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‘The world has changed’

CONSUMER WATCHDOG
It’s 2015 and companies need to get with the times. Whether people like it or not, things change and progress happens. I know that some people would dearly like things to stay exactly the way they’ve always been, but that’s often because they have an interest in the status quo.

Usually, they get some financial, power or psychological benefit from how things have always been. I assume that the rest of us are happy to move forward into the future and leave the past behind?

But what about the present? Have all companies reached 2015 yet? No, clearly they haven’t.

Given that it’s 2015, here are some things that we now have a right to expect.

WiFi. We have a right to expect free WiFi in those places where we choose to spend our time and money. Obviously I’m not demanding it in supermarkets, furniture stores and bus ranks, but I do think that we have a right to expect free, unlimited and reasonable fast WiFi access in coffee shops, restaurants and hotels. Go to any of the coffee shops in Gaborone and Francistown and you’ll find people there to do business. Some will be having meetings but a lot of them are sitting by themselves with their laptops or tablets getting some work done. So long as they buy the occasional drink and a snack, they can expect to connect to the internet to do all those essential business things like check football results, update their Facebook profile and send messages back to their bosses saying how busy they are. And maybe even to do some real work as well.

Critically, it should be uncapped and free. There are still restaurants that limit how long you can connect or who have to give you strange passwords that are different every time you visit but they need to learn from their more successful and welcoming competitors. Yes, there is always a risk that a customer will just sit there for hours with a glass of water exploiting the WiFi connection but the manager can always ask them to move on. They’d do that if someone just came and read a book for hours without ordering anything, wouldn’t they? There’s also the risk that someone will sit within WiFi range, but won’t actually come into the establishment but the venues with unlimited free WiFi seem to cope well enough with that.

The plain fact is that in 2015 this has become a core part of doing the restaurant business. If you don’t like it then be prepared for customers complaining and choosing to eat and drink elsewhere. It’s a similar situation in hotels. Whether you’re staying in the hotel as a guest or just as a visitor then free WiFi is fundamental these days. I was at a workshop a few days ago at a major hotel in Gaborone and they do offer a free WiFi connection throughout with no password and no restrictions. The last time I’d been there it made the interminable conference speeches a lot more bearable. But this time it wasn’t working. Luckily this workshop

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was actually interesting and I didn’t need a distraction but meanwhile it would have been very useful (as well as normal in 2015) to pick up my email for free rather than eating into my 3G phone data allowance.

Another problem the hotel conference room had was a projector no better than the one we have at our office and that’s just not good enough. Conference rooms need top-quality equipment or the conference room isn’t going to look sad, outdated and poor value for money like this one did.

So hotels and conference centers, if you haven’t invested in modern, reliable tech by now you’re going to need to soon.

Most importantly, we have a right as consumers to move forward from traditional ways of contacting stores and suppliers. In the past organisations had fixed complaint procedures that dictated how you and I could talk to them when we had a problem but those days are gone. Who writes a letter of complaint these days? Certainly we no longer get many letters to Consumer Watchdog and a dwindling number of faxes. Almost every communication we receive is electronic, mainly by email and Facebook. So why aren’t companies doing the same?

Actually a lot of them are. Almost all of the companies we deal with use email to a great extent but very few of them have taken the leap into Facebook and the reason for that is simple. It’s public.When you post a message on a company’s Facebook page other people can see it. If a company representative posts a message in our group then every other member of the group can see what they say. All of this really scares them.

It scares them because it can so easily go horribly wrong. I’ve seen companies post a response that Facebook users have seen as arrogant or patronising and instead of calming a situation it’s only made things much worse. On the other hand I know a few organisations who consistently get it right. They apologise if there’s been a problem, they don’t try to avoid blame and they offer a solution, all in public without fear or shame and Facebook users respect that. These situations have allowed the companies to show themselves as mature grown-ups not petulant, whining children and nobody wants to give money to a petulant whining child.

So to all these organisations the message is simple. Get with the times. Either embrace, use and exploit the technology of 2015 or be behind the times.

And behind your competitors.

If you have any consumer issues please get in touch.  Email us at watchdog@bes.bw, by post to P. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763.  Read the Consumer Watchdog blog at consumerwatchdogbw.blogspot.com and join our Facebook group called “Consumer Watchdog Botswana”.



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