Columnists

Anti-social business practice in Zambia

MTHONISWA Banda.

Analysis: MTHONISWA BANDA
I HAVE in the past few months been trying to get in touch with many of Zambia’s leading businesses and organisations to promote my services and solutions to what I consider one of the challenges that they have in dealing with media and their general publics – their customers.
With the availability of many communication methods brought about by modern technology, one would think that getting in touch with any business or organisation from the comfort of one’s office would be simple and easy.
Getting in touch has not been easy.
In the past, communication with one’s organisation was always through the snail mail of letters, phoning the place using a landline or visiting the place in person to first seek appointment and then return later for the actual meeting.
It seems many of the organisations, including those that pride themselves as customer-orientated, have devised ingenuous ways of barricading themselves away from the very general public and clients that they claim to serve. They have placed strenuous security procedures on their gates that make physically visiting them nearly impossible. Take for instance the entrance to the United States Embassy in Ibex Hill, the United Nations House in Longacres and the Bank of Zambia building in Cairo Road. These have guards that ensure that you don’t go in unless it is at the request of the person inside!
Growing under the common organisational instruction that ‘all correspondence should be directed to the boss’, one would expect that business houses and organisations will make it easy for their constituents, prospective clients and general public to know who this boss is and how to contact them. But this is not the case.
Despite most businesses and organisations taking advantage of having modern ICT tools for doing business, they have deliberately shut down their houses and businesses from public contact.
Their ‘Contact Us’ page is nothing but a general telephone line that in most cases is automatically manned by a machine that won’t even help you in any way even after you spend more that five minutes following their instructions. Or they show their physical address that leads you to a gate manned by no-nonsense security guards or screening procedures.
For some their ‘Contact Us’ page has cosmetically indicated a general email address that starts with infor@nameofbusiness.com but lead to the web designer IT company or is not designed to bounce emails ‘because the server does not recognise the sender’. Others have devised a ‘Contact Us’ form that guides the outside person how to contact the firm/business or organisation. These forms too, when submitted, don’t seem to go to any particular person or office.
For others the ‘Contact Us’ page takes one on a merry-go-round trip to other social media pages on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, among others. A cursory look at these pages makes one realise that they too are not manned by anyone from the organisations. Questions asked three years ago have still not received a response. These social media pages are a one directional communication page, only used by the firm or organisation to make an announcement, after which they retreat into their business conclaves, not to be disturbed by the reactions of their clients, customers and neighbours.
The secretary to the boss has her/his own hidden email address and so are the public relations or customer care team members.
How then are these businesses and organisations expecting their customers, clients and neighbours to contact them?
How do they attract new clients and business or interact with their customers if all they do is hide behind their concrete walls and internet buffer zones?
How do they know how their clients are feeling or thinking about them and their services? What mechanism do they use to attract new businesses or acquire new solutions to their problems?
Sadly, even great communicators and feedback-dependent organisations like the media, government offices and agencies have followed suit and are no longer open to community or client feedback. In the past contact details for a newspaper editor or newsroom were publicly displayed for all its readers to see and feedback through letters to the editor or right of reply.
Isn’t it no wonder that some business houses seem to be miles apart with the thinking of their clients? Is it surprising that customer loyalty or brand loyalty is no longer evident in modern businesses? Doesn’t that explain why long-established businesses seem to be struggling to get new customers and innovations? Doesn’t that explain why the corporate social responsibility efforts of these companies don’t seem to be attracting the intended support and goodwill from the company’s clients, customers and neighbours?
In line with the ‘all correspondence should be directed to the boss’, modern information and communication tools should make it easy for a company or organisation to be easily accessible by its clients, customers and future partners. A simple Google search should be enough to reveal to the searcher what the company or organisation is all about and how to contact the right person or office if need be. An officer of the company or office should be designated to receive all internet-based emails or correspondents and ensure that they are directed to the right person or office.
The company must invest in a communications /public relations/media strategy ensuring that all correspondents are responded to immediately or as soon as possible, for the satisfaction of the client/customer or public. Having a media or communications strategy that ensures easy accessibility by customers, clients and general publics is now a must.
A satisfied customer can be the difference between breaking even and being broke.
The author is a media relations and communications expert at MB Zambia Ltd www.facebook.com/MthoniswaB

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