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Sheba Will See!!! Customer Experience & Observation

Written by  on Monday, 22 July 2013 06:00
"And when the queen of Sheba had seen the wisdom of Solomon..." – 2 Chronicles 9:3a

Every day or week, Queen Sheba walks into your offices or experiences your services directly or online for the very first time. He or she could be a new client, a regulator checking on your quality, a mystery shopper, a new boss, a recent addition to your team, or a potential client you might want to sign up. The moment that stranger sees you, his or her brain makes a thousand computations: Are you someone to approach or to avoid? Are you friendly or rude? Do you have authority? Are you trustworthy, competent, likeable or confident? All these computations are made at lightning speed. Researchers from New York University found that we make eleven major decisions about one another within the first seven seconds of meeting each other. Seven seconds! Can you imagine?

In business interactions, first impressions are crucial. While you can't stop people from making snap decisions, you can understand how to make those decisions work in your favour. First impressions are four times more likely to be influenced by nonverbal signals than by anything you say. In her article 'Seven Seconds to Make a First Impression' Carol Kinsey Goman submits that, "Every encounter, from conferences to meetings to training sessions to business lunches, presents an opportunity to meet people, network, and expand your professional contacts by making a positive first impression. You've got just seven seconds – but if you handle it well, seven seconds are all you need!"

Am I In The Right Place?
Have you ever entered a place and wondered whether you lost your way? Your customer's first question upon contact is whether he or she is in the right place. There are things that make a person feel a sense of connection. If you misjudged an invitation and walked into a poolside party formally dressed with your tuxedo and black tie, you would feel totally out of place. We entered a shop while sightseeing with friends during the 2006 World Cup in Germany and walked out almost immediately. The jewellery shop was so heavily guarded and was ostensibly the 'playground' of aristocracies. The smallest item was worth several thousands of dollars. Somehow, our tracksuits and casual sporting demeanour did not epitomise their typical customer outlook and the burly security guard made very little effort at hiding his discomfort at our presence. We chose not to waste his time and ours by overstaying our welcome.

Your organisation's positioning, prices, location, product packaging, personnel, dressing, communication and accessibility define who you are expecting. Sheba can arrive and conclude that she is in the wrong place. Contrast the following two churches and, depending on your preferences, you are likely to find that one of them appeals to you much more than the other:

Church A has a liberal, extensive and highly expressive worship experience. The entire service is conducted in vernacular and the arrangement and length varies from three to six hours depending on how wonderful things go. Members enjoy the intense spiritual atmosphere and often bask in spontaneous non-stop dancing, praise and worship for hours before closing.

Church two advertises an order of service in advance and conducts every aspect of the service with punctuality and precision based on the publicised schedule. The service is always conducted in English and any expression or song in vernacular or a foreign language is duly translated. The preacher speaks with the help of a PowerPoint presentation and the service is normally streamed live online.

Each of the two churches offers a unique worship experience. None of them is essentially better than the other but you can almost clearly profile the category of people who are likely to prefer each option. Depending on Sheba's personality, she would feel uncomfortable in one but very much at home in the other. If these two churches were to be located close to each other, a profiling of the congregational expectations and perspectives would bring up some really interesting contrasts. The same principle applies to restaurants, boutiques, cinema halls, banks and other service organisations. The physical and online set-up of your service organisation determines who your ideal customer is.

Avoid Brand Confusion
Service providers often lose sight of who exactly they are targeting with their services. You ask them who they are trying to reach with a new product or service and they respond "everyone." That is very difficult to achieve in real life and that kind of position is a reflection of ignorance about the exact target market. Avoid confusing your customers by trying to attract diametrically opposed groups with your choices and activities. Some elements of your brand positioning may suggest that your event or service is for young graduates while another aspect of your communication may seem to be tilted exclusively towards elderly widows.

We have had to reposition some of our conferences to ensure clarity and focus in the customer targeting. For example, the annual Festival of Ideas is a business conference aimed at entrepreneurs and corporate executives. After a few years of running it, we realised the number of student attendees was growing out of proportion. While they were welcome, their sheer numbers began to confuse the top executives who felt their event had been hijacked and the business networking component duly compromised. Our response was to repackage the festival and move to high profile venues suited for the original audience. We also broadened the service offering of our youth conference, Springboard, to make it more responsive and attractive to the tertiary students and young professionals who are the predominant target. When you confuse your brand positioning, you may end up losing everyone. The key to targeting is to provide "different strokes for different folks."

The Curiosity and Sensitivity of the Visitor
Sheba's curiosity makes her notice things that service providers, hosts and regular customers take for granted. Visitors and first-timers tend to be generally more sensitive and observant of every detail of the service experience. They may have heard about you and come all the way but the main objective is to "check out the real situation." The first time you go somewhere you've heard so much about, you want to capture every single moment with your camera, smartphone or tablet. You may want to relive what you perceive as a historical moment or a lifetime experience. Visitors often ask their hosts or escorts several questions in their bid to better understand everything. An exceptional service organisation must anticipate this and provide the opportunity for Sheba's questions to be answered.

Cultural Complexities
People visiting your service organisation could be from different backgrounds with varying cultural peculiarities and nuances. You may be genuinely excited about seeing them and eager to make a good impression but you could also get it wrong because of ignorance or cultural disconnection. There are variations in the protocols for greeting, communicating and exchanging gifts with people from different cultures. A hug may be appropriate in certain instances and a total taboo in others. Being aware could help you respond appropriately, especially where your business encounter or customer base is dominated by people from a particular culture. Here are a few examples of cultural nuances that you might find helpful.

It is customary when meeting someone in China to give a prolonged handshake and to nod respectfully. If you are being introduced to a group of people it is important to ensure that you shake the hand of each member of the group starting with the senior-most member, if you know who that is. It is not appropriate to touch members of the opposite sex after the initial handshake. The Chinese are generally more formal than Westerners and do not mind being addressed as Mr. Chang, Mrs. Pen or Miss Lee. When it comes to gifts, most Chinese tend to dislike sweets, chocolates, clocks or flowers. Handkerchiefs are also not seen as good gifts as they symbolise the wiping of tears of sorrow.

Indians generally greet each other and say goodbye with palms together and fingers pointing upwards as if saying prayers. It is quite appropriate for the visitor to greet an Indian colleague with a handshake or in the traditional Indian way. The latter indicates an appreciation of Indian custom. When greeting women colleagues it is not appropriate to offer to shake hands unless the woman first offers her hand. Where she does not, it is appropriate to say namaste as you hold your palms together in the Indian manner of greeting. Such a gesture will be appreciated.

The appropriate greeting in Japan is either the bow or, more recently, a handshake. Bowing is the most important of all Japanese forms of non-verbal communication. It is both an expression of respect for others and of personal humility. It is also used as a greeting and to express gratitude. In dealing with sales staff in department stores, or with waiters and cashiers, the customer merely nods in acknowledgement. In Japan, when one gives or receives a gift, it is considered humble and appreciative to use both hands. Both parties should also make an appropriate bow. Gifts are to be accepted and then placed to one side. Unless one is specifically urged to open the gift right then and there, it is polite to wait until later to open it in private.

In doing business in Saudi Arabia or with someone from the Gulf Arab states, the most common greeting is a gentle handshake. Muslim women will not usually expect to shake hands. Where a woman does not offer her hand, it is appropriate to acknowledge her by nodding.

American greetings are generally quite informal. This is not intended to show a lack of respect. Although it is expected in business situations, some Americans do not shake hands at social events. Instead, they may greet you with a casual "Hello" or "How are you?" or even just "Hi." In larger groups, many may not greet you at all. In social situations, Americans rarely shake hands upon leaving.

Keep to a reasonable distance when conversing. If an American feels you are standing too close, he or she may step back without even thinking about it. Americans prefer directness in communication. When Americans say "yes" or "no," they mean precisely that. They also tend to be uncomfortable with silence. Silence is avoided in social or business meetings. Americans do not have as many customs and taboos concerning gifts as many other cultures have. However, many companies have policies that discourage their employees from giving or receiving gifts. Most government employees are not allowed to accept gifts. Do not be offended if someone cannot accept a gift from you.

The list could go on and on. Ghanaians are generally friendly and very sociable. A typical Ghanaian business partner could warm up to you within minutes and be chatting as if you have known each other for years. There is no widespread restriction on greeting and handshakes when doing business. Ghanaians tend to have a more liberal position on corporate gifts. The giving of hampers and gifts is a widespread custom among businesses, especially during the Christmas or end-of-year season. Your awareness of some of these peculiarities and nuances could be helpful in giving your Sheba a befitting welcome and a great service experience.

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