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« Ozodi Osuji Lectures #19: Nigeria and the Business World | Main | Ozodi Osuji Lectures #20: Training for Leadership in Nigeria »

October 25, 2005

Ozodi Osuji Lectures #19: Nigeria and the Business World (Continued)

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) ---The on-going function of personnel mangers involves recruiting applicants for vacant positions (from either inside the organization or from outside it), and with line managers, interviewing and selecting some of these, and training them. Generally, line supervisors perform actual job evaluations on employees, but the personnel department keeps records of such evaluations on employees.

The personnel office, with the accounting office, manages the business’s benefits plans, such as health and dental insurance, disability insurance, life insurance, and retirement plans.

In the past, the business owner simply hired whomever he liked and fired whomever he did not like. Whereas this may still be much of what happens in the real world, large businesses now have to grapple with the slew of government regulations regarding proper personnel practices, including laws against discrimination. In the USA, infinite laws have been passed to discourage discrimination based on race and gender, and personnel departments are supposed to make sure that these laws are enforced. But the reality of the land is that whoever wants to discriminate does so and uses these laws to cover their tracks.

Consider affirmative action laws and American universities. From the outset, they decide to hire a white candidate. They would then go through a charade of inviting minority candidates for interviews. After this silliness, they decide that these minority candidates are not qualified, and hire the white candidate they always wanted to hire. They would provide tons of paperwork to the federal government, showing how they made efforts to recruit minorities but could not find qualified ones, hence, justifying the white person they hired. Then they pretend to sleep well, assured that their tracks are covered. They get on soapboxes and talk about how they are doing their best to end racial discrimination. These fools are so self-deceived that, they do not know that they do not deceive other persons. When the house of cards they have built collapses, they would be surprised that it did so. Any way, the point is that personnel offices are supposed to make sure that labor laws are implemented in businesses.

Personnel departments orient new employees to what is expected of them, train and develop them to do their jobs well, manage wages and compensation (including bonuses, profit sharing, merit plans, seniority plans, employee stock ownership plans), employee benefits, insurance plans, pension plans, implement guidelines to follow laws regarding worker safety and health on the job, promotion and separation from employment, etc.


Until the twentieth century, capitalist economic theory assumed that it was up to the business to treat labor as it wished, pay whatever it wanted, and sack those who did not prove amenable to control. Most businesses did not pay attention to working conditions. Utopian socialists like Robert Owen, Charles Fourier, Joseph Proudhon, Karl Marx and Frederick Engel pointed out the exploitative relationship between business and labor during the primitive phase of the industrial revolution.

It was not unusual to work people for sixteen hours and pay them a pittance. Indeed, children as young as twelve years old were worked in factories and mines, until they dropped dead from exhaustion. It was not considered society’s function to protect these children and their equally poor parents, laboring like wage slaves in the factories of Manchester and Birmingham, England.

Human beings are predatory animals and given the opportunity, would enslave their fellow human beings and/or exploit them for their own benefits. It is simply naïve and utopian to assume that man is naturally good. In his ego state man is evil. His history is a record of exploiting and killing his own kind.

Socialists did an excellent job pointing out man’s exploitation of man. Where they made a mistake is in thinking that a socialist utopia would end such exploitation. Their communist’s heavens turned out the worst type of hell on earth. Russia and China were not much better than slave societies, with communist leaders the new slave masters, the emperors using the masses as their slaves to accomplish their self-serving goals.

The more realistic Anglo-Saxon specie of human beings discarded the rubbish of communism, and did what they could to ameliorate man’s inhumanity to man, through labor laws, without the illusion that all exploitation could be eradicated. (As we write, Western businesses are exploiting third world workers…the peons of South America pick coffee seeds from coffee plants but earn so miserable an income that they can not even afford to buy coffee.)

We have no illusions about man: he is a criminal by nature; he violated the law of union to be in separation, and has to be closely monitored lest his lack of social conscience comes to the fore. (Imagine the rich in New York living in mansions bought with several million dollars, while some of their fellow human beings live like rats on the streets of New York.) Now do not get sentimental on us, for if you aim at redressing the situation with governmental laws, you give bureaucrats a lot of power to decide what businesses do; bureaucrats are the worst type of oppressors, they are cowardly by nature and like cowards derive a childish sense of power from implementing senseless laws…. they are generally sadists and ought not be permitted to govern society. We can tolerate the narcissism of the courageous politician, but the fear-driven bureaucrat is a miserable vermin that ought to be treated as such.

Laws have been passed to govern business-labor relationships. These laws have not made the work place a heaven, but generally have improved working conditions. It is doubtful that working conditions would be ideal, whatever that is. This is so because management and labor have conflicting aims.

Management (the paid foremen of the owners of big business, if you like, the working rich, used to control the working poor) aims at making profit for their employers, the stockowners. If management does not make profits, return reasonable dividends to shareholders, they are out of jobs. Therefore they must seek ways to cut costs, including exploiting labor and material. If they could get away with it, some would rather not pay workers any wages at all or pay them the lowest wages possible, and just use employees to make money for their bosses.

Labor, on the other hand, would rather not work but be given the means of their daily bread. McGregor may say whatever he wants about Theory Y, the fact is that if the average worker could help it, he would rather not get up in the morning and go slave for eight or more hours for his daily bread. The exception here would be the person doing the work they love and are passionate about, especially if they can express themselves being creative.

Man must work for his daily bread, so the adult person reconciles himself to the inevitability of work, but many want to work as little as they can get away with. Would it not be nice to work for only four hours during the day and during the rest of the time read poetry and soak in the sun at tropical beaches? (This is the vision of Karl Marx for workers, and only God knows who would produce what those aristocrats would be expending, slaves in third world countries? Marx was a racist and did not even think that non-Europeans were human beings. It baffles the mind why Africans and Asians call themselves Marx’s followers, when clearly he had no respect for them. Indeed, he had no respect for Russians and did not expect them to lead the communist revolution; he centered his hope on Britain, his idea of a civilized land.)

The labor, that we as managers have managed, is composed of people wanting to work as little as is possible and be paid as much as is possible. This is not an academic write up but derived from actual observation of people at work. Because of the difference between management and labor, there must be conflict between them. It is therefore necessary to have labor laws to guide the relationship of the two.

Given the exploitative nature of man, in general, and in particular business owners and their lackeys, management, (the writer has been in top management, chief executive officer, hence, a lackey of the owners of wealth), laborers formed labor unions to protect themselves, and this is as it should be. The abused have a right to seek ways to prevent people from abusing them.

There are several types of labor unions, including industrial unions, craftsmen unions, professional unions and public employee unions.

Industrial unions tend to include all workers in a particular industry, like railways; whereas craftsmen unions tend to include only those possessing certain trades, such as electricians, plumbers, bricklayers; and professional unions, such as healthcare providers.

The function of unions is twofold: one, to lobby legislatures to pass laws that protect workers, and two, to negotiate with management to have rules specified in contracts governing the relationships between management and labor. These contracts specify working conditions, wages, conditions of hiring and firing workers, etc.

Where labor unions exist, it is generally difficult to fire workers, as they run to their union representative to protect them. This way inefficient labor is kept. Try to sack one government lazy bum, and it would take twenty years to do so. Clearly we need unions, but sometimes their power gets distorted out of portion. It is also obvious that where they are too powerful, productivity takes a back seat. Unions have evolved extensively from their original intent of fair wages for fair work, and themselves have created big businesses, with divisions and problem within their own ranks. Balancing the need for productivity and employee benefits is an on-going struggle.

The process of forming unions is that a group of employees desire a union, and contacts the Labor Relations Board to come and conduct an election within their work place, to see whether enough workers support unionization. If a substantial number of the employees vote for union, a union is certified for them. This certification by the labor relations board makes sure that labor is legally recognized to form a collective bargaining union, to bargain with management for their rights concerning working conditions, wages and benefits, and that management does not prevent the union from existing.

The union elects its officers and the officers form a bargaining unit to negotiate with management, the result is a contract that both agree on. (Workers generally vote on the contract negotiated for them by their union leaders before accepting them.) The bargaining must be done in good faith. If there is a deadlock and both parties cannot agree on a contract, often they agree to seek a mediator. The mediator is given the power to conciliate the differences between the two positions and both accept his recommendation. When that fails, they may seek a government arbitrator; the arbitrator’s recommendation is usually binding and final. There is voluntary arbitration and compulsory arbitration. Where management and labor fails, the government may step in and both parties must accept the government’s arbitration recommendations.

Collective agreements aim at providing workers employment security, to prevent arbitrary firing by requiring that certain procedures be followed before letting go of a worker, who must be represented by his union representative; setting down wages and benefit packets, hours of work (usually eight hours a day or forty hours a week, with anything above that considered overtime to be paid at rate and half), and promotion procedures. These contracts also lay down grievance procedures, ways workers go about seeking redress of whatever grievance they have against their bosses.

When all else fails, workers can always go on strike. Here workers walk off their jobs and picket the premises of their employer, and attempt to prevent him from hiring replacement workers (scabs).

Employers can play their own last card, seek a legal injunction to prevent striking, or work with other employers to lobby government to prevent strikes and/or negotiate industry wide working conditions, conditions that may not be good for specific situations.


No country is able to produce everything its peoples need to sustain themselves. And even if it were possible for a country to produce everything it needs for its survival, in the nature of economics, some other countries are able to produce certain things more efficiently and cost effectively. The same as it is able to do certain things better than other countries.

Given the realities of scarce resources and other economic factors, countries engage in international trade, selling goods and services to other countries and buying from them. Each country exports its goods and services to other countries, and imports other goods and services from them.

Each country has its principal trading partners, those countries from whom it imports most of its goods and services, and to whom it sells its goods and services. Oil producing countries like the Middle Eastern countries, for example, sell most of their oil to Western Europe and North America, and with the money they make from so doing, buy manufactured goods from them.

In an ideal situation, each country ought to be selling those goods it produces more efficiently to others, and buying from them, those goods they produce more efficiently. This way each country does best what it is able to do best, and buys from others what they do best; the result would be efficient utilization of the world’s resources. Goods and services would be sold cheaply.

Unfortunately, there are political realities that interfere with the free flow of goods and services across borders. Politics and the pursuit of national interests dispose countries to produce goods they deem in their national interest, even if allowing other countries to do so would have been more efficient and cost effective, thereby being able to buy and have them at a lower price. Consider iron and steel, for example. Iron is critical for most countries armament industries. In times of war, a country that cannot produce iron and steel is at a disadvantage, since its enemies would be able to out produce weapons and defeat it at war. Thus, whereas it might be cheaper to permit other countries to produce iron and steel, and sell it to them, many countries feel very vulnerable doing so. Therefore, they ignore the high cost of producing and selling iron and steel, and do so any way, so as to augment their countries strength.

Countries restrict the flow of goods and services into them and going outside them. They do so through laws that create barriers to international trade. For example, a country that wants to develop certain industries might discourage the importation of the goods produced by such industries, in other parts of the world. By discouraging them from selling their goods in it, it is able to encourage its own infant industry to produce those goods and sell them without the stifling competition of perhaps better-made goods from other countries.

Countries use high tariffs and other import and export taxes, to restrict the flow of goods and services into them. Some of them impose strict quotas on how much of certain goods can be imported into them, others embargo the export of certain goods to some countries (usually as a means of political punishment for a regime ruling a country).

Some countries encourage their producers to dump their goods in others …sell them at prices below production costs so as to gain market advantage in them and destroy their competitors, hence, dominate that market.

Those countries that have a sort of monopoly over the production of certain goods, often band to form a cartel, and through it, control the production of the goods and control the forces of supply, creating a guarantee of higher prices for their goods. The oil producing and exporting countries, OPEC, for example, regularly fix the quantity of oil they produce, and that way influence the supply of oil and its price in the world market.

Clearly, in pursuit of national advantages, countries try to interfere with the free flow of goods and services across their borders. These interferences to trade often lead to difficulties in international politics. Indeed they have been known to lead to war, as manufacturers in one country, who cannot sell their goods to other counties, where doing so they would make profit, encourage their nations to go to war with those countries banning the free flow of goods and services, so as to defeat them and open up their markets to their goods and services, hence, make profits. Therefore, to avert trade wars the international community formed the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT). The World Trade Organization was recently set up to monitor compliance with GATT agreements.

Essentially, GATT attempts to get countries to not discourage trading between them due to imposing unreasonably high tariffs (taxes on goods coming into them). WTO not only monitors tariffs but discourages countries from subsidizing their industries; subsidies that enable them to produce certain goods cheaply, hence, have lower prices in the international market place, and thereby gain an unfair advantage over their rival producers in other countries. The organization also monitors such illegal economic activities as dumping, the protection of intellectual properties (that is, getting countries to respect copyright and patent laws, hence, not produce and sell goods and services copyrighted and/or patented by others, without paying them money). The organization generally acts as a mechanism for dispute resolution between countries. If country ‘A’ believes that country ‘B’ is doing something to gain unfair economic advantage in trade, it takes its case to the world trading body asking that it rule against the culprit, fine it and discourage it from doing whatever it was doing; And failing to desist from such practices, the country would risk trade embargos and other punitive actions taken by the United Nation’s Security Council.

The various regions of the world have formed their own trading organizations to encourage free flow of trade in them. The European Union, for example, has all sorts of laws governing trading among member nations, including those that encourage free flow of goods and services among them, without tariffs and other custom duties. In North America, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) seeks to open the borders between Canada, USA and Mexico to trading without undue taxes at the borders. In Asia, the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) seeks to do the same for its members. In Africa such organizations as ECOWA seek to accomplish similar goals for its members.

Countries, like individuals, would like to make profits from their economic activities. They would like to sell more goods and services to others, than they buy from them, so as to have favorable balance of trades.

A country has a favorable balance of trade when its businesses sell more goods to other countries, than they import from them. If a country imports more goods and services from others, it is sending more money to them than it is receiving from them, hence, has a disadvantage in trade.

Balance of trade issues affect countries’ rates of currencies. A country with an unfavorable trade balance tends to find its currency trading, at lower exchange rates than others, in the international market for currency exchange. (Currency exchange is the value of each currency vis-a-vis others, how much other countries are willing to pay for it in their own currencies).

The world’s economic health largely depends on the free flow of goods and services across borders. Therefore, the various countries constituting the world trade organization seek to encourage the free flow of goods and services into them. Some countries clearly have a disadvantage in this regard, and find themselves unable to compete with those who can produce and market goods and services more efficiently. Thus, we have countries that are chronically poor.

Certain organizations, like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) play ameliorative roles here. The World Bank lends long-term loans to struggling countries; the IMF lends short-term loans to struggling countries to meet their obligations.

Both the World Bank and IMF are head quartered at Washington DC, USA. They have been accused of being the instrument for economic control of third world countries by the economic giant of our time, the USA.

Many third world countries are owing these organizations so much money that practically all their current revenues go into paying interests on their debt, leaving them little or nothing else to finance current expenditures. Many of these countries are so poor and broke, that it is doubtful that they would be able to pay off the capital sums they borrowed.

Many people are calling for these loans to third world countries to be forgiven, if we are to extricate them from their vicious cycle of poverty.

The World Bank and IMF were originally formed to help prevent the capitalist economic and business cycles, the tendency for economies to go through periods of economic boom followed by periods of depression. The idea was to make money available to countries undergoing recessions and depressions, to stimulate their economies so as to prevent world wide economic downturns.

In 1944, delegates from forty-four countries met at a town in New Hampshire called Bretton Woods, to form both the World Bank and the IMF. Member nations were to contribute funds to these organizations, with which they were to lend to those countries experiencing economic difficulties (and wanting to engage in certain capital developments that they do not have the funds to pay for) and pay interests on their borrowings.

The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) is primarily responsible for financing development projects.

Clearly these organizations play key roles in the world of international finance and economic development. They not only stabilize the world’s economy but also affect whether third world countries are able to develop or not develop. They are thus not only economic institutions but political ones, hence, to be monitored carefully least they become instruments of control of the weaker countries by the more powerful ones.

The other key actors in international trade are multinational corporations (MNC). These are businesses that operate across national borders. They may have manufacturing concerns in different countries and/or sell their goods and services in different countries. IBM (International Business Machines), for example, is an American business that produces computers and other business machines. It sells these machines in practically every country in the world. Its revenues thus come from its worldwide operations. It is therefore a very powerful economic player in world business. Its annual revenue is in fact larger than the revenue of many African countries, and in the nature of things, it has clout over them.

Multinational corporations obviously bring needed goods and services to third world countries; they also provide missing technical expertise in developing countries. General Motors selling its cars in Africa, for example, is helping to provide the means of transportation that enables that continent to develop itself. On the other hand, some of these MNCs are so powerful that they have been accused of undermining economic development in third world countries. Those Latin American countries that got it into their heads to go socialistic have been known to be perceived as threats by American businesses, and that the latter worked with their country’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to remove them from office.

America apparently believes that it has a right to engage in regime change in weak countries. Might, it believes, makes right, and such is the nature of international politics. The so-called international laws do not prevent the powerful riding roughshod over weaker countries.


Clearly many multinational corporations are so powerful that they can and do exploit third world countries. Indeed, they also exploit people in the so-called developed countries. Therefore, there is a movement afoot to make business more socially responsible, to get it to engage in proactive socially serving behaviors. This is as it should be, but we must make sure that some unproductive but power hungry bureaucrat is not allowed to define what constitutes responsible behavior, and impose his madness on the activities of businesses responsible for producing wealth for society.

It is right that business’ decisions take into consideration the consequences of its actions on society, but it is not the role of business to engage in social and political engineering; a practice that decides what is appropriate social behavior and then enforces it on society. The primary function of business is to seek out business opportunities, produce goods and services it thinks there is a market for, sell them and make profits.

It is for the people to choose what they buy with their money, and in so doing, decide what businesses they permit to survive. That is to say that it is the forces of the market, supply and demand, that ought to decide what businesses thrive not some government committee making decisions on which business is responsible and which is not. Given the opportunity, the little fellows in government offices would over regulate business and kill the golden goose that lays the eggs, that produces the wealth that pays for their existence.

Nevertheless, businesses, like individuals, ought to have clarity as to what is moral and ethical behavior and seek to engage in them. Morality is accepted social behavior in society, and ethics is the behavior deemed right or wrong by individuals. Business ethics ought to reflect what society, in general, deems right or wrong. For example, should businesses build their manufacturing plants in India where they exploit lack of child labor laws, and employ children as young as twelve in manufacturing, paying them stipends, that is barely enough to feed them? Obviously it makes economic sense to locate factories where labor is cheaper, thereby reducing production costs, and then sending the manufactured goods to markets where profits are made. Still, employing children to do work that adults ought to be doing is reprehensible.

All children ought to be at school until at least age twenty-one (until they complete elementary, secondary, technical and/or university education) before they enter the labor market. Having said this, it would be idiotic to expect manufacturers not to take advantage of the low labor costs in developing countries, and set their factories there. They at least provide jobs for the starving masses of third world countries and also help produce persons with needed technical expertise in them. But this practice needs to have some consideration for humanity, that is, a conscience.

The bleeding hearted liberal must be checked least his sometimes irrational desire for utopia leads to passing laws that adversely affect businesses. It is true that we must make sure that manufacturers do not exploit labor or pollute the environment, but insistence on purity in everything leads to closing manufacturing plants and throwing people out of work. We certainly do not need these plants contributing to global warming and acid rain that destroys forests, but at the same time, we need these plants to produce needed goods for our survival. Modifications and changes are necessary.

The most rational thing to do is to research, and come up with environmentally friendly ways of manufacturing goods we need for survival; in the meantime keep our older manufacturing plants, but adjust and modify them until we find their replacements. But to shut down a plant because some misguided environmentalists’ demand it, is uneconomic decision. The Kyoto Protocol, for example, is a good idea but if it leads to lack of economic activities we ought to revise it and make its implementation contingent on finding replacements for our current plants.

There are areas where business’ social responsibility is not a question but a must. Discrimination is one such area. Traditionally, American businesses discriminated against non-Caucasian persons. Obviously this practice must stop. The only criterion for hiring some one for a job must be: can he or she perform that job satisfactorily, not race and/or gender issues.

It is no longer economic to practice racial discrimination. In a world with a substantial part of it composed of non-Caucasians, continuing discrimination against them will cause unaccepted consequences for Caucasians. Race war is always a possibility and its consequences would be devastating for all mankind.

Management philosophy ought to accept the idea of treating every person equally. Failure to do so, politicians and their lackeys, bureaucrats, are always hovering in the corner, ready to pass laws that restrain business activities. Businesses must therefore voluntarily audit themselves, so as to avoid government audits of their behaviors, to make sure that they are not discriminatory and/or lacking in other ethical and moral behaviors.


Businesses exist to produce and sell goods and/or services. Those goods and services, in a capitalist economy, the best type of economy we know of, must be bought by customers for the business to make profit, hence, stay in business. No sales, no existence for businesses.

The customer is the god of businesses for they sustain businesses, and without them businesses would not exist. If realistically, customers foster businesses, and businesses want to survive, it follows that they must study what customers want and then strive to meet these wants. They should strive to maintain the loyalty of customers, who would then repeat buying their goods. Satisfied customers are more likely to recommend a business’ products to others who become potential customers, hence, generate business and profitability. Losing customers therefore, is expensive to businesses. Businesses that want to be afloat must cultivate excellent service skills to satisfy their customers. It costs approximately seven to ten times more to attract new customers, than it costs to satisfy, service and keep existing ones.

A business must recognize that its customers are its partners, and treat them as such with the respect they deserve. They have to get customers to trust their products as good and worthwhile, and their customer service as second to none. When customers believe that businesses look after their interests and talk to them with compassion and respect, they are likely to go to bat for them. But treat customers as if they do not matter and you alienate them, and they take their business, their buying power to other businesses.

Getting and keeping customers is an art in itself. It is not just the product that plays a role here, but also how customers perceive the personnel of the business.

The loss of one customer alone may cost the business a lot of sales’ revenue and affect its bottom line. Therefore, businesses must strive to keep their customers for life. This entails always striving to study what they consider satisfactory service, at any point in time, and doing what can be done to meet their needs.

Only customer satisfaction creates customer loyalty, which the business needs to be in business. In a capitalist business world, where many producers can enter the production market, at any point in time, and produce the goods and services a particular business is producing and perhaps do so more efficiently, hence, lower the price of the goods, the quality of customer service makes all the difference as to sales, hence, who stays in the business.

Businesses must study what brings the customer to buy their goods and services, as well as, what turns them off. Customers are human beings and have their ideas of what they do not like in those selling the goods and services they want to buy, so listen to them. Do not assume that you know what customers do not like, go find out, ask them through interviews and opinion surveys.

Generally, customers detest rude and indifferent sellers of the goods and services they are buying. They do not like to be kept waiting too long before they are served. They do not like poor quality work. They do not like shoddy products that they have to return, even if it means getting their money back. They do not like to be kept on hold when they call. They do not like dealing with service employees who do not seem to know what they are doing, they admire knowledgeable persons. They do not like employees talking to them as if they are not important, and do not like high-pressure sales personnel.

Customers, as a general rule, want to be made welcomed by the companies they are doing business with. They want to be greeted and smiled at; they do not want to be ignored when they are waiting to be served, they do not like employees who seem dirty and unprofessional in appearance.

Customers are likely to become loyal to a business, when they believe that the business makes quality of service to them, its number one priority. Essentially, human beings want to feel important and special; and when they feel like they are treated as if they are nobodies, they do not like it and if they can help it, will take their business elsewhere. Interestingly, this is more so when businesses are dealing with poor customers.

The poor already feel like they have no worth in society and detest it when they are reminded of their social insignificance by the businesses they patronize. The poor like to be treated as if they are princes. The poor are not so much impressed by the quality of the products they are buying, as the upper middle class is, but by how important they are made to feel.

Businesses can find out how customers want to be served by conducting focus groups where customers are invited, even paid, and asked to participate in discussions on how they would like to be served, then training their employees to serve them in that manner. They can also listen to customer feelings by including feedback cards with their purchases, requesting comments on how they would were treated and how they like to be served.

In the nature of things, most people suffer in silence. Many customers feel it not worth their while to complain about the poor treatment they received from a business; if they can help it, they vote with their feet and their mouths. But occasionally a few customers come forward and complain, some rather vociferously. These vocal complainers are barometers of the silent majority that do not complain, and must therefore, be listened to carefully. Instead of being put off by their sometimes rude and accusatory statements, they should be looked at as a godsend, telling the business how the public perceives it. This becomes an opportunity to know what the problem is and address it. Responding to the customers’ complaints becomes an opportunity to win their loyalty.

The customer must be made to feel like he is understood and that his problem or displeasure is appreciated by the business, rather than be cavalierly dismissed as the voice of a disgruntled customer. Even if the specific customer is a chronic complainer, as some of them are, and complains to just about any one who would listen to them, in business or in their private lives, there is always a reason for his complaining. Perhaps no one has ever genuinely paid attention or made him feel important in his life? If so, making him feel important and calmed down, becomes a means of training staff to respect customers, even the irritable and demanding ones who are seeking attention for their egos.

“I don’t get no respect and dignified treatment” is the typical complainer’s view of those who serve him, so give him what he craves, respect and dignity, and gain his loyalty.

Where possible, chronic complainers ought to be written to and thanked for bringing problems to the attention of management, and told how those problems are being dealt with. Written feedbacks as to how their issues are handled, makes them feel important and appreciated.

The customer must be given the feedback that the business is doing all it can to address and resolve his problem, or else he feels discounted and rebels. Where necessary, apologize to him and atone for the staffs’ sin of not treating him as the very important person he wants to be.

After resolving a particular customer’s complain, it should be processed, to see whether it could have been handled differently, better. If it was well done, it could become a model way for treating irate customers and used to train employees.

We admire assertive persons in social life, and there is no reason why assertive customers should be treated any differently. Even if they are aggressive, they still need to be responded to. Aggressive and passive persons are often acting out of fear. Fear makes some cower in dependent passivity, and makes others act out in pretentious bravados.

Love and respect is always the opposite of fear. Love is the cure for fear. Love the fearful person and you reduce his fearfulness and defensiveness.

The angry, hence, fearful customer is calmed down with a few kind words that really make him feel loved and respected. This is not manipulation, but being realistic to human nature.

The best customer service policy is always to exceed customers’ expectations. Find out what the customer wants and exceed it, and you obtain his repeat business. Customer expectations, like everything else in life, are dynamic and always changing. Businesses must continually seek ways to understand them and respond to them. Stay close to your customers and you would learn what they want from you, and meet and/or exceed their expectation. An aloof business is soon not in business. Nothing irritates people more than workers that seem aloof in relating to them. Every customer wants personalized treatment and resents been treated as if he is a number, a machine.

Do not assume that customers understand and appreciate your good intentions towards them; show them behaviorally so they can see that you value their business. Action speaks louder than words, so telling customers how well you care for them would not help you much; what matters is your actual behavior towards them. Did you listen to them, did you do so respectfully, and did you provide the answers they were asking for? Maintain a positive attitude to customers and they sense it, present a negative attitude to customers and they also notice it and resent it.

Good customer service is not to be left only to front line staff that deal with customers, but must be practiced by every one in the business, from the lowest employee on the totem pole to the supervisors and top management.

Good customer service must become a philosophy that permeates the entire business and become its culture so that customers stepping into the premise of the business, or listening to its employees on the phone, feel a sense of quality service everywhere. Nothing pleases the complaining customer more than to go get the boss to listen to him and address his problem. He feels special, if the chief executive officer listens to him, indeed one of the reasons why he is complaining in the first place, is that none of the big cheese listens to him, hence, makes him feel like he is a somebody. Being talked to by the boss makes him feel that he is a somebody, so make him feel like a somebody and gain his loyalty and money. You have nothing to lose by serving him right, and everything to lose by not serving him right, his money.

Praise but do not ever criticize the customer. People do not like to be criticized, it makes them feel belittled which nobody likes; so listen to them and hear them out, praise them for speaking out for their interests, and promise to do your best by looking into their complaints and addressing them, if necessary, in writing, with a promise not to permit it to fester and repeat itself. That way the complainer feels like he protected other customers and his ego is stroked.

Apply the insights of total quality management. TQM teaches the importance of customers and finding out what they want on an on-going basis, gearing one’s services to meet them if one wants to be in business. TQM wants customers to be involved in making every aspect of the business’ decisions, even top management decisions. This does not necessarily mean having the physical presence of customers in the boardroom, but that adequate effort is made to understand their desires and to incorporate them in making decisions, regarding the business’ behavior, certainly with regards to product design and service delivery.

TQM not only recognizes customer input in decision-making, but employees input. Essentially, every part of the business is to treat other employees as their customers, and take their input into consideration in its decisions and activities. In sum, TQM is a useful tool for good business-customer relations, employee-employee relations, gathering statistics and data to continually improve the quality of the business’ products and services.

Management is filled with fads and there is no doubt that aspects of TQM are faddish. Nevertheless, it is a win-win situation (for business and customers) if the philosophy of total quality service is adopted by every business organization.

Much of the relationship between customers and businesses is conducted over the phone, and increasingly through the electronic media, like email and e-commerce. It is therefore critical that those who pick up the phone when customers call, be trained in good telephone manners. The voice at the business end of the phone call, may determine whether the customer buys from it or takes his business elsewhere. Rude telephone operators put off customers.

Telephone courtesy can be taught and learned; it ought to be taught to and learned by anyone who answers the telephone when customers call. This is even more so, for those who handle customer complaints. Good telephone attitude generally emanates from a positive attitude towards people in general.

Those with a cheery temperament tend to be more suited to callers registering complaints, and ought to be particularly the choice for such jobs. Answer the phone promptly and speak in a respectful manner, letting the customer understand that you are there to serve him, and that he is not a bother that you would rather not listen to. The worst thing that you could do is to hang up on an irate customer; if you do so, you make him angrier and lose his business (if not your job, for he might complain to your boss and demand that you be fired, if only to spite his injured vanity). If messages need to be taken do so cheerfully.

In the era of Email, follow good letter writing suggestions. Your letter must have an introduction, a body and a conclusion. It must be succinct and written in correct Standard English, or whatever language it is written in. Customers are often put off by grammatical mistakes in the email and other forms of communication they receive from businesses. “My God, if they cannot even write in correct English, how can you rely on them to do well in what they say they are doing?”

English grammar is something that many persons, including writers, find difficult to master. All that can be said about the matter is that whoever writes a letter ought to take time to find out whether what he wrote is grammatically correct, before mailing it. He should employ computer spell and grammar checks, of course, but must not rely solely on them since they often make mistakes.

Whatever is placed on the businesses website ought to be edited by a person who understands grammar and syntax before being placed there. Some customers are put off by even typographical errors in the material they read. It is better to win a customer if paying a good editor enables one to do so.

It is always a good idea to write thank you letters to customers. Such letters get them to be loyal to the business, to feel as if they have been paid personal attention and being valued.

Of course, it is critical that occasionally businesses share information with their customers, by providing them with written information on what is going on in their business world and information about their products.

Publications in local newspapers and classified advertisements are good ways of getting the business to the public’s attention. A business with a good write up in a newspaper is more than likely to have a few additional sales because of the goodwill created by the publicity. Placing news releases every now and then, on the business’ products and whatever improvements have been made in them, and the awards and recognition they received from authoritative organizations and/or persons, is a sales tool for generating demand for the business’ products and/or services.

In the final analysis, businesses deal with customers, and marketing deals with understanding what customers want and getting their businesses to satisfy these desires. People generally desire personalized, one-to-one service, and whatever efforts are made to meet that need tends to secure their business and loyalty.

Relationship marketing is the only way to survive the competitive markets of the future.

Market share is gained when customers come to believe that a particular business pays attention to their needs, in addition to selling the best product in their market.

Good businesses often send Christmas cards to their customers; some are even known to send gifts to their best clients.

The future belongs to e-commerce so businesses must find ways to break into this market. Internet shopping is increasing in leaps and bounds. Essentially, this entails setting up a home page for the business and publicizing the web address, so that people could tap into them to order goods and services sold by the business. Moreover, people seeking information on the products, prices and services of the business, could visit the page to obtain such information about them.

Virtual shopping is in the air. Here a customer uses his computer to zoom into a shopping center and walk himself through the aisles as he would if he were inside a store and picking the goods he wants, except that this time he does it with the click of his mouse. When he is done shopping, he sends the information to the shop personnel and within a few hours they deliver his groceries to him at home. This line of virtual reality shopping is going to make shopping a lot easier, especially for those who do not like to go to stores.

There are many other avenues to exploit the electronic revolution, known and still unknown. Businesses must keep abreast with what is happening in the information superhighway, and take advantage of its wonderful developments to sell more goods and services, hence, make profits.

In the end good customer service means figuring out how the customer wants to be served and doing exactly that. Businesses exist to sell what customers desire, not what the business owners and their employees want. You either provide to buyers what they want and how they want it, or you are not in business in the free enterprise economy, you are out of business. In the so-called socialist and communist economic systems, the employees were so sullen and uncaring in serving the customers of their already shoddy goods and services, that as soon as those dinosaurs of economic systems collapsed these businesses went under and their employees were unemployed. Those who could find work had to be retrained, to become customer friendly, so as to sell goods and services, make profits and stay in business.

Continued from "Ozodi Osuji Lectures #19: Nigeria and the Business World"

Next lecture, #20, Training for Leadership, October 23

Posted by Administrator at October 25, 2005 12:57 AM


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