Groundnuts

Thursday, 13 May 2010

by Silumesii Maboshe

I love groundnuts. On my twenty-ninth birthday, everyone at work pitched in to buy me twenty-nine packets of roasted groundnuts. A heavenly birthday present and a wonderful surprise!

I love good customer service. It is a welcome experience any time an individual or a company under-promises and over-delivers. Instances when that happen are like finding buried treasure.

Imagine my sheer delight to have a great customer service experience when buying groundnuts.

Street-wise

Behind the Protea Hotel at Arcades Shopping Center in Lusaka are a number of street-vendors. They are a dedicated, consistent and lively bunch. I doubt that they have work schedules but every Sunday on my way back from church, I see them without fail. That’s right, I said Sunday.

This season is groundnut and sweet-potato season and they wash and lay their fresh wares out in the warm sun to dry. Last Sunday, I walked up to their “shop” and was greeted warmly. I asked for K10,000.00 worth of nuts and was given that and a lavish mbasela without even asking. On paying, I had K50,000.00 on hand for which my generous shop owner did not have change. Instead, she politely asked me to take the nuts and come back with the change on my way back from wherever I was going. I tried to insist that I leave the merchandise and return with the correct change but she was firm.

Impressed, I went about my grocery shopping for the day and returned about an hour later with K10,000.00 in hand. She was appreciative and the business transaction was done.

Book-wise

It is likely that my groundnut vendor has never been to school. Where, then, did she get the insight to be so adept with her business?

In Zambia, school produces some of the most sour customer service people I know. They seem to answer phones and greet customers with preemptive disdain even with regulars. The groundnut buying experience was quite the opposite. I was treated as a friend and not a hostile stranger. I was meant to feel trust-worthy and that the transaction was about me getting what I wanted, not about them getting their money.

What are books doing wrong that the streets are doing right?

Money-wise

Perhaps, the difference is ownership. Owning a business and being employed by one are very different things.

An employee may feel a sense of comfort about the fact that despite poor service they will get a monthly salary. They may even feel entitled to it because of their education.

A business owner, on the other hand, knows that their own money is at risk with every customer that comes in.

In basic terms, money is a stake and the person with the higher risk at stake will be more motivated to provide good service. However, even by this standard, our groundnut vendor went over and above the call of duty. Will I shop there again? Of course. In fact, I’ll do one better and ask you to support their business too.