The African way of doing business

As a general rule, I detest the over simplification of a continent with over a hundred nations, thousands of ethnic groups, and millions of cultures into a single guild with uniform precepts and perceptions as to how things operate. Yes, there are challenges faced by many states in Africa but they are better itemized as global problems, and not African defaults. Africa may have suffered a historical set back due to events of history, but today, there are no notable challenges faced by countries in Africa that are not faced in other countries of Asia, South America or other continents of the world. Like any problem, the matter should be tackled from its origin, and not a broad intrusion of its environs.

That being said, the diversity of the African continent has not precluded the region from sharing certain positive attributes that span the length of the continent. Be it in a tea shop in Casablanca, a shisha joint in Cairo or a suya stand in Kano, there is one spirit that rests strong on any business transaction conducted therein.

It is a spirit of selfless consideration of the desires of the customer. It is a spirit that not only puts the customer first, but treats him as the only customer.

It is a spirit that far supersedes customer satisfaction. It is the spirit of customer appreciation.

Shortly into the first semester at my stay at the University of Lagos, I went shopping for my law textbooks for the year. Being new to town and on a tight budget, I was rather skeptical about purchasing books in the first place. However upon entering into a bookstore, the shopkeeper read me like a book. Without me saying much, he congratulated me on my University admission, asked me my course of study and swiftly began to recommend textbooks. He took a look at my list, told me which books I should not bother purchasing due to the steep prices and gave me much cheaper but easier to understand replacements. At the end of the ordeal, not only was I feeling that I had achieved a lot more than I had bargained for, I also felt that I had made a friend. He responded with the same degree of kindness.

In my travels to Egypt, I remember similar treatment at a roadside tea shop. The funny thing was, I didn’t even stop for tea, I just stood under the canopy, trying to wait out the scorching sun (if you have been to North Africa, you will probably know what I mean) until a friend arrived. The proprietor of the shop however beckoned over to me and asked me to have a seat in the shop. I told him I was not purchasing anything but he told me it was immaterial, unless I was planning to burn under the sun. Sitting down and talking to other men in the shop about Nigerian football stars like Amokachi, Kanu and Okocha, it was hilarious to see that I was into my third drink. By the time I left, even though I paid myself, I still left feeling that I had partook of a great kindness.

‘Til I left, the shop was a regular stop for me to wait out the sun.

Big firms always run the risk of offering impersonal customer service. Little or no individual attention is paid to a customer, without a generous bill. The power to do such rests stronger within the purview of small and medium enterprises. Unfortunately, many firms have failed to tap into it.

In a time where every sector seems to be characterized by cut-throat competition, this may just be the key factor your firm will need to employ to ensure the loyalty of your customers.

Africa may be a continent, but it is perceived as a country. Your business may be an organization offering products and or services, but it should be perceived as a string of relationships; one friend helping another.

That is the African way of doing business.

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