- On November 14, 2012
I recently returned from a trip to southeast Africa, visiting the countries of Botswana, Mozambique, and Zambia. Always on the lookout for lessons to apply to my own practice even when I’m on vacation, the contrast in my customer experience when I was buying local crafts stuck with me. Three different countries, three totally different customer experiences.
Country One. If you’ve been to any ‘emerging market’ area, you may have experienced the aggressive in-your-face selling that often prevails, especially in the cities. I don’t mean to begrudge the street vendors their livelihood; selling a few refrigerator magnets in the shape of the local beer bottle may be their only income. And I might even consider paying for a trinket, if it wasn’t being so aggressively pushed at me, without any consideration for what I as the customer am experiencing. When I step out of my lodging, I can barely walk more than a few steps without a carved wood figurine, sunglasses, watches, paintings, or beaded jewelry being shoved in front of me for viewing.
I stop once to briefly admire a fabric picture and a dozen young men with various other good for sale swarm around me like flies on poop, claiming ‘good price, madam.’ Even if I did want an item it is impossible to negotiate with this melee of hands and goods vying for my attention. One of the fabric prints caught my eye, yet I bought nothing. The experience was so overwhelming, negative, and desperate. I learn quickly to make no eye contact and walk swiftly.
Sadly, this type of behavior is not limited to craft sellers in African cities. I have experienced similar seller-centered tactics at business networking events, minus the beer bottle shaped refrigerator magnets. I have felt captive and overwhelmed as someone in a business suit drops a card in my hand and then waxes on about themselves and what they do–thinly disguised in terms of how they can help me, even though they have not even asked anything about me. I marshal my waning politeness and craft quick escape strategies. I bite my tongue and do not ask any of my standard networking questions, “if I could do something to help you, what would it be?” I know it will never be reciprocated. I break eye contact and escape swiftly.
Will I find an improvement on the customer experience some where else?
 This is not meant as a scientific sample nor do I mean it to apply to everyone in those cultures. These were three isolated experiences, which happened to be radically different and happened in three different countries.