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Archive for July, 2010

Branding as we know it is changing rapidly…

During the recent Soccer World Cup we have seen a dramatic presentation of new, innovative designs; ideas and marketing campaigns. One could truly say that the 2010 Soccer World Cup has become a major “lovemark” to many consumers (fans and previous non-fans alike).

At this point I have to acknowledge that I myself did not have the slightest interest in soccer (and for that matter the World Cup). In fact, I was traveling to the magnificent islands of Spain for the past 4 weeks. The atmosphere was already tantalizing in Mallorca with the approach of the World Cup. An interesting realization dawned on me while I was exploring the Balearic islands: If you are ever in doubt about your own love for your homeland, South Africa, just visit a country overseas during the time such as the soccer world cup (hosted in S.A.) and you will feel a surge of pride and patriotism for your homeland in its beautiful colours of red, yellow, blue, black and green. I can not explain the pride and love that I felt for my country every time I saw the South African flag or heard the “Whaka-Whaka” song. Foreigners were singing as loud as they can to the tune on their cellphones: “Its time for Africa!” South Africa truly showed the whole world that we are not only capable of hosting a world cup, but that it can build strong patriotism amongst all South African citizens and provide visitors with an unforgettable, unique experience (without showing them the wild lions and rhino’s that walk in our streets at nights!)

This country proved it’s competence and excellence in branding and marketing initiatives during the past year leading up to the world cup. The dramatic Soccer Stadiums were extremely well designed and finished on schedule. Soccer merchandise such as the iconic Vuvuzela and the Makarama hat will forever be remembered and associated with the spirit of Africa! These designs have been created, not by executive designers or branding/marketing managers, but by common South African citizens who seized the opportunity to live out their entrepreneurial spirit. Sadly, corruption has stuck its ugly head in one such a wonderful invention.

On Tuesday 6 July 2010 the SABC3 program, Special Assignment addressed the issue of intellectual property rights. They investigated the raging arguments about the rights to ownership of the Vuvuzela the Makarapa as well as allegations against the LOC for having stolen an idea. The creator of the famous Makarapa hats, Alfred ‘Lux’ Baloyi, is currently fighting the battle to retain the rights to his creation that paved is ‘rags to riches’ tale. (see link: http://www.sabcnews.com/portal/site/SABCNews/Special_Assignment?forum=specialassignment). This inspirational man has been mislead into signing a document that stated that he will hand over the intellectual property rights to his fellow associates in the business. It states that both the Makarapa hat intellectual property rights as well as any future designs by Mr Baloyi will belong to the company… and NOT to him! To make matters worse, he was not even aware of what he was signing… no one explained the implications of the contract clearly to him! Not only does this genius creator not even have rights to his own invention; he will not be able to pass the business (that HE founded) on to his son; and he does not receive nearly the money that he deserves!

This indicates the sad truth of intellectual Property and Patent Rights in South Africa… Our country is completely rich with bubbling and inspiring entrepreneurial spirit… but sadly, most of these bright minds are students or people who can not afford the price of Patent Rights or Intellectual Property. To complicate matters even more, there will always be companies and rich opportunistics with hungry eyes on the lookout for naive entrepreneurs who are willing to sign away ideas that have massive potential!

My dream for South Africa is this:… a trustworthy company that could nurture these wonderful ideas and support the young/inexperienced creators thereof to become masters of their own creations! Our country is bursting with potential… but untill we can find a way to support it and save it from bloodthirsty money scavengers… the fight for fairy-tales such as Mr. Baloyi and his Makarapa hats, shall continue…

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What does service excellence mean? Who decides upon the standard of service that will provide consumers/customers with an unforgettable experience, one that will wet their appetite for more? And where does the magic of that unforgettable experience come from?

According to a blog that I discovered on the Web called “Decision to Lead” the word “Service Excellence” is defined by the authors as “consistent delivery of a high value/price experience, day after day, year after year, regardless of who happens to be on the front lines of the delivery process. It is the systematic output of a service model that is designed explicitly to produce it.  It is not the typical way we consume good service today, which is when entrepreneurial employees take it upon themselves to meet our needs in spite of the system”. This definition is based on the grounds of reliability. (See: http://decisiontolead.com/2009/04/07/service-excellence-defined-and-illustrated/ ). This concept is like an iceberg… only the tip is visible to the eye of the receiving customer… but below an entire body of ice is necessary to support that tip.

“Service Excellence” is very difficult to define precisely as it can be applied in various services compromising of very different aspects of service standards and quality definitions. In the end of the day, it simply comes down to what “Service Excellence” means in the eyes of the customer. No matter how many stars your hotel claims to have, no matter how many prizes your iconic wine has won in numerous wine shows, no matter what famous actor endorses your perfume or designer jewellery, no matter how many customers you receive on a daily basis. The quality of service and service excellence will always be decided on by the customer and their perception of your service standards. Customer perception does not necessarily reflect the reality and to furthermore complicate things, the degree of “service excellence” experienced by the customer can also differ from person to person!

How do you therefore decide what qualifies as good service? The best way is to start by defining the exact profile of the type of customer that you aim to attract. Once you have defined the customer profile, customer surveys may be conducted in order to define the customers’ perception of quality in your industry. Now you will be able to pinpoint factors that can be utilized or enhanced in order to create the desired service quality and thereby exceed customer expectation of your service!

Another important factor that many high aspiring businesses fail to achieve is to deliver what you promise to deliver to your customers. As a rule of thumb it is recommended to always promise less and deliver more. One can only dream of providing customers with service excellence if you are able to provide them with service that they never expected to receive… i.e. they were never promised to receive it. The magic really starts working when this good service experience is advertised by satisfied customers through positive word-of-mouth… the best free advertising medium any company can dream of having! In the end of the day, consumers trust other fellow consumers’ opinions more than they trust the traditional methods of advertising: TV, newspaper, pamphlets, billboards etc.   

I have recently travelled to the Balearic Islands (Spanish islands) where I stayed for a month on the island of Mallorca. Captivated by the atmosphere of classic Spanish culture, people, music, long summer days and breathtakingly romantic Spanish architecture and sunsets I felt as though I was living in a Chocolate or Moulin Rouge scene!

My sister and I were staying in Port de Sòller, a picturesque town arranged around a small port that housed some of the most breathtaking views I have ever witnessed! One evening we decided to experience true Spanish cuisine and picked a restaurant next to the port where we ordered traditional paella and tapas. Seeing that we picked the restaurant that had the best price (cheapest) for paella, we already did not expect too much in terms of service quality and did not have any other expectations other than being able to witness a stunning sunset over the port, with the comfort of being served a plate of traditional food… at last… and to emerge ourselves in the Spanish environment we found ourselves in. We were therefore already in a position where we would easily be impressed by any unexpected extras! The wonderful Spanish waitress brought us some appetizers before the meal: olive bread; locally preserved green olives and a pate without us expecting anything more than maybe a bit of bread. After witnessing our excitement and our trail and errors in trying to practice Spanish cuisine annunciation she offered to take a picture of us with our camera and further surprised us by presenting each of us with a decent glass of traditional apple liqueur Spanish drinks… on the house! She never once made us feel like we needed to get a move on… even though the evening was bringing along many more customers looking for a dinner spot. We comfortably kept on chatting and enjoying ourselves for a good 2:30 hours! The best of all was that the food was actually very mediocre… I have personally had much better paella back at home in South Africa and the tapas did not raise my eyebrows much… in fact, the food was not even steaming hot as it should be! But after being treated as such special guests by the waitress, we were clearly very happy and pleased with the service at this particular restaurant. This attracted many other consumers: our laughter and happy chatter. We were already a live advertisement to others who were passing by!

To get to the point… the magic of customer service excellence does not necessarily lie with BIG changes and fancy additions to service… more often, it is delivering more than you promise; empowering employees to use their own initiative at the right time in order to indulge consumers; and knowing your customers’ and their expectations of your service.

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