Thursday 20 November 2008

Are we different?

I’m writing this within minutes of my return from a trip to Johannesburg. As many of us do every so often we needed a day or two away for some wider shopping choices, a bit of healthy self-indulgence (yes, I insist that it’s good for you) and just a change of scenery.

But every time I’m there I find myself becoming all analytical and wonder about what I perceive to be the difference in service between Botswana and SA.

Like many of us, I instinctively think service is a bit better down south. I’m not saying things are wonderful there and terrible here but I’m sure you’ll agree that this is a common perception.

But does perception mean truth? Just because something feels true, that doesn’t mean it really is. We all see the Sun apparently travelling across the sky every day but we know that it’s just an illusion, we know the Earth is rotating around the Sun. We know that although distant objects appear smaller they don’t really shrink as they grow more distant. We all know that although it calls itself a church, the so-called Church of Scientology is really a business masquerading as one.

I think there are several reasons why service seems better over there. Firstly there’s the volume. Johannesburg is enormous compared to any town in Botswana. There are many more shops, restaurants and hotels in which South Africans can impress us. I’m not sure how many stores there are at Riverwalk Shopping Mall in Gaborone but I suspect that a large mall in Joburg has 10 times as many. There are simply more places to get good service.

Then there’s the fact that we simply can’t trust our perceptions. No, trust me, we can’t. So you think you can tell the difference between black and white? You can tell which of two objects is the biggest? You can tell whether something is moving or still? If you don’t believe me, visit our web site and see the new section on perceptual illusions.

Human beings, and for all I know it our ape cousins as well, are prone to a psychological effect called “confirmation bias”. This is the tendency we all have to remember those events that match, or confirm, our beliefs and prejudices, and to forget those that do not. Just think about something like the newspaper horoscopes. They’re full of the vaguest, most meaningless nonsense but every so often, just by sheer chance, they might get something right. Maybe one week you WILL have stroke of good luck, you WILL meet a new love or you WILL get a new job opportunity. You’ll remember those lucky coincidences but you’ll conveniently forget the hundred times they missed by miles.

I think that happens in service. We remember the encounters in Joburg that fulfil our pre-conceived ideas. We remember the charming waitress, the helpful shop attendant and the bank teller with the gorgeous smile and we forget every time someone is surly, unhelpful or just rude. We expect to get better service there so that’s what we remember.

Then there’s the competitive effects of wider choice. There are hundreds of hotels, bars, restaurants and shops in Joburg and far fewer in Gaborone. If you want to choose a hotel in Gabs you have a very limited choice. They’re often so fully booked that you have to take what you can get.

Not so much in Joburg. There must be hundreds of hotels there. They have to fight much harder for your money. They can do that either by cutting their prices of just doing things better than their rivals. Or both.

If you ask around one thing that some (rather unenlightened, out-dated and naïve) people will suggest is that there’s a cultural difference, maybe even a genetic difference between us and them. We can discount that one as silly from the beginning. It’s simply not true that there’s a gene for warmth and attention that differs between different ethnic groups.

Maybe it’s our history? I think this is more convincing. We all know the history of struggle for freedom and the cruelty South Africans have endured. The University I attended had a motto: “Per Ardua Ad Astra”. Through adversity to the stars. In other words it’s though hard work and struggle that things are achieved. Despite the very long way SA has still to go they have a wonderful sense of achievement and pride that I think we lack. We’ve had it too good and we show it.

Then there’s the history of business leadership they have, clearly an advantage over us. When I think of all the moments of good service I got during my trip away you could tell that there was an active manager somewhere close.

The good news is that we DO have this here. Maybe not as much as our cousins do but we have it nevertheless. Think of Primi Piatti, of Café Dijo, of Pick N Pay at Molapo Crossing and the Caravela. They all have hands-on, active managers who know how it’s done.

So let’s stop putting ourselves down, stop making excuses, stop thinking we’re not capable and just get out there and do it. In short, JFDI.

[You may need to Google that if you don’t know it. Mmegi won’t allow me to explain!]

This week’s stars!
  • Mothusi, Kethani and Omphile from Wild Speed in Palapye. A consumer found a nail in his tyre on a Sunday while driving in Palapye, saw their vehicle driving past and they stopped to assist. They opened up their workshop specially for him and got it fixed. See, who says we can’t do it in Botswana?
  • The team from Electrodata in Gaborone for service above and beyond.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I think you guys are doing an excellent work regarding consumer rights and customer service sentiments. i am highly impressed. by a motswana woman living in the usa.