Friday, October 11, 2013

“Dr. Kelly, what do you think about Service Quality in Botswana?”

I could see the question coming from a mile away, and despite all efforts was unable to manage an escape prior to it actually being asked.

I sort of co-teach a class with another Lecturer here at UB.  The course is called Tourism in Botswana.  Since I am grossly under qualified to teach a tourism course focused entirely on Botswana, he teaches the class and I supplement the material by providing outside examples and relating it to the worldwide tourism industry.  There is a published course syllabus but that has little to do with what is actually covered in any given class session.  My colleague often shows up and teaches whatever strikes his fancy.  Thus, I often feel unprepared for what to expect and have to be ready to provide input on the fly.

Yesterday’s class focused on Service Quality.  As soon as I saw the topic I wish I had called in sick.  I had little good to say about anything service-related here in Botswana, or Africa for that matter, but knew I would inevitably be asked to provide an outside opinion.  As the instructor was highlighting the importance of various customer service principles I began jotting down notes I could refer to later when it came time for me to speak.  While listening to the lecture and the students’ questions I began thinking about the frustration involved when I attempted to get my university ID.

Then one of my students, Martin, said something very profound.  He said, “I was at dinner with my parents in a restaurant here in Gaborone.  The waiter hadn’t been back to my table since he gave us our food.  I tried to get his attention so I could get more water.  My parents yelled at me and said, ‘You are a child.  You have two legs.  Get up and fetch your own water.’”

This story reminded me of an incident from when I was in Kenya for my conference.  At one of the dinner events my entire table had been seated for easily 20 minutes and no server had ever been around to take drink orders.  Several of us tried to get someone’s attention until I finally got up, went to the bar, took 8 glasses, filled them with water, put them on a tray, and carried them back to my table myself.

Martin’s story was met by a round of commentary from the rest of the class, some taking Martin’s side, and some agreeing with his parents.  Finally a girl said, “You know, most foreigners focus on really minute details, like the water thing.  I just don’t think those kinds of things are important.”  This comment prompted my colleague to ask, “Dr. Kelly, what do you think about service quality in Botswana?”

I answered initially by giving a lot of examples of “foreigners” and service quality elsewhere.  I told them being a server in a café in Paris is considered a respectable job, which is why they take pride in their work and make sure their customers are well cared for.  I told them in China a position in a hotel or restaurant was considered an embarrassment because you are admitting someone else is your superior.

I was beginning to think I was losing them so I decided to boil it down, “Here’s the thing that matters.  Botswana has the highest price point for tourism products in Sub-Saharan Africa.  If I’m spending $1,000 a night in Botswana I expect to get water.  If I’m not going to get water I might as well go to Zim where I only have to spend $100 night to be thirsty.”  Ultimately, I got through to them.  There is one thing the Batswana do NOT want, and that is to be compared to Zimbabwe. 

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