MARK'S (NOT SO) DAILY BLOG
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Wedding anniversary at Makweti Safari Lodge

Nicole and I celebrate our wedding anniversary next week. We got married on 7/7/7.  Ten years and 2 kids later she still laughs at my (same) jokes and we still hug and kiss each other every day. Being a big milestone, we decided to leave our young girls with gran and have a few days alone together to celebrate the 3650 days. What better way to connect as a couple than in the bush. No cellphone signal. No ability to check what’s happening on Facebook. No television.

MakwetiIf you live in Johannesburg (or are a tourist and arrive at OR Tambo airport), there’s a great “Big 5” game reserve only 2.5 hours north of the city called Welgevonden. We’ve been there a few times before, stayed at various lodges and love the proximity of it as well as all the animal sightings.

This time round, being our anniversary, we decided to spoil ourselves by staying at the 5 star Makweti Safari Lodge. With only 5 secluded villas (and more staff than guests) you know you’re in for a pampered time. Believe me, we were not disappointed. From the sounds of the African drum being played on our arrival to the warm hospitality of the staff throughout our stay, it truly was a luxurious 3-night excursion away from home. 

Makweti

It started with a rope bridge walk to the villa..

Makweti

The villa itself was luxurious as you would expect from a 5 star lodge:

Makweti

We had our own pool (but being the middle of winter was way too cold to swim):

Makweti

We had romantic baths prepared for us on our return from evening game drives...

Makweti














Without any fencing, there’s always a possibility that animals roam right past your front door. There were often zebra and smaller animals at the watering hole in the camp. We even had an elephant swing past to say howzit one morning.

Makweti

What makes the experience 5-star for me though, besides the world class amenities, is the service. The hosts Neil and Jessica are kind and attentive without being in your face. It’s as if they appeared when needed and melted into the background when Nicole and I enjoyed romantic lunches and dinners for two on the viewing deck. And the food… oh my lord, each meal was carefully crafted by the hands-on chef and was probably some of the best meals Nicole and I have eaten in a long time. In fact, it’s probably what I’ll remember the most about the experience. Since I also had pudding at every lunch and dinner setting, I probably walked away slightly heavier than when we arrived.

Makweti

Even the table decor was always laid out with careful preparation:

Makweti

Whilst we had one "communal" dinner with fellow guests, Nicole and I preferred dining alone, and we had a romantic table set up for us every day:

Makweti

Makweti

When it came to the game drives, we went on a 3-4 hour ride every morning and afternoon and saw some truly spectacular sights, the most memorable was a cheetah and her 3 cubs feeding on a fresh kill (pic blurry due to my iPhone zoom!):

Makweti

There was also the lion who was having a morning nap in the bushes...

Makweti

What I found equally enjoyable was our game ranger’s imparting of knowledge (without being one of those in-your-face cocky types). With an honours degree in botany, Neil even got us fascinated in the fauna and flora as we drove along the gravel roads.

Makweti

Being the middle of winter, it got pretty chilly on the game drive vehicle, but Neil and Jessica had that covered with hot water bottles, warm ponchos, hand warmers and… and some much enjoyed Amarula on ice at sunset. Being the boy scout that I am, I had come prepared and just donned my own kit, so I looked like a cold ninja burglar…
Makweti

Nicole and I loved our time there. Thank you to our hosts Neil and Jessica for making our anniversary so special. We look forward to coming back again soon! If you want to have a 5 -star bush break, we highly recommend Makweti Safari Lodge.

Makweti

Footnote: 
This was a paid-for holiday and not a sponsored post. 
In today's age of always moaning about bad service, its great to give praise where due.


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Parenting with the help of gadgets

It's been quite a while since I've done a parenting blog. I'm by no means the expert parent. My girls are abundantly loved and hugged every day, but they also make me pull my non-existent hair out. Admittedly, there are times when I know I probably shouldn't drop the f-bomb, but it's the only way to overcome some or other parental calamity that's unfolding. Let's face it, when an adult and child have an argument, there isn't always a "meeting of minds".  But that's how parenting goes... you just get in the trenches and do what you think is the very best for your kids.

In my attempts to continually provide my girls with a routine and structure I've been using 2 apps in recent weeks that I think is making life a little easier at home. I thought I would share them with you as it might help you reduce the F-bombs too.

The first is the iPad timer


Kids countdown timer
My girls are really big dawdlers in the mornings, and despite telling them a million times that they need to be ready at 7am as we need to leave for school, they are inevitably still only scratching the surface of their mountain of cornflakes with just seconds to go.

I've now made it easier for them, by using a countdown app on an iPad. There are many available in the app store. I use VISUAL TASK TIMER. It's a simple visualisation, both in numbers and by means of a continually closing circle. When they wake up in the morning we set the app to countdown to 7am. The girls know to be ready when it finishes and as the alarm goes off, they (normally) switch off the TV and go downstairs to get in the car.

Countdown app

The second app is the bean counter


Bean appI got this idea from my daughter's class where the teacher has 2 jars with marbles in them. The shiny balls flow between the "good" and "bad" jars as the day progresses. What I like about it, is that they're communal jars and the results impact all the kids. They have to uplift each other to ensure that they're not all adversely affected by a few naughty kids in the class. At the end of the week, if they have more 'good" marbles, they get to watch a movie in class.

I searched high and low to find an app version of this that I could use on the girls at home. The closest I have come to it is BEAN.

There are "green beans' which they click on when they are good, and the "red beans" which I usually land up clicking on when they are not so good. It works quite well. If they are squabbling, they hear the click click of the red beans and often stop fighting straight away.

Bean app
When they wake up they get green beans as follows:
  • Getting out of bed without moaning - 5 beans
  • Having a morning wee - 2 beans
  • Brushing teeth - 2 beans
  • Getting dressed without an argument - 5 beans
  • Eating their breakfast - 2 beans
If they're naughty I assign red beans depending on how many green beans they have (it's the card up dad's sleeve so i get the result I want).  If they go to bed with more green beans they get to watch TV and play with iPads the next day. If they go to bed with more red than green beans, there is no TV the next day. Period. So far it seems to be working and its a bit of a game to get as many green beans as possible each day.

Hope these tips help your day! If you have any more gadgety tips, leave them in the "comments" section.

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Killing your business with poor customer service?

Customer service
Think about it. What makes you like a company and what leaves you seething?  Sure, sometimes it's the quality of the product itself, but more often these days it's not the product, but the quality of service you get from the same company.

I love my gadgets and the price is often very comparable between stores. What sways my purchase decision is the customer experience that goes along with the purchase. I'll even go as far as saying I'll pay a little MORE for something from the retailer that believes in good service.

What is good service though?

I don't profess to be an expert on the subject, but in my mind it's mainly a warmth and desire to delight me as a customer. If I walk into an Incredible Connection, I don't expect the sales consultant to be knowledgeable on every single product, but I do expect him to be helpful. If he doesn't know anything about routers, instead of pretending to (and getting his facts wrong) or simply pointing to another colleague and saying "speak to him", a more positive experience would be "sir, my colleague over there is an expert on routers, let me take you to him").  It's those small moments of engagement that change a customer's perception of a brand.

Moment of truth
When I call a helpline and speak to an agent, he might be tired, bored and just running through the motions of reading a prepared script and vaguely trying and solve my problem. But to me, in that very moment, he represents the ENTIRE business. My entire perception of the company rests on his shoulders... it's whats called in organisational psychology the "moment of truth". If he's despondent and dreary, I don't just have a negative perception of him, I have a negative perception of the ENTIRE BRAND. Conversely, if he's attentive and knowledgeable, I'll be delighted as a customer. If this experience happens repetitively I'll even become a tacit champion of the brand, and make mention of the great service to friends and family. Never underestimate the power of word-of-mouth.

Let me use Vodacom as another example (I'm not picking on them, it's just based on a recent experience). I have very little signal in my home and a very helpful agent on the phone chatted to me about various solutions and said an engineer assigned to the suburb would get in touch. Whilst Vodacom did kindly resolve the issue by placing a booster in my home office, the dreariness and aloofness of the engineer who eventually phoned me to sort out the issue dampened my perception of the whole interaction with the company. Sure, I now have signal, but how did he leave me feeling about the brand? The engineer thought he was just in a technical field, but he got it so wrong. He's in customer service! In the 3 weeks of being assigned to me, he wouldn't acknowledge or reply to my emails, nor EVER answer his phone. BAM... a negative moment of truth with the brand.

How often do you phone a company and a dreary receptionist answers, and then doesn't even say a word when transferring you. The role of a receptionist is so vital in the customer's perception of an organisation, yet the training of this role is so often neglected.
Rude receptionist
A friend of mine experienced an exemplary example of great customer service recently when his Zodiac pool cleaner was playing up. The agent said to him something along the lines of: "Mr Silver, I'm sure you have more important things to do with your time than have to worry about your pool cleaner, so leave it in my hands. I will ensure a technician is there tomorrow and it will be working perfectly by the time you get home from work. What time would be suitable when someone is at the house?"

So what am I trying to say? If your staff member interacts with a customer in any way (even if they are not in sales or customer care), they ARE in customer service and you have placed the perception of your entire business in their hands.  It's time to create a more positive "moment of truth" for your customers. If you want to beat your competitor, it's not just about your product... it's about your service.


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