Zimbabwean?


In fact 10 different nationalities were represented. There was an American, a Brit, a Yugoslav, an Indian, a Mauritian, a Swede and even a Singaporean. There were 5 South Africans. And yes, there were Zimbabweans. Seven of them.

9 out of 10 were Motswana. So all those people who think Batswana can’t do customer service should, with the full blessing of Consumer Watchdog, stick that statistic somewhere where it hurts!

Clearly it’s unfair to single out any of these service stars for particular mention but we couldn’t help it. Certain stars just stood out and we believed they needed to celebrated for being extraordinary.

Everyone who deals with BotswanaPost has a huge affection for Moses Aaron. As their receptionist and telephonist he is the face and voice of BotswanaPost. His dedication, his courtesy and his smile are all things all service providers should emulate.

Victor Chivazera from Barclays Bank was celebrated on various occasions and was described by one reader as “Every customer’s dream. He is courteous, competent, consistent and extremely helpful.”

Thuso Seitei from Botswana Life was nominated to Consumer Watchdog for service above and beyond the call of duty and for dealing with the aftermath of a bereavement with sympathy, professionalism and promptness.

Calvin Mothibedi from Shell Kudu Filling Station was celebrated many times this year as well as in our first year. His energy and obvious commitment to treating customers with respect and his sense of fun are an example to all service providers.

Candy Kuswani from Ola Milky Lane at Game City was nominated to Consumer Watchdog more times than we can remember both this year and last year. Her incredible cheerfulness, her warmth and the amazing way she treats customers shine through.

Millicent Qampi from Princess Marina Hospital was nominated to Consumer Watchdog for taking control of Emergency Room at the Princess Marina on an extremely busy day. She strode into the Emergency Room, took charge, explained how things worked to everyone in both Setswana and English and left everyone feeling calm, confident and content.

On 22nd January 2007 Air Botswana flight BP201 was hijacked while in flight from Gaborone to Johannesburg by an assailant who threatened to blow up the plane. Although this turned out to be an exaggeration this can only have been a deeply traumatic experience for the passengers but particularly for the crew of the flight, Captain Hastings Mulenga, Senior First Officer Roy Champane, Onthatile Itsing and Puleng Johnson. According to official reports the pilots and the crew “acted with the highest degree of professionalism and courage. They never faulted in their resolve to bring the incident to conclusion with minimum risk to all”. We believe that they are a tribute to the airline and to the nation and deserve the highest levels of celebration.

Finally, a point for all the service stars who came to the party. It wasn’t Consumer Watchdog that got you celebrated by The President and the nation. It wasn’t Standard Chartered Bank. It wasn’t Mmegi or Yarona FM.

It was you. You all did it yourselves. You did it by BEING yourselves. You did it by demonstrating to your customers that you are friendly, honest, helpful and that you genuinely want them to benefit from doing business with you. Whether you sell them ice cream, life insurance, banking products, postal services, petrol, healthcare or whether you fly them in safety doesn’t matter. You all demonstrated that it’s HOW you do it that matters most.

You are ALL stars and we are ALL very proud of you.

This week’s stars!

  • The President, Minister Gaolathe and all the other VIPS for being there to help us recognise that it CAN be done, it IS being done and it’s getting better every day.
  • Everyone at Standard Chartered Bank for again very generously sponsoring the party but particularly David, Pierre, Basadi and Mpho.
  • Our partners at Mmegi, The Voice, YaronaFM and Minchin & Kelly for all your support over the last couple of years, even when certain companies did threaten to sue us. Funny than none of them ever did though!
  • All the service stars for being exactly who they are.

Monday 4 June 2007

Our 2nd Birthday Party

Last week we had the night of the year. On Thursday 31st May the service stars we had celebrated over the previous year in this column and on the radio all came to the Gaborone International Conference Centre to help us celebrate our Second Birthday Party.

In fact we had 180 service stars there along with their managers, all sorts of business and government leaders and our extra special guests The President and the Minister of Finance.

Again the party was VERY generously sponsored by Standard Chartered Bank.

Go to our web site and take a look at the pictures!

Friday 1 June 2007

No company has a right to make money

A few weeks ago we had a bit of a disagreement with a company we had criticised. We had mentioned them in this column and also on air during our radio slot on YaronaFM. They complained about something we said and, as occasionally happens, they threatened us with legal action for defamation.

The first time a company said this I was actually quite surprised at my reaction. I wasn’t upset. I thought it was hilarious. That was the company which had left one of their stores in such a state of disrepair that a shopper was injured. When we covered the story we got a hard time from them because they thought we had defamed them. Our reaction was quite simple. What exactly was it we had said that was defamatory? Err, nothing. So that was that. They left us alone from then on.

The next time was when we reported on a store whose store credit scheme appeared to have the highest annual percentage rate ever seen since the dawn of time. Well, OK, so perhaps that’s a slight exaggeration but it’s probably worth repeating the figures again for amusement. If you bought a certain DVD player from this company for cash you would pay P399. If, on the other hand, you decided to buy it on their extra-special 2-year credit scheme you would end up paying the store a grand total of P2,207. That’s 5½ times the cash price. If you do the maths that comes to a finance charge APR of 227%.

Perhaps there are higher store credit APRs around somewhere but we’ve never seen them. The store in question really didn’t like us mentioning these mathematical observations and told us they were going to sue us for, yes, defamation. Our reaction this time?

Well, this one was strange. Can it be defamatory to be able to do maths? We didn’t think so and the store must have realised this themselves because strangely we never heard from them again.

Then there was the much larger company who were really unhappy when we pointed out that there was some problems with some of the services they delivered. Relatively minor problems that most companies would have actually been glad to hear about so they could fix them. Not this one. Calls were made to our partners suggesting that we had recklessly defamed them. We were told ourselves that we had committed this awful crime. The trouble was that unfortunately we had only told the truth. Yet another empty threat it seemed.

Finally, and most recently, we were threatened extensively, again for just reporting facts. However this time there was an additional element. In one of their various letters the company suggested that we had interfered with their rights “to engage in free commercial activity”. I’m still not sure how we could possibly have done such a thing. Had we stolen the keys to their office?

It did get me thinking. What I think they meant was that we had interfered with their right to make a profit. But no such right exists. No company has a right to make money. No person has such a right. It’s something that has to be earned. Earned by hard work, honesty and a genuine commitment to serving customers. The trouble is that some companies think that they can make a fast profit by doing the exact opposite. They seem to think that just by getting a fancy office, by driving a flash car they’ve bought with someone else’s money and by selling services that sound good but are actually worthless they have a right to make money.

It’s not true.

The one thing that I still don’t understand is why some companies just seem to know how to do the right thing and how others don’t. I know I’m a failure. I’m supposed to know these things. I’ve worked in psychology. I’ve worked in Human Resource Management. I’ve worked in customer service development. I should understand this better.

However one thing I do know is that the good guys exist.

Yesterday we were lucky enough to celebrate loads of them. Yesterday was our Second Birthday Party. Every single person who we’ve celebrated over the last year in this column was invited. Their managers were there. All sorts of dignitaries from government, parastatals and the private sector were there.

The President was there.

This isn’t meant to sound like we’re showing off. We invited all these VIPs because the service stars deserved it. They’ve earned it themselves. By their hard work, their honesty and their commitment they earned the right to be celebrated by the nation itself.

We were privileged to be able to help allow these service stars to be recognised by us all, by the readers of Mmegi and by all those companies who have shown over the last year that they understand how customer service works. And the ones that have been forced to learn that lesson over the last year!

This week’s stars!

  • Standard Chartered Bank for again very generously sponsoring the party.
  • The President and all the other VIPS for being there to help us recognise that it CAN be done, it IS being done and it’s getting better every day.
  • All the service stars for being exactly who they are.