Life, Businss & Coffee #14: More BMW, Less Telkom

I’ve rebranded this newsletter “Life, Business & Coffee”, having had some time to engage with readers, managers and entrepreneurs. I hope you like new branding.

I recently had an experience with two very high profile brands – Telkom and BMW. They couldn’t have been more extreme.

I had to apply for a new telephone line for my daughter who moved into a student accommodation near TUKS. So on Sunday afternoon I googled how to apply for a new line, went onto Telkom’s mobile site, and filled in the application, which was long, tedious, and not easy on a mobile device. The end result – a confirmation screen saying someone would be in touch with me. That all seemed to work.

The next day I was lucky enough to be included in a tour of the BMW plant in Rosslyn. It was mind blowing. The Rosslyn plant is one of 10 manufacturing operations for BMW, and has been awarded the highest accolade of all the plants across all countries (including Germany) for production quality. They produce one custom built, made-to-order zero defect car every four minutes, and they export to 8 countries including Canada, USA and Australia.

What impressed me most about BMW was that, although the brand is German, the South African plant has been able to surpass German engineering when it comes to zero defect manufacture. Each car on the production line is pre-sold, which means that every vehicle coming off that production line is made to order. That’s the embodiment of mass customization right there. The same production line produces left and right hand drive, with or without sun roof, every engine spec, every available factory fitted add-on, and every colour combination, both inside and out. When you do the permutations, there probably aren’t even two identical cars coming off that production line in a day. Every one is made to a specific customers specification.

When I arrived home that same day, I saw an email from Telkom:

“Dear Customer

Thank you for your online application. We have tried contacting you, however were unable to get hold of you.

If you would like us to contact you again, please visit, to reapply.



I think there was one missed call on my cell, and no voice messages. Not even my name was personalized on their generic, standardized rejection letter. Clearly they send these out often. If only they adopted to the 20 Rule.

Telkom sells even less of a product variety than BMW, and they couldn’t care less whether they gain or lose a customer. Where BMW make it extremely simple for customers to get exactly what they want, Telkom makes it impossible just to do business. Where BMW is all about the customer, Telkom is all about Telkom. The contrast paints an interesting picture. Both have taken technology that originated outside SA, but one has surpassed its creator and put SA on the global map as a force to reckoned with, and the other has rested on its monopolistic laurels and left the door open a tiny crack just in case customers can squeeze through.

The lesson? To survive and excel in business, be more like the customer obsessed BMW and less like the Customer Comes Last Telkom.

Begrudgingly I’m going back online to redo an application I’ve already done once which the geniuses at Telkom have discarded. I thought Telkom had the word “business” in one of its tag lines.


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