Several years ago, I was tasked to supervise the furnishing of a semi-completed hostel. In an emergency to host a group of international students for the first time, we chose a roll of linoleum carpets over ceramic tiling (which would have taken a longer time to finish) to cover the cemented floors of several feet. It is a one-story building with nine rooms and two big halls, so we needed virtually a huge ‘truck-full’ of carpets to cover the entire floor. I was also tasked to make the purchase.
Naturally, I went to the side of town where I could find a chain of stores selling linoleum carpets to get a good bargain. I was deliberately dressed in casuals (t-shirt over jeans and flip-flops) to avoid the prying eyes of thieves and pickpockets since I had a large sum of cash stashed in the knapsack I carried. Nevertheless, I wore “Issey Miyake” cologne and looked presentable enough to be admitted into any public place.
There I was, lost in a jungle of shops selling carpets, trying to figure out which one to approach first. I spotted a large and very polished shop to my right exhibiting an assorted range of linoleum carpets in their showroom. I must say that, save the exquisite looking carpets, I was also attracted by the architecture, which had tinted sliding glass doors and windows. There was air-conditioning as well! With an immediate biased judgment, I concluded that it looked more like a shop that could serve my needs, though it didn’t have much activity going on.
There was another shop adjacent to this one which didn’t really exhibit much outside, save two or three folded carpets, but I noticed something interesting. It was easy to see a beehive of activity from both inside and outside of the shop because it had wide-opened doors made from galvanized metal sheets, which made it easy for people to frequent in and out. I could see the ceiling fans spinning wildly. I paid little attention to it because I was focused on shop number one, believing that, by their look, they had what it takes to provide what I needed.
Casually, I strolled toward this shop and when I got to the entrance, an attendant—sharply dressed and well-coiffed, overly almost, and too ‘corporate looking’ for a carpet shop attendant—slid open the doors. The heavy air-conditioning breeze that hit my heavily sweating body was enough to send me to Heaven. He stopped me at the entrance immediately and in a brusque manner, with impeccable English, asked what I was looking for after he eyed me from head to toe with offensive body language. Before I could complete a sentence, he bellowed, “We are out of stock, so try another shop.” I knew it was a lie because right there I spotted a customer getting service. My immediate conclusion was that I didn’t look ‘presentable enough in my sort of casuals, to enter a shop like theirs. So, with a mixture of anger and humiliation I turned, head bowed, and left.
A PLEASANT SURPRISE
Still feeling humiliated, I started walking away, hoping to try another shop, when a firm hand gripped my shoulder. I turned and saw this guy who had witnessed the interaction between the attendant and me. He pointed to the adjacent shop and told me to give them a try. That’s right, the shop with the beehive of activities, widely opened, which I had casually observed. With some hesitation, I moved toward it. Just as I got to the entrance of this shop, an elderly lady, informally dressed in unison with most of the attendants in the shop and not very literate, approached immediately and welcomed me with adulation in her local dialect. She held my hand, pulled me through a forest of attendants and customers to give me a seat in front of her desk. I was served some water as a welcome gesture, and at that point, I would not have been surprised if she had brought me tea and cake!
All this was a pleasant surprise when I juxtaposed it with the previous experience just a few minutes ago. For a while, I was in utter shock, but when I finally came around, I told her what I wanted. She told me to relax and not to worry because all my needs would be met. She chatted away as if we had known each other for ages. All this time I had thought this lady was probably the head of attendants. Except for her small desk and advanced age, there was hardly any difference in behavior or attitude towards anyone in the shop including the other attendants; she was just one of them. She was extremely respectful and polite to everyone. I tried hard, albeit unsuccessfully, to find any trace of falseness in her approach. She beckoned one of the attendants very politely and asked her to assist me with all I needed, and I noticed the humorous but respectful manner with which she responded. Then another customer entered. She excused herself and approached this customer in like manner.
I took the opportunity to inquire from the attendant who she was, and I learned that she was the owner of the business! WHAT??? She didn’t look it one bit; I told myself. No, not her! She didn’t exhibit the usual arrogance of the typical business owner in this part of the world. During my short transaction in her shop, every customer who came in was treated similarly by her or by the attendants with the same attitude, smiles, conversation and all. Now and then she would pause to check whether someone was serving me, and this went for each customer. I could count not less than ten customers at that point. She was supposedly an “uneducated” woman with no training or university degree in sales or marketing. Awesome! Despite all that had happened, the transaction was within a reasonable time. I got an excellent bargain and was able to rent a truck large enough to transport the enormous rolls of carpet to my destination.
Interestingly, at the point of loading the carpets into the truck in front of the shop, I saw the shock on the face of the attendants in the first shop that were, by then, having a chat in front of their shop. Clearly, there was no business. From the looks on their faces, I could tell they didn’t believe that I was buying that number of linoleum carpets. While I was stunned, albeit pleasantly, that I enjoyed ‘VIP’ treatment from a supposedly uneducated business owner, the first shop attendants were astonished that I bought that number of carpets! I strongly believe that, without wearing a suit and driving a Mercedes, they doubted that I could buy from their shop. I will not be surprised that the ‘bourgeois’ shop (as I now call it) will make less than five sales in a day. while my new favorite shop would probably make not less than ten big sales on a good day.
I do not know about your part of the world, but in my part, Ghana, the attitude of the ‘bourgeois’ shop is prevalent among many business owners and public service providers where people usually attribute lack of business success and failures to attacks by witches, wizards, or sorcerers and not poor customer service. Friends and foes alike of the owner of the second shop would secretly murmur behind her back, attributing her business success to those same sources, and, yet, the common sense in how she treated her customers was there for all to see.
Don’t get me wrong, I do not proclaim to possess a mastery of common sense, neither am I challenging the existence and influence of esotericism, but, in this instance, I know I was only ‘bewitched’ by genuine interest and charm. For me, with the enormous amount of lessons in this experience, it felt like more than just another good/bad customer service and business practice. It was also a business owner giving cheerfully during the season, so while you enjoy the holidays, find time to treat somebody right, for that’s what the season is all about. Happy Holidays!
About the author:
Michael Lamptey is a social/collaboration entrepreneur, internet marketing guide, web developer and freelance blogger.
Learn more about Michael’s hometown of Ghana:
Photo of Ghana marketplace from Pixabay free images