Anyone with an ounce of business acumen knows that without customers, businesses don’t generate any profit, and so businesses need to maintain customers as a valuable resource. Competition is fierce and businesses cannot afford to become complacent, regardless of their brand. Like anywhere else in the world, customer service in Botswana can range from bad to exceptional but customer service can be undermined if your business isn’t customer focused.
Customer focus refers to the orientation of an organisation toward serving its clients’ needs. Having customer focus is usually a strong contributor to the overall success of a business and involves ensuring that all aspects of the company put its customers’ needs and satisfaction first.
So is Botswana customer focused? Botswana is a country full of opportunities for resilient individuals with capital, connections and a strong work ethic. I run my own business in Botswana but by no means do I consider myself a business mogul. I am, however, observant and have seen how successful businesses in countries such as the UK and America are customer focused in the retail/commercial sector. What I’ve observed in Botswana is some businesses have the appetite and the capabilities, but don’t appear to have the appropriate mindset to be willing to make the necessary sacrifices to evolve and make customer focus a priority.
Customer focus in Botswana is for the most part tailored to tourism, but everyone in the country is a consumer and contributes to the local economy. Yes, Botswana needs tourism and foreign investors but many existing businesses don’t benefit directly from tourism nor require foreign investment. Gaborone has the best retail environment but in places like Maun and Kasane you’ll find amazing experiences you won’t find in Gaborone, but very few get to experience the best of both worlds. This article highlights different approaches adopted by countries with booming retail/commercial sectors through which the implementation of relatively small and simple adjustments have improved customer satisfaction and achieved profitable results.
As mentioned above, very few get the opportunity to travel and experience different parts of Botswana. Air Botswana could play a key role in resolving that but their prices are very high. Flights in the UK used to be very expensive but over the years the cost came down and now internal flights are more affordable. However, it’s not just internal flights; airlines have made short international flights affordable too. For example flights from the UK to France can be as little as £24 (approx. P350) and as a result, many people fly from the UK to Paris for long weekends and shopping trips.
Naturally, airlines in Europe have to be competitive because of the vast competition. Air Botswana has no competition but does have a very small market and yet chooses not to capitalise on the majority but rather targets the minority – those earning above average salaries. If Air Botswana improved their customer focus and introduced heavily reduced flights on a regular basis, you might just find people living in Maun, Francistown or Kasane regularly making the journey to Gaborone to visit family/friends or indulge in some retail therapy. Likewise, you might find people living in Gaborone taking regular breaks away from the city looking and a change of scenery.
The ripple effect could help seasonal businesses during the off-season when there are fewer tourists. That level of customer focus over a period of time could see more bums on seats and could improve Air Botswana’s profits. You may even find more local businesses opening/expanding as business owners in one part of the country might consider branching into other parts of the country. Cheaper flights would allow people to travel more frequently to manage their businesses.
You don’t need to wait for a ‘sale’ to offer price reductions
While a business like Air Botswana could (and should) permanently reduce their prices, it’s not practical for other businesses but there are other ways. Many supermarkets worldwide will try to reduce their waste by selling products close to their expiry dates at reduced prices. People with restaurants and low incomes find this very useful. Why would anyone want to pay full price for a product that has reached or is close to its expiration? Why do some supermarkets think it’s acceptable to charge full price for products that are close to or have reached their expiration?
I once saw a sofa at a store but the sofa on display was the only one left. You could see the bottom-shaped imprint where countless customers had taken a seat and I’m sure many people had wiped their clammy hands on the arms. It’s common practice in the UK for the price of display items to be reduced. I asked what the discount was for the display sofa and was told the store didn’t offer discounts for items on display. Suffice to say, I wasn’t willing to pay the full price for an item that had been used. If stores were more customer focused, offering discounts for display items could work in their favour… I may have used the money I would have saved to buy other homeware and spent more than the original value of the sofa.
The examples above are just a few of many cases of price reductions, but I’ve also observed a few other practices that don’t consider customer focus or maximise opportunities that don’t involve pricing.
Opening Times & Public Holidays
It’s common knowledge around the world that if you work within retail, you don’t get the same holiday benefits as those who work within the private/public sector. That’s because in many parts of the world, pretty much every notable public holiday or calendar event is used to its full advantage. One British chain store called River Island is well known for its mega Boxing Day sale. What was usually a well-organised store became a wardrobe of racks upon racks of clothing in every aisle. This was Boxing Day and yet hundreds and thousands of shoppers would put aside their Christmas Day indulgence in favour of a visit to River Island.
The average working hours for the private sector is 8.00am – 5.00pm and in the UK stores and malls open as late as 10.00pm. The Trafford Centre is one of the largest shopping malls in the UK and is located just outside of Manchester city centre. If you went to the Trafford Centre between 8.00am – 5.00pm Monday to Friday, you would experience a slow paced, relaxing shopping environment, but after 5.00pm the mall became a hive of shoppers. The Trafford Centre at the weekend and over public holidays is hectic, but the fact the mall has an annual income of £85.3 million means every footstep is music to the retailers’ ears.
In Botswana, most retail outlets are closed over public holidays and the majority of the retail sector work the same operating hours as the private/public sector?? It baffles me, as the shops are open when their customers are starting work and closing when their customers are finishing work. I can’t imagine many stores have many paying customers in the morning hours, so why don’t retailers consider amending their trading hours so their stores open later (say 10.00am) and close later in the evening?
Smell what sells
Another frustration is availability. Stores invariably have my size in stock, yet there is an abundance of smaller and larger sizes available. I’m average size so obviously, I’m in the size bracket that is highly popular. Certain products can be there one week and gone the next, it can be weeks or months before you see it again… that’s if it ever comes back at all. I always find myself thinking of Lord Sugar (pictured) from The Apprentice (UK) when he tells his potential apprentices to “smell what sells” so they buy more and sell more. But really, isn’t that just common sense? I don’t understand why retailers don’t ‘smell what sells’ and buy popular items/sizes in bulk.
Walk the customer journey
Ultimately, customer focus is derived from walking the customer journey. I find it bizarre when you’re at a supermarket and the queues are so bad you’re practically queuing at the door. Far too often, you’ll be in a long queue and see other staff members standing around. A supermarket I used to work at in the UK trained everyone, no matter what your role, how to use a checkout. The reason being the supermarket would call for ‘queue busters’ and all available staff would jump on a checkout during busy periods to reduce the queues. Even management would work on the checkout; no one was exempt… not even the store manager.
I recently read that one store washes its trollies on Mondays, so they aren’t available for a large part of the day. The fact this store regularly washes its trollies is highly commendable (and I wish other stores would follow suit), but does it make sense to inconvenience customers and wash them during opening hours? Why not wash the trollies after close of business either on Saturday or Sunday and leave them to dry overnight in readiness for the next day? Every other option should be exhausted before having to inconvenience customers.
A bugbear of mine is the lack of relevant signage. If you’re new to Gaborone or unfamiliar with the city or even new to driving, you can struggle to find the entrances to most malls/retail parks. Like a large dangling carrot, you can see the mall from the main road and many have numerous access points, but very few are obvious. Many of the malls I have visited in other countries have dedicated roads leading to the mall’s car park and the exit off the main road is pretty obvious because there’s large signage. However, it doesn’t seem to be a consideration when malls are being built in Gaborone.
Customer focus is designed to deliver customer satisfaction and the process of providing customer satisfaction is based on understanding what customers want and need. It involves compromise and why I previously used the word ‘sacrifice’ because improved customer focus can require sacrifices. Effective businesses aim to anticipate and meet or exceed customers’ needs, whether the customer generates a one-off transaction or regular repeat business.
These days customers want value, not just products, the experience is just as important as the contents of their basket or the service you are obliged to provide. Resonate with your customers and consider your marketing and communications; themes prove effective with customers and why public holidays have become commercial gold mines. Marketing and sales need to collaborate and as I mentioned at the beginning, a company like Air Botswana might actually see an increase in passengers with the right price reductions and relevant marketing because relevance is persuasive and sells more. Ultimately, customer focus is not just about the sales, but improving customer focus leads to sales.
Do you have the same frustrations? What about the Botswana retail sector do you find most frustrating and what would you like to see changed that you feel would make your life easier? Please share your views.
Sources: Wikipedia, businessdictionary.com, beyondphilosophy.com