OK, like so many other newspaper columnists, I'm going to show off how important I am, how widely travelled I am, and how thoroughly important you should know I am.
'm in the UK So, does everything really work like clockwork here? Are the roads really paved with gold? Is every product perfect? Does every customer get treated like a queen or king?
I know that the team at Consumer Watchdog and many other Batswana are steadfastly critical of the levels of service and care we get in Botswana. We are always moaning about the disrespect shoppers encounter, the contempt with which consumers are treated and the scams with which they are presented. There is certainly a lot of abuse about. Many organisations seem to think that we are easy prey for their carnivorous instincts. Hence they stalk us, chase us and eventually eat us up!
However, all it takes is a trip outside Botswana to realise that our bad experiences are not peculiar. They happen everywhere else. They happen in those places that all those presumptuous expatriates constantly compare our country with. Bad service, just like good service, is universal.
I have visited a particular supermarket here in the UK three times now. I don't exaggerate when I say it is the size of our national stadium. The only thing it does not deal in are cars. There are clothes, furniture, insurance policies, internet connections, credit cards, and food and beverages. Actually, more food and drink than most of us have ever seen; every type of vegetable, bread and meat you can imagine.
But what happened when I approached the woman at the checkout, smiled and said "Hi, how are you?" She looked at me as if she beheld a deranged man. I had the distinct impression that I had startled her. Was I a visiting writer from outerspace who specialises in customer service? Worst of all, was I perhaps from Head Office only disguising as a shopper??
We go on all the time about the 'blank stare' that we often get from bank tellers, shop assistants and government staff. Well, the 'good news' is that it is not unique to Botswana, if there's any consolation there. A huge proportion of the service staff I've encountered in the UK were the same. Bored, unmotivated and uncivil.
The Consumer Watchdog team spends a lot of time trying to persuade service staff to try some of those old-fashioned techniques that are so obvious that you need no customer service expert to tell you about them. Smiling, looking like you care and putting the customer's interests above your own. None of it is rocket science, it is all very simple common sense.
So why doesn't it happen? Well, we have no excuse. As a people, Batswana are an inherently courteous lot. Sometimes a little too courteous, I think. There are times when I don't want to hear another "Dumela" becuase I am genuinely not interested in how you are. I just want to know how much something costs or what time you open.
But the point is valid, I think. We have a slight natural advantage when it comes to delivering customer care. We start from a position of natural courtesy. I know we don't always live up to it, but we do have a head start compared to so many other places.
But I think we are so used to these courtesies that we fail to exploit them to our advantage. Why aren't we always extending our natural courtesy to the visitors to our shops, restaurants and hotels?
I am now looking forward to getting back home. I am actually looking forward to going into the shops, the restaurants, even the government offices that I frequent, so I may be greeted with a smile, a handshake and even the occasional hug. I'm certainly looking forward to getting on board an Air Botswana plane and being greeted like one coming home.
Yes, we still have a long way to go, but we have already started along the road. We have already made a lot of progress and our natural courtesy is a marvellous advantage.
Don't worry, you can rest assured that the Consumer Watchdog team isn't going to get all complacent and self-satisfied about the levels of service we get. But it has been a useful lesson for me at least to realise that things aren't all that bad.
This week's stars!
l Warona at Air Botswana for making checking in a pleasure!
l All the staff at Clipso Hair Salon for managing teenagers without a fuss! That does deserve a medal.
l Adriana, Edwin and Eric at Vee's Video for a good service, always with a smile. Again!
l All the team at Caf Dijo for super, super service. Again!
l Gabotsewe at Pick'N Pay Molapo for being a star.
Come on people! We have loads of Primi Piatti and Apache Spur vouchers to give away. Who do you think deserves a fantastic meal as a reward for giving the best service?
If you have any consumer issues and you think we could help, please get in touch. You can contact Consumer Watchdog by emailing us at [email protected], by post to Consumer Watchdog, P. O. Box 403026, Gaborone or by phone on 3904582 or fax on 3911763. You can also visit our website at www.bes.bw and then click on the link to Consumer Watchdog. Listen to us on YaronaFM 106.6FM every Tuesday at 7.15am.