From mid-2019 to end 2020, I tracked a number of transactions, to see how well business in South Africa was, in the words of the singer-songwriter Paul Simon, “keeping the customer satisfied”.

The mix of examples was deliberately eclectic, but the overall impression is that many businesses seem unaware of the potential brand and reputational risks in mishandling a customer problem, which is often demonstrated by poor reaction times and product knowledge, an inability to escalate issues to a senior decision-making level promptly and a complete lack of common sense and objectivity when assessing and resolving issues.

A summary of a selected cross-section of matters with outcomes, where there has been one, is shown below.

These selected examples, set the scene for a discussion with the Business of Golf’s discussion panellists – first with Jason Rowe (CEO of Golfers Club), to be followed in the next section with commentary from Robert Jasper (GM of the Sandton Sun), Peter Dros (Marketing and Sales Director for Fancourt), Damian Wrigley (GM at Pearl Valley) and Alistair Collier (CEO of the John Collier Golf Survey), about what the golf business can learn from these examples and each panellists’ approach to customer service, in their respective golf business environments.

Airline – when flying from Lanseria to Durban on a return flight with Kulula in 2019, retrieving the luggage at King Shaka took longer than the flight.

My case was damaged and although it was eventually repaired, after a ‘fight’ with customer services (who else!), the retrieval required two trips to Lanseria, because after receiving an SMS notifying me that the case was ready, when I got to Lanseria it was discovered that it was still in Durban.

As an apology for the inconvenience, I was sent a travel voucher valued at R500

Having to pay in more money to use the voucher is irksome, but the fact that I am still waiting for the voucher’s ‘activation’ instructions is extremely poor.

Motoring association – the website address on-line was wrong, all my email bounced back, there was no follow up on two occasions about product related questions (when I wanted to spend more money) and after making payment, for my renewed membership, I have still to receive an official receipt, etc. although after 5 phone calls, I finally received an email ‘congratulating me’ on successfully renewing my membership – 6 weeks after the payment had been made.

There was an additional ‘sting’ to this particular experience in that the 2020 experience was almost a cut and paste version of the issues that I had in 2019. If a company is not going to learn from these types of ‘misses’, then it is rather like, to use a motoring analogy, having a slow puncture and the journey forward will be anything but smooth.

The AA needs to do serious work to address these issues and I can only hope that I never have any vehicular issues, if its roadside manner and effectiveness relates even slightly to its abysmal customer service and follow up levels.

Computers – I purchased a new laptop through Incredible Connection and while the ‘misses’ in customer service terms were numerous, a summary would be that; the store involved failed to complete the data and email transfer for which they were to be paid the prescribed fee and during this process they missed three of their own deadlines, involving me in the time and effort to make multiple phone calls and trips to the store and then damaged the laptop from which the info was being transferred.

When appraised of the issues and inconvenience suffered, the group’s senior management assured me that they ‘valued my custom’, which they felt had been fully demonstrated by offering to waive the fee – this waiver being for a job that was never completed.

Finally, some sense prevailed and I was provided with a full refund, but this did not address the waste of my time or the damaged laptop (this element remains unresolved) and sadly both parties were losers, as the store lost both the original sale’s value along with my custom after 26 years.

 

The central question is whether the customer and customer service has got ‘lost’ in what I describe as a race to the bottom line, but which increasingly feels more like a race to the bottom.

The irony is that the customer is the bottom line, when 90% of normal businesses’ only renewable resource are their customers. You would hope that common sense would prevail, with customer interactions being dealt with professionally – sadly this is often not the case.

Jason Rowe (CEO of The Golfers Club):

I agree 110% with your comments that customers, in any retail environment, are a very precious resource. In your examples, the glaring miss is not seeing the downside to wasting a customer’s time, instead of admitting ‘we messed up’ and making a real fist of retaining the customer’s goodwill.

I believe that a professional, early intervention at this level will sort out most customers’ issues and turn them into brand ambassadors. My pet hate is when a retailer can’t finalise a prompt plan of action to sort out a customer’s problem. If an item is clearly faulty or defective.

I’m a firm believer in erring on the customer’s side and dealing with my supplier later. The issue must be sorted out ASAP and handling returns or claims shouldn’t be seen as a nightmare, but rather an opportunity to garner the customer’s lifetime patronage by proving that we care about their problems.

John Cockayne has been a Professional Golfer since 1977 and is a fully qualified founder member and Life Member of the PGA of South Africa. He is a former Head Professional at Royal Oak, State Mines and Benoni Country Clubs and Director of Golf at Southbroom, during which period he was involved in the organisation of golf tours, numerous professional and amateur tournaments and as a consultant on the Sunshine Circuit.