Do you remember, years ago, that sense of embarrassment when a brand or experience in South Africa did not deliver? The dread that many came to expect — that SA products, service or experiences would not match up to global. I love the fact that this is declining (at least in some areas). These days, we have far more world-class experiences, and consumers have greater expectations around products and service offers.

Requires a shift
This movement, however, does not only require a shift in brand offerings; it also requires the consumer mindset to shift into a different gear. Brands need to take on processes to keep improving and consumers need to keep up with the fast-changing environment. Many may say I’m crazy (because, and I believe this, the days of brands being all powerful are over) but if, as a consumer you want more, better, best, then you need to understand what part you play.

What do I mean? For this movement of ‘greatness’ to endure, a partnership relationship is required, where consumers have a responsibility to provide good and bad feedback; become educated about their rights and gather information; read terms and conditions (before you shoot me, I agree these can be simplified); follow product instructions or warnings; and stop assuming the worst of SA offers. Consumers cannot expect brands to drive towards the future if the ‘as a consumer I am always right even when I am wrong’ mentality (cheating the system with bogus complaints — have I heard a few humdingers recently!) or ‘I wish they’d get it right even though I have not said what IT is’ persists.

Shared approach needed
As we advance, a shared approach — of information, possibilities and rewards to drive better branding and offers — is needed. Brands and consumers’ minds must meet on a more even keel. So what has gotten me to this contentious spot? A large number of feedback requests from brands, as well as stories that, when I considered both sides, has made me stop and think. A certain family booked two adults and an infant on Mango Airlines. Having recently flown on British Airways, they simply assumed similarities on infant travel (it did not help that the Mango website was not overt about baggage). They called the helpline to check on how to deal with the car seat and were told that it was an acceptable extra at no cost. Score.

Upon leaving Cape Town, all went well; even the assumption on baggage limits being similar to BA worked. But, upon returning from Durban, it all went horribly wrong — the consultant charged for extra luggage on the car seat, and the weight restrictions for infants became apparent as 10kg, not 20kg (despite no weight change on the luggage). All in all, the rules in Cape Town were different to those in Durban and from the call-centre discussion and the assumption in their minds. Should they have looked further, deeper, longer? I accept that the assumption was a stretch for the low-cost airline. When Mango was called, clarification could have been sought. Upon testing the website myself (short of paying), the baggage restriction was not made boldly apparent in the booking process. On the website under baggage, there are great tips and some info that’s generally useful but lots of clutter vs just how much luggage is allowed.

Mixed service experience
Added to this, the mixed service experience leaves me with a sense that the exchange was less than optimal and the grumpy consultant (as told to me) was not interested in the confused passenger’s story. Imagine if the Mango team (and perhaps they have) tested the site usability, using first-time flyers to check in online and check procedures to ensure everything is easy to follow, fully aligned and intuitive. The point? Even low-cost airlines can enhance things to ensure a fair and optimal exchange and experience.

A positive example
On the flip side (yes, I do have good experiences), I believe I am in the market for a new car. Why only “believe”? I love cars but loathe car shopping (a story for another day but think along the lines of feeling like the silly ‘little woman’). So I thought I’d get a copy of CAR magazine to help narrow the field on price first. Imagine my delight upon finding a refreshed CAR magazine which gives the basics: car model, price, a brief review of the vehicle, other brands to consider and more, all in one page. It was as if I’d had a balanced view from a third party (and, at this point, a light was shining down from the heavens, choirs were joyously singing and a war, fuzzy feeling of trust permeated my being). I also feel, as condescending as it seems, so proud, as what I’d perceived to be an old-fashioned SA brand has become a one-stop advice shop for car buyers, even if only a starting point. What a way to partner consumers! It leaves me energized and empowered to be a better customer. Less ‘little’ and more super woman!

Raising the bar
I am so excited to see those SA brands that are raising the bar, and hope many will follow (oh, please do so!). As SA brands starting stepping up the experience and the quality, the following questions spring to mind:

  • Will there be a wave that causes this to spread throughout the land?
  • Will more brands offer opportunities for consumers to build knowledge and knowhow?
  • Will consumers step up to make the exchanges more optimal all round (as well behave as if our SA brands can be and are great)?

Interesting times ahead.

– Erna George, Strategist –  Lowe Cape Town –