Friday, 24 June 2016

The story of the missing TV



A friend came for supper after we’d moved house. Whilst showing her around I mentioned that I wanted to sell my old TV and get a new small, flat screen one to fit into the bedroom. Shortly afterwards she received an e-flyer advertising a limited special on TVs from a well known store. She forwarded it to me pointing out the one that looked perfect for my needs. The price was excellent, less than half the normal price.

I noted that it was a limited offer and that one could go in store or order online. There are no stores close to me so I went online to see if I could still place an order.  I was thrilled when the order was accepted and I received confirmation of my payment. There had been an option for free delivery if you were prepared to wait a bit, I think it said 5 to 10 days. I opted for that.

Eight days later I emailed asking when delivery could be expected. No reply. The next day I called the online orders help desk but couldn’t get through. In trying to find help I landed up at the Customer Resolution Desk and was assured I’d be hearing from someone by the following morning. 

The following day, a Friday, there was a call around midday from the manager of the closest branch explaining that “the system had been down for two days” but he now had my query and a lady would be calling me to arrange delivery. That evening I received an automated response to my original query giving me a reference number and stating that they are "passionate about customer service". Then nothing.

Late on the Monday I landed up at the Customer Resolution Desk again. After many attempts from them to connect me with someone who would attend to my query I received a call the following evening from the admin lady at the branch who said “We can’t fulfill the order because the stock was finished the day the “clearance” started. We have checked with all the other branches and no one has stock left. We can’t give you a different TV because they cost more than you have paid.”
I explained, “That’s not acceptable. You took the order and my money and I now want a tv set. Please relay this to the branch manager and ask him to call me to tell me what he has sorted out.”

Two days later I was again talking to the Cust Res Dept. but this time I was asking for the name and number or email address of the MD/CEO. The information was given quite willingly all be it that it was for the wrong CEO. What a disconnect when staff don’t know who the “big boss” is.

After going round in circles with the switchboard I eventually emailed my issue to the CEO. I received a very prompt reply from him politely explaining that he was the wrong individual and redirecting my email to the correct CEO. Within one hour of that I had, had a call from the Regional Manager to say that a different TV would be supplied and checking I was okay with that and the admin lady had confirmed the delivery for the next day!

I was very happy with the outcome. The TV is working great. And I received calls from both the admin lady and the Regional Manager to check that it was received in good order.

I am not surprised that the problem got resolved once I escalated it to the top. I am sorry that I had to waste the time of two CEOs to achieve it. 
At the same time the second one is ultimately responsible for that being necessary. My experience exposed some serious flaws in the business, some in the IT systems and some in the people. One sees combinations of these same problems in many companies. 


  • Why does the online ordering system allow the processing of orders it can’t fulfill?
  • How can a paid up order lie in the system unfulfilled and unnoticed?
  • Why does the help desk line not get answered?
  • Is the Customer Resolution Desk able to achieve its purpose, add value?  
  • Why is the branch manager handing off tricky cases to an admin person?
  • Why does the branch manager not appreciate the value of customer service versus the cost price of one item?
  • How empowered are the branches?
  • Why do the staff not know who the CEO is? Would it make a difference if they did?
  • How many other customers are having bad experiences which aren’t reaching the desk of the CEO but are reaching the ear of their friends or the pages of social media?


I don’t expect junior staff to have the authority to resolve all problems. What all staff do need is training to recognise legitimate issues and for them to be able to access appropriate support quickly. Middle managers need to be able to see big picture as well as deal with detail. They need to balance cost and risk, and be able to deal with potential conflict appropriately.

I spoke to many different staff members during the whole episode. Many were average, some had poor interpersonal skills and others stood out. When I wrote to the CEO I had included a compliment for one of the staff in the Cust Res Dept. It was clear that he had the intent to help, he communicated clearly and the first time I called he paid enough attention to hear my surname and find my order himself before I could give him the order number. There is potential which if given the right environment can flourish and make a difference. I hope he will go far in his work life.

Wherever you sit in your organisation are you able to deliver the very best service to your customers? Are your people able to deliver the very best? Are the systems and processes really working? Do they produce value? Is what has been designed on paper actually happening, or working, on the ground?

Where is the missing TV in your department?

Thursday, 23 April 2015

No power, yay!

When our lives are upset by big changes we need time to vent, to rail against the unfairness of it. And then we need to move forward.
Loadshedding is one of those big changes that have turned our lives a bit upside down.
We’ve done plenty of moaning about Eskom and the Government that got us into this situation. Yes they stuffed up big time. And yes they haven’t really owned up to that. Things will eventually change because new power stations are coming on line as well as alternate contributors to the grid. All the complaining has possibly contributed to getting Eskom and the Government to take the situation seriously and make some changes. Now it is time to move forward.

Continuing to complain isn’t going to change the situation. Unless you are taking yourself off the grid completely you will be living with load shedding for another couple of years. So let’s stop wasting our energy on the venting phase and get onto moving forward.

There are three main steps for moving forward from any big change:
·         See the humour in it
·         Find the benefits
·         Make adjustments to align to the new reality

With respect to load shedding we have been seeing the humour for awhile. South Africans are generally very quick with that. I’m sure you’ve seen the one, "What did South Africa use before candles? Electricity."

And some companies are finding a way to make it work for them. "Blackouts? We'll introduce you to switched on candidates," apparently appears on a billboard for a recruitment agency.


Last weekend we had two nights in a row with no power from 6pm to 10.30pm. A friend messaged me on Whats App saying she quite enjoyed it as it “forced” her to relax. I asked on my personal FB page what advantages others perceive in being load shed, and someone commented on how beautiful the silence is without electrical background hum.

So with a view to moving ourselves forward what benefits can you find in being load shed? Get imaginative! Who can come up with the longest list?

Friday, 25 October 2013

Focusing where it matters

During our May packing up exercise I made a trip to Westpack to buy extra boxes. These are stored up on a mezzanine level so I had to look for a shop assistant to get them down. The first lady I asked smiled and said “not a problem I will be with you in a moment”. Whilst I waited she spotted another assistant and called to her, she then turned to me to explain that this person would now be helping me. The new lady walked energetically towards me with a smile on her face as she greeted me and asked what I needed. She found everything, arranged a trolley and steered it over to a till for me. It was such a pleasure to deal with both these people and has ensured that Westpack becomes a store of choice for me. I doubt it was accidental that they were both friendly and willing to help. I expect that the store manager is working towards a culture of customer service with a smile. Probably not everyone will have got it as well as these two ladies have, but they alone are making a difference.

One evening we tried out a new Japanese restaurant in Rosebank. My friend had been there during the week and enjoyed the “two for one” sushi special. It turned out that this wasn’t available on a Saturday evening so we were teasing the waitress that this was no good. Whilst we were still deciding on our orders she reappeared with a plate of croquettes, compliments of the manager, to make up for missing the special!

At a GIBS forum on customer centricity the presenter made the point that it is almost the only way left for businesses to differentiate themselves. I agree that it makes an enormous difference and in this age of ‘high tech’, ‘high touch’ becomes even more important. As humans we are craving more connection, to be recognised as an individual, not just a number, and to be shown some caring. But there is an even more important step for companies before focusing on customer centricity, and that is employee centricity.

The differentiator of excellent service is delivered by people, by employees. Whether they interact face to face with the customer or whether they perform background functions, they all contribute to the customer enjoying a good experience. If the employee doesn’t feel appreciated, doesn’t identify with a purpose and doesn’t have a sense of control, they will struggle to deliver that special customer experience. Zappos.com has a culture of happiness and a tagline of “powered by service”. Founder Tony Hsieh says “In nine-years we have gone from zero to $1 billion in gross merchandise sales. And the No. 1 driver of that growth has been repeat customers and word-of-mouth ... I think that happier employees lead to happier customers, and happier customers lead to better business overall.”


Which South African companies do you think are getting this? What can you do to help yours to get it?

Saturday, 5 January 2013

To Solve or not to Solve?


The other day my daughter described something in her life that sounded like a problem. When she finished I remained quiet, processing what she’d said. She then went on to say, “You don’t need to solve it, I just needed to say it.” I was quite relieved! I had been thinking, “I don’t know what to suggest. What should I say?” 

Her talking through the issue, and me hearing her, was far more important than her getting a solution at that point in time. For many of us that is a strange way of thinking. We are accustomed to going straight into solution mode.

Very often better solutions would be found if we first allowed more time for people to express their needs and feelings. We could be more helpful by asking some questions which focussed their thoughts. And, in giving them the time to think out loud, they may find their own solution, or just the acceptance of what is.  This applies both at home and at work.

During a workshop I was facilitating for managers we practised Fierce Conversations. These are structured conversations that allow us to confront tough issues with courage, compassion and skill.
In this ten step method we name the issue in step one but we only talk about any sort of solution in step nine!

The delegates really struggled with this. They kept jumping to the solution before clarifying how they felt about it, or what was at stake, or eliciting the other person’s viewpoint. They also wanted to present the other person with the solution instead of allowing them to make suggestions.

If the problem is ‘solved’ in this manner the opportunity to be aware of alternative perspectives is missed. The other person hasn’t developed any of their own problem solving skills. And very often they are unwilling to change their behaviour to adopt your chosen solution. 

I myself am a solution oriented person. I have had to work very hard at listening, asking appropriate questions and allowing others to find answers for themselves. However the results when I get it right are so exciting. The other person feels so much better about their own abilities, they often come up with amazing ideas and they are far more likely to go ahead and implement those ideas with enthusiasm.

There are of course times when you are in fact responsible for finding a solution, especially in a work environment. Even then the results maybe better if you involve a group of people in the discussion to find a solution. Letting go of the need to always have the solutions can be a big relief.

A possible new approach is:
Does this situation require a solution?
NO - Then I can simply listen with empathy.
OR YES - Then is it really necessary for me to solve it all by myself
   YES - Solve it!
   NO - What questions can I ask? (which will help the other person, or a group of us, to come up with some ideas to explore)

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Looking backwards


We frequently hear that we need to have a vision, that we should look ahead, keep our eye on the goal. But some years ago a wise person told me that we also have to look backwards.

Why look backwards?

Imagine you were sailing from Durban to Mauritius. That takes a few days on a cruise liner. As you leave Durban all you see in front of you is blue ocean. As you look forwards towards your goal of Mauritius it looks as though you are standing still. But if you look back towards Durban it is easy to see how first the harbour and then the Durban coastline gradually becomes smaller and smaller as you move away.

An occasional look backwards is important when the vision is a long distance one, when the goal takes a while to reach.

Many of us find ourselves in the middle of a change process. Perhaps our company is making changes yet again. Or maybe we are going through a transition in our own lives. Sometimes it feels as though we will never get to the end, that we will be in a permanent state of flux. It can be hard to stay motivated when the end looks far away. Looking back to see where we have come from allows a fresh perspective.

Last year I saw a performance of Athol Fugard’s “Master Harold and the Boys”. In this play set in 1950 Port Elizabeth, we see racism and bigotry play out in the interaction between a young boy and his mother’s employees. It reminded me of growing up in South Africa in the 70’s. It contrasted starkly with how I, my friends and my colleagues interact with people of all races nowadays.

As we left the theatre there was a family ahead of us with teenage daughters. I overheard them talking to their father. They were saying it was just a play and no one would have said those things in real life. Their father was trying to explain the realities of apartheid in that South Africa. He could look back and see a change. They only know the ‘new South Africa’.

This year I saw Bailey Snyman’s dance play “Moffie” which highlights the attitude to homosexuals in the SADF of the early 80’s. This coincided with the time most of my friends did their national service. Whilst there is still prejudice in 2012 we now have legal same sex marriages and much of society is more accepting of sexual preference.

And then a couple of weeks ago we went to a screening of “Searching for Sugar Man”, the film about Rodriguez (well worth seeing). As a teenager I remember listening over and over to my sister’s Cold Fact album and singing along to “I wonder”. The film flashes back to Cape Town in the late 70’s, showing its natural beauty, but also the obvious signs of apartheid like the “nie blanke” signs. There are also a few old news clips of protests and an SABC employee shows how the banned tracks on the LP were scratched to prevent them being played.

What all these films or plays had in common was that they made me look backwards. All this looking backwards created some perspective for me on where we are at in South Africa today. We still live in a most imperfect society but many things have changed for the better since the 50’s, 70’s and 80’s.

Occasionally looking backwards allows us to measure how far we have come, it encourages us that we are making progress and it inspires us to keep on moving forwards towards our goal.

In your own life have you been working towards something for quite awhile? Does it feel like you are always striving but perhaps not getting there?

Take a moment, look back, see how far you have come. Recognise your achievement. And then look ahead and move on.