Friday 25 January 2008

Get a relationship

No, despite the temptation I’m not going to talk about sex. However now I come to think about it if one of you readers can come up with a link between customer service and sex we would, naturally, be happy to explore it. All in the interest of benefiting you, our readers, of course.

Last Friday’s Mmegi intrigued me. Of course it does every week, excellent newspaper, make sure you buy a copy very day. In fact buy several copies every day.

What intrigued me to begin with were two advertisements in exactly the same position on pages very close to each other. On page 3 First National Bank were seeking a “Business Banking Relationship Executive”. Later on page 7 Standard Chartered Bank were seeking an “Investment Services Relationship Manager”. I’ve long been intrigued by titles that involve the word “relationship” and not because they sound like someone who procures “ladies of the night” for customers. The curious thing for me is the growing understanding that relationships are at the very core of most business. We all have relationships of varying quality with the people and companies that we engage with. Some relationships end up being long-term, even lifelong.

We all have brands, companies, restaurants with whom we’ve formed “relationships”. For me there will always be one favourite restaurant in Gaborone, the restaurant in which I feel most comfortable. I would ordinarily name the place but given that they would often lend me and my colleagues the keys to the place when they went home between lunch and dinner, leaving us with a row of ice buckets full of wine and making us promise to look after their business while they had an afternoon rest it’s probably best I don’t. But that helped to form an enormously affectionate relationship with the place in my mind and in the minds of all my former colleagues.

Similarly I have a relationship with Apple, Virgin Atlantic and Hewlett Packard printers that has built up over many years. The strength of each of those relationships has got me through the occasional mishap and disappointment.

Organisations like banks have, in recent years, understood this, that they have a relationship with each customer and that this relationship, like a marriage, has to be maintained, to be worked at and to be protected. Just like a marriage there are often low points but if the relationship is strong enough and if the problems are handled well enough, they can be overcome.

Again like a marriage there should be what biologists call symbiosis. This is when two completely different animals cooperate to mutual benefit. Those birds that pick tics from zebras and the zebras are in a relationship from which they both benefit. The birds get food and the zebras get cleared of tics. There are endless examples of this sort of relationship in nature and banks and their customers are an overlooked example. OK, I concede that banks aren’t actually animals but that’s not always how it seems. What animal is your bank like?

So back to the advertisements in Mmegi. Both banks are looking for someone to be in charge of the relationship management process. They’ll be a bit like marriage counsellors, trying desperately to keep husband and wife together and helping them to heal the wounds they have inflicted upon each other.

Then there was a third thing in last week’s Mmegi that really impressed me. An example of an organisation going out of it’s way to prevent a problem happening, or at least preventing any damage from happening.

This was a full page public update from Botswana Power Corporation regarding what they call the “power supply situation”. Before you make the normal assumption, that I’m going to be nasty about BPC, this is the exception. I’m going to be nice about them. Perhaps just this once.

Anyone who has read this column since the beginning will know that we’ve sometimes been critical of BPC. Firstly they have, on occasion, demonstrated clearly that they are a monopoly and they are immune to the effects of competition. Unlike Mascom and Orange, the banks, the supermarkets, pretty much everyone else in business they have no competitors. You see this in the some of the ways they operate. We’ve probably all come across the “You can’t have an account with us until you’ve paid the previous tenant’s power bill” situation. A couple of years ago we raised this with them their answer was, to put it simply “we can do this because the law says we can”.

Well, we’ve read the various laws concerning BPC and we think they have misread their powers. But that’s not the important issue this time. I want to say something positive about BPC. Imagine me taking a deep breath first.

Well done. The notice you put in the paper regarding the current and impending power shortage was very good indeed. It was honest, clear and practical. It described the current situation in simple terms that we can all understand, it suggested things we can all do to help and it really did suggest, quite persuasively, that the solution requires us to have a relationship with BPC.

The situation they outline IS serious. We are genuinely facing a serious national power shortage. Industry is starting to make an effort but individual consumers like you and me have to make an effort as well. The last line in their notice was

“The reality of the situation warrants a national and a personal campaign – a shared commitment”.

Now I know that sounds a very marketing-ish statement and they probably DID spend a long time coming up with it but it does ring true. Only with a relationship and a shared commitment to reducing consumption will we as a nation get through the crisis.

So I think it’s perhaps time that other organisations, banks, parastatals, in fact any organisation that sells things recognise that they have relationships to maintain and to protect. Unfortunately for them if they fail to realise it then they might just find their customers committing adultery.

This week’s stars!

  • Fred from the Directorate of Public Service Management for really outstanding customer service. The first Government service star of the year!
Whoever it was at BPC who wrote the excellent notice about the power situation. Let me know who it was?

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