UGANDA'S business community is facing serious existential issues with the opening up of the East African common market.When the common market is in full flow, people, goods and services will traverse the region without barriers.
At a very basic level, this means â€“ in terms of goods and services, that goods of better quality and which offer value-for-money will compete with the best and worst, of what we have to offer.
Consumers do not have nationalistic considerations in their spending habits, we will buy what has proven to be of good value in the past regardless of where it comes from.
First, letâ€™s make a distinction between patriots and nationalists. Both have a great love of their countries.
The difference is, a nationalist thinks his country is better than all others while a patriot wants the best for his/her country.
So consumers may be patriots but they are not necessarily nationalistic to believe that their countries make the best products in the world, unless of course, that is true.
And hence Uganda Incorporatedâ€™s dilemma. It is already happening with Kenyan commodities making a big push in our market and vying for more than favourable shelf space.
The knee jerk reaction is to say, â€œShut them out while we develop capacity to compete on even footing.â€
But that time is passed.
The competition is here and it is not just beating on the door, it has knocked the door down and now heading for pride of place at the head of the table.
Faced with this challenge, Ugandan businesses have to become more efficient.
Recently, world renown speaker, Larry Hochman was in town at the invitation of the British Council to talk to businessmen and leaders about success in their respective enterprises.
The success of any enterprise, Hochman says, will depend on how central customer service, courageous leadership and talent management are to the thinking of the managers.
The customer is king maxim is now clichÃ©, but like all clichÃ©s, they tend to get only lip service.
â€œCustomer relations is the single most important ingredient for success, without putting the customer at the heart of every enterprise it is hard to be successful,â€ Hochman said.
This is linked invariably with leadership, which is â€œcourageous to take the actions to make any entreprise ever more responsive to its clients.â€
Hochman questioned the relevance of customer relations departments, as if customer care is the responsibility of one department and not the whole enterprise.
â€œWe are in the information age, what that means is that it gives people choice, power and control.
The necessity to keep promises to the customers will be clear to leaders because the customer will punish them for talk and no action and they can spread the word,â€ he said.
His opinion on talent management would sound even more radical for our business leaders.
â€œYour goal is to be an attractor of talent. All the best people should be knocking at your door and if they are not you should wonder.â€
And understandably so. The leader can have the best vision centred around obsessive customer relations up and down the enterprise, â€œBut if you donâ€™t have the people to deliver the vision it does not matter,â€ Hochman said.
We treat our human resource like they are dispensable, but a useful measure of the happiness of our customers can be established by judging the happiness of our workers, because, our staff can only look out for the clientâ€™s interests if theirs are being catered for adequately.
And here he was not talking about pay but the whole environment in which our workers operate in.
If our businesses can work on this, they might have a fighting chance against our neighbours, especially since focusing on these three things will ensure that our businesses can develop a unique value proposition.
â€œCustomer relationships are the unique value which your businesses will develop.It takes days, weeks, years to build relationships based on trust, relationships which cannot be replicated by anybody.
Of course it does not take as long to jeopardise,â€ Hochman said.
Our businessmen will need to step up their games if they are to thrive in an increasingly hostile environment.
They will have to look beyond physical infrastructure such as buildings and machinery but to the â€œsoft-softâ€ issues of customer relations, leadership and talent management to spur them on to success.
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