Bad business practices that haunt Botswana’s business space
The Minister of Trade, Investment & Industry, Peggy Serame recently urged local producers to improve the quality of their goods and services to give them a competitive edge in the domestic, regional and international markets.
She went one further, imploring them to continuously improve their quality and standards, including the labelling, packaging and coding of their products.
“The number of retailers supporting this initiative has increased significantly compared to last year. This is a welcome development, and we would like to encourage those lagging behind to catch up with the pace-setters,” the minister said at a #PushaBW forum recently.
“I commend businesses in the hospitality sector which have demonstrated unwavering support of the #PushaBW initiative. I am informed that they are proposing to host market days to showcase locally manufactured products and also avail permanent kiosks in their hotel lobbies for BITC to facilitate the identification of Pride Mark users who can permanently make use of the kiosk to display and sell their products in the hotels,” she added.
Launched in 2018, the #PushaBW initiative is a national campaign that aims to encourage Batswana to actively grow the local economy by buying locally made products, supporting local initiatives and using local services. The campaign also aims to improve the productive capacity of local producers, which contributes to the creation of employment opportunities. The campaign further strives to encourage retailers to carry locally produced goods and services.
To date, through the PushaBW campaign, the Botswana Investment and Trade Centre (BITC) has supported over 143 companies by enabling their participation at local and international exhibitions. Over 115 companies have been profiled on BITC social media platforms to further expose them to domestic and international markets.
I agree with everything Minister Serame has highlighted. But there also needs to be a huge drive to help local manufacturers think global. All too often, we see locally made products whose aim appears to target a very narrow market – the local market, which is way too small to be viable.
On top of that, for all the PushBW drive efforts, the locals aren’t exactly biting as much as they could. This often stems from various reasons including very poor branding, the lack of communication skills, poor service delivery, lack of consistency and the lack of customer service, among others.
When you look around at the locally made products, from the name, to the packaging and branding, it’s not often you’re inspired to buy them. I’m the sort of person who is drawn to unique, quirky and pretty packaging – and I bet that goes for many others. The product and business names can go from silly to the utterly absurd – tongue twisters that make sense only to the owners and at worst, aren’t likely to stick in the potential buyer’s mind.
Don’t even get me started on the tag lines! Years ago, it may have been Brand Botswana who started the trend – ‘Our Pride. Your Destination’. Typical of the Botswana culture, everyone piled in and most companies that came after that slogan was coined followed suit – Our eggs. Your Breakfast; Our Hotel. Your Haven; Our Cat. Your Dog; Your Food. Our Culinary Skills – and on and on it went!
Obviously, I’m exaggerating to make my point. What I’m trying to put out there is that you don’t always have to conform and follow the crowd, or worse still, outright copy everything going. In fact, you really want to go against the grain and stand out. Break away from the crowd and do something that comes from the heart.
Bad business practices that haunt the Botswana business space
What’s in a name?
Sometimes you have to wonder just how invested local producers are in their offer because some of the weird and wonderful names they pick for their businesses are either lazy or out and out strange. While it’s their prerogative to choose whatever name they see fit for their fledgeling businesses, Botswana companies need to think global. That is where branding and positioning also come in.
If you go with a hard to pronounce name, chances are it will be hard to remember, thus narrowing your market. It’s really not rocket science; what you want is a name that easily rolls off the tongue, one that will stick in people’s minds. If you want to walk on the wild side, go for something punchy and catchy, something that could be a talking point, something that everyone, including those beyond Botswana borders, will easily remember.
Packaging and branding
I’m no expert, but I always feel it is such a shame when you see Botswana made products that show great promise but die a horrible death at the hands of their branding and packaging choices. Speaking as a consumer, customers buy with their eyes long before they sample your product. Take me, an avid shopper, for instance; if your product doesn’t call out to me, I’m very, very unlikely to ditch my go-to products and take a detour towards yours.
Think global and position yourselves just right. Don’t limit yourselves; learn to benchmark and put your own stamp on your products for better reach. If you have a good story behind your product, tell it – customers the world over love a good story!
If you’re selling biscuits, think about all the popular brands that have stood the test of time and ask yourself if your product can stand up against those, can you confidently say people would be enticed to try your product over their trusty brands?
Customer service – the customer may not always be right, but the customer is KING
Let’s face it, for a very long time, customer service in Botswana was non-existent. However, with the arrival of big shopping malls, the situation has improved – somewhat. I say somewhat because there’s still room for improvement. Stores such as Topline (Riverwalk), Pep (Riverwalk) and Botswana Post (Riverwalk) deserve applause because each time we visit, we receive fantastic service. But there are still inconsistencies because you could receive quality service at one Woolworths, and have your bubble very quickly burst at another.
But I digress. This post is solely about Botswana business people and manufacturers. Quite frankly, there’s the need to overhaul this area because quite often, I see Batswana sellers being very rude across social media platforms, displaying a blatant disregard for the very people they seek to canvass to grow their businesses.
Being the journalist that I am, I’m a social media lurker and often peruse social media platforms to gauge the mood around various subject areas. I also have the benefit of being a customer service expert (ahem, with UK training, qualifications and 13 years’ hands-on experience). It saddens me to say Botswana still lags far behind where service delivery and customer service are concerned.
I often cringe when I observe the exchange between customers and suppliers, and while the customer is certainly not always right, it’s worth noting that they are the people who pay the bills.
Some sellers need to go back to basics and learn some good bedside manner. The modern-day customer is more discerning and will always push the boundaries, but it’s for you as the seller to show some restraint; be firm but assertive and polite as well. To go toe-to-toe trading insults with your customer is only likely to end in tears – your tears.
Also, it’s crucial to gauge your market and demand and ensure you always have stock. If you do run out, take it upon yourself to keep your customers updated. Don’t wait until people enquire – have a notice of apology stating you’ve run out and when you expect stock. To go the extra mile, you can offer to let your customers know when the items are back in stock.
DO NOT tell the customer to keep calling you to check, it’s the height of shoddy service delivery. You’re the seller; continually making the customer jump through hoops will send them running straight into the arms of your competitors. All this goes for the big chain stores as well because it appears they never got the memo and quite frankly, ought to know better.
Communication is key
Communication skills are sorely missing in Botswana. I once contacted a restaurant via their Facebook page to ask about their new location. It wasn’t until exactly a year later that I received a response, by which time I’d well and truly moved on, no longer interested in the restaurant. Shortly after that, I wasn’t surprised to hear it had collapsed.
My husband and I recently discovered a small, family-owned printing business in our area. We were impressed with their pricing and how fast and professional they were when we needed our registration plate replaced. In our line of work, we often have to source printing, so when we left, we asked for their business card, and sure enough, we needed some printing shortly after.
We excitedly sent them an enquiry for a big printing job but Alas! Four weeks on, we have not received any acknowledgement of receipt or a response to our enquiry. To some, these are only small things, but they soon pile up and have a ripple effect, sometimes culminating in the demise of a business.
Email addresses – Not many local companies realise how unprofessional it looks to not have an email with the same name as your company. An overwhelming number of local companies lean too heavily on ‘gmail’ and ‘Yahoo’, and that won’t bode well with many global customers. These are used for personal accounts and do not look serious or professional.
However, if you have to, ensure you watch the incoming mail like a hawk. But these email accounts are not monitored because there’s rarely a response when you send them an enquiry, another bugbear of mine when dealing with local businesses.
Not responding to email enquiries is very bad for business because some potential clients like me will only try once and never return if you don’t respond. Whatever email account you use for your business, OPEN it the minute you report for work and keep an eye on all incoming mail throughout the day. Also, check through your spam folder because there might be genuine enquiries nestling within the spam. Pounce on all incoming mail and swiftly respond to customers whether it leads to a sale or not.
Batswana, make yourselves easy to reach, have some form of online presence and give timely responses to enquiries. Get rid of broken links to your websites because you will lose potential customers.
Don’t believe the hype
Quite often in Botswana the minute a business launches, we want instant gratification and adulation. This is not helped by the fact that we also celebrate too soon, sometimes even celebrating mediocrity. We need to learn to nurture our businesses and appreciate that it is important to crawl before we walk.
Ask yourself honestly, what have you got to show for launching your fledgeling business so publicly? You just set up your Facebook page and are inviting people to like it, but have you provided your contact details, have you adequately and clearly described in the ‘about’ section to tell people what you offer? Have you showcased your offer by way of a ‘portfolio’? Is it worth securing testimonials and reviews? Do you quickly respond to enquiries/comments?
Is the price right?
I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen a heated exchange between customers and sellers on social media, with the buyers complaining about pricing. But truth be told, while Batswana love the finer things in life, some of them don’t like to pay for them. If we are being fair, however, it probably has something to do with the fact that Botswana salaries are among the lowest of any country in the world, especially when you take into account the high cost of living. We import virtually everything and the property sector, well, it’s a law unto itself, charging outrageous rents, the annual 10% escalation fee and so on.
To get back to the topic, when the customers complain about pricing, all too often, I’ve heard the sellers counter arguing;
“Well, the price is the price!”
“Batswana, you’re too much work and so insolent! We never hear you complaining about pricing when you go shopping at Woolworths. The only reason you argue over the pricing of our products is because you don’t value what we do!”
“If you don’t like the pricing, go elsewhere!”
When I see this, I just cringe because it’s wrong on so many levels. Ok, while there is an element of truth to this, you never go toe to toe with the customer! You grit your teeth, take a deep breath, smile and explain why you feel your pricing is right.
But ask yourself this – how long have you been operating to compare your offer to well-established brands such as Woolworths that have been running for years? Can you, hand on heart, say your service delivery is fantastic? What about quality – can you offer the same quality products? Are you able to consistently meet the demand? Are you confident of repeat business through which you can build customer loyalty? Well, for that last one, if you carry on in this fashion, chances are a resounding no.
Walk the customer’s journey
If ever in doubt, flip the table and put yourself in your customer’s shoes, and be brutally honest. If you were your customer, would you genuinely be happy with the way you treat your customers? If you have to, ask those around you, people you trust to speak the truth, for a second opinion.
I always say to people that Botswana customer service should be second to none because to me, customer service is deeply rooted in our spirit of Botho, a concept so heavily entrenched in our culture, it should really come naturally to us.
The customer being unpleasant is RARELY personal
Irate, sometimes even irrational customers come with the territory. If you can’t hack it, you’re probably in the wrong job. When a customer comes at you, most of the time, they are justifiably unhappy about broken promises, and frustration fuels their anger. Refrain from exchanging fire with them; it’s a fight you’ll never win. Learn to listen, let them vent and then when they are done, step in and show understanding.
Move to defuse their angst by offering solutions, not excuses and certainly not further arguments and justifications about why the situation that’s upsetting them shouldn’t. As hard as it can be to stomach, swallow your pride and avoid taking it personally. Sometimes, if you take it on the chin, seek to resolve the query (as you should!) despite the attack, the customer will come back, apologise and thank you for your service. That said, not all of them will.
Don’t just go through the motions – go the extra mile
There are times when it feels like the person serving you is down in the dumps and doesn’t want to be there. They are not outright rude, but the service falls flat on its face because it’s like they can’t wait to get it over and done with because they are bored serving you. In some cases, they are so lethargic and bereft of emotion they may as well be a robot!
Batswana, learn to inject some energy into what you do, serve your customers with a smile, talk to them and let them feel that you value their custom. Greet them with a smile before they greet you, offer to do small things for them, remember the little personal things they tell you.
NEVER ask the customer to call you back, unless they insist – offer to call them back at their convenience. In fact, ask them how they prefer to be contacted and when. Call or email back when you say you will. Underpromise and then over-deliver. Set a timeframe and then surprise them by contacting them sooner than you promised.
Learn to set yourselves SLAs (Service Level Agreements) and share them with your customers. Give yourselves leeway by underpromising and over-delivering. For instance, you could say you respond to email within 48 hours of receipt but strive to respond in 2 hours. Your customers will love you for it.
When you say you will call back, state a timeframe and NEVER forget to call back, let alone tell your customer when they call you that you forgot to call them as promised. Not only is it shoddy, but it’s also the height of very bad manners, even in your personal lives.
Also, make things easy for the customer by asking for their preferred medium of contact – make use of the myriad of 21st century mediums of communication at your disposal. When you are dealing with a query, don’t go extended periods without updating the customer – don’t let them be the ones chasing you for a solution. Even if there’s nothing to report, call them and tell them where you are with the query even when there has been no progress. Customers love transparency and will appreciate that over radio silence.
Be nice to your customers and build rapport with them. Some customers hate small talk, but a good number of them appreciate being engaged. Gauge the situation and make the right call. Avoid talking to colleagues while serving customers. If your colleagues come anywhere near you with the intention of talking to you about anything that doesn’t involve the customer you’re serving, firmly tell them to go away and see them ONLY after you’re done with the customer. That happens A LOT in Botswana, and it is the very very definition of unprofessional conduct.
Overall, serving your customers with a smile, making eye contact (not to the point of coming over as creepy!) and building rapport helps build relationships in business. And relationships are central to good working relations in any business.