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Oladapo Akande

Oladapo Akande

Though we have certainly improved in leaps and bounds in the last decade or two, I don’t believe too many will argue with me that courteous, efficient customer service has never been a national strength, whether in the public or even private sector.

I for one, will always argue that at the heart of good customer service or customer relations is good manners. When a child with good manners grows up, by instinct he’s far more likely to provide good customer service, as his interpersonal skills would have been well prepared for this over the years. That’s why those who lack this foundation either can’t understand why they need to smile to welcome customers, or use those truly magic words that can prize open the stoniest of hearts; crucially important in the world of competitive business.

And when they are forced to, maybe because their job depends on it, it’s so contrived that at the slightest provocation, the old rude and scowling self is reawakened. The journey to good customer relations begins from childhood and not when the character is already calcified.

What happens to a crayfish when it’s already dry and you try to bend it? It snaps. So, do you still wonder why your employee snaps when asked pertinent questions by prospective customers? Wonder no more. It doesn’t take a genius to work out why western nations generally do customer service better. The strict and consistent teaching of good manners right from “toddlerhood” has already taken them halfway there.

There’s an age old argument by ethicists and their contending schools of thought and it’s this; do we owe future generations any duty? No one has yet been able to provide an infallible answer but there is a simple verse in the Bible which I believe at least answers one aspect of this gargantuan question:

“Train a child in the way that he should go and when he grows up he will not depart from it”. Subsequently, this child will grow up to also train his own brood and it will continue like that. Tell me, is there a better way to positively influence the future of generations? Even those yet unborn and the society that they will live in? I can’t think of any. And is it a duty? According to the scriptures, yes.

Bruce Nordstrom may have sounded stupid when he said this but he knew exactly what he meant when he said he preferred to hire people of good character and to train them to become salesmen because it’s almost impossible to train a good salesman to develop good character.

In his own words, the former chairman of the famous American department store known for its impeccable service said this:

“We can hire nice people and teach them to sell, but we can’t hire salespeople and teach them to be nice.”

It has been said that character is something you “buy” during hiring and not something you “build” by training. What does this mean? Those characteristics need to be part of the person already, having been brought up to be polite and well mannered. For a business organization to get those characteristics, it needs to hire the right people.

A renowned sales leader put it quite succinctly when he said:

“You can’t send a duck to eagle school.”

Yet another said:

“Although you can teach a turkey to climb a tree, it’s much easier to hire a squirrel.”

I know you may say to yourself, it’s good to be amiable and all that; it’s even something to be admired when you come across those with impeccable manners but “how will it benefit me?” “It’s good to be nice but will nice put food on my table?” The simple answer here is yes, it can. Statistics provided by Newvoicemedia.com says that feeling unappreciated is the #1 reason customers switch away from products and services.  Another by the Temkin groups says, after having a positive experience with a company, 77% of customers would recommend it to a friend. If this won’t put food on your table then I don’t know what will. I must say here that it’s unfortunate our country has always been notoriously bad at keeping statistics so I’ve had to rely on foreign statistics, namely from the US, but I’m sure you get the gist.

Let me tell you a little story though that brings it closer home. A few years ago, myself and a partner embarked on setting up a supermarket from scratch. Now, even with the foreknowledge that the largest and most influential player, not just in the Nigerian market but in Africa as a whole was planning to establish a branch in Amuwo Odofin, our preferred location, we weren’t deterred in the slightest from opening up shop. My partner and I had done sufficient research to detect some weaknesses we believed we could capitalise on.

Their sheer size, which ordinarily ought to be amongst their greatest strengths belied several Achilles heels, which we were able to explore. One of which was their inability to make timely competitive decisions because all major instructions still came from their Head Office in South Africa. However, the one most relevant to this discussion was the very impersonal service on their shop floor. These foreigners somehow hadn’t factored in a critical element of the average aspirational Nigerian’s psyche. And this, I’m not ashamed to admit, is that we like to be made to feel special and appreciated. That’s why praise singers at Owambe parties will never go out of business.

This behemoth of a supermarket finally opened for business nine months after we began operations and we noticed a dip in sales for just three days. Yes, just three days! And this was totally understandable as residents of the area had for long been expectant of their resumption. It’s not everyday that such an iconic brand opens shop in your vicinity.

After 3 days, our customers came trooping back and sales continued on it’s upward trend until I left. Why? Because amongst other things, our staff who themselves had been hired partly based on their courteous nature, were further trained to become super courteous. We didn’t stop there either. The customer’s experience was enhanced the more by meeting at least one employee at every aisle, ready to attend to their every whim; and all this… with an ever present smile.

Ons of the most fundamental requirements an individual needs, to have superior customer relations is good manners. Giving adequate consideration to the concern of clients and customers requires a heart that considers the feelings of others and this goes to the heart of good manners; being able to say “sorry” where you are wrong, “thank you” when a customer favours you above competition and “please” when you are about to make what may be considered an inconvenient request.

Changing the nation…one mind at a time

 

Dapo Akande, a Businessday weekly columnist is a University of Surrey (UK) graduate with a Masters in Professional Ethics. An alumnus of the Institute for National Transformation; certified in Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence from Case Western Reserve College, USA. Author of two books, The Last Flight and Shifting Anchors. Both books are used as course material in Babcock University’s Literature department. Dapo is a public speaker, a content creator and a highly sought after ghostwriter.

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