Warm weather, wind gently swirling through the coconut trees, blue skies, white sand and clear warm water – these are the images that send many into a distant daydream. For a few short months, it has been my reality.
I have been in the North East of Brazil, Salvador. A lovely place, it is home to the African ‘Samba’ culture, unique Bahian cuisine, and a laid-back lifestyle.
There are also coconuts, and lots of them. If there was ever a product which could be considered a commodity, this is surely it.
There are many little stalls in the street where you can buy these coconuts. My daily routine involved waking up early enough to miss the searing sun to go for an hour-long walk by the sea (some days were missed due to an over-supply of Caipirinha’s the previous evening), concluding at a scenic spot near a coconut stall.
“Dois coco’s por favor” was the secret code to accessing one of these treats.
Anyone who has experienced such a thing will know what I am talking about. Upon ordering, a very large knife is produced from beneath the bench, large enough to hack off a limb or two. A coconut is selected, and then the chopping process commences which produces a small opening at the top, revealing the refreshing water inside. You receive a straw, and the coconut water is consumed. The empty coconut is then handed back, where it is further chopped with a few quick swishes of the blade. A small cut in the shell of the coconut becomes a scoop, allowing for more efficient shoveling of the coconut flesh into a waiting mouth. I will miss this.
I remember the first day we stumbled across this coconut phenomenon. The guy in the stall was not rude, but not super friendly either. He just went through his routine, satisfactorily, but not impressively. We paid our 3 Reais, and we were on our way.
Further down the Orla (road by the ocean), we stopped for another coconunt, this time being greeted by a lady, tiny in stature, possibly in her 40’s, with the most engaging smile. “Dois Coco’s por favor” (we later learned her name was Janela).
She then went about the selection process. Already I felt like I was special – she was tapping away at various coconuts in her inventory, and only when satisfied that she had the ‘right one’ would she start the chopping process. Once the concentration was no longer required, she flashed her beaming smile again and handed over the merchandise. It was indeed perfect.
We went back the next day, however on this occasion she was already serving someone and had a number of people waiting, so we settled for the stall nearby. What happened to the selection process? And where was the smile? Although the result was similar, the experience simply wasn’t as good. ‘I don’t care how long I have to wait, I want her next time’ I thought to myself.
And so the next day we returned, and to our absolute delight she was the one who was able to serve us. She delivered to her previous standard, and we left feeling as though we had just had the best coconut experience in Brazil. Order had been restored.
Remember, these coconuts are exactly the same at each stall. The only competitive advantage over her competition was her friendliness,
her service, her smile….her! She was the difference, and what a difference she made. Over time, she started adding a bit more value by looking out for us and starting the process early, offering us a biscuit, sometimes a bread roll, and developing the relationship.
The 2012 Global Customer Service Barometer by American Express, found some 36% of Australians declared there was now less attention on service, while 13% said they didn’t believe companies even cared about their custom. The research goes on to say that for those businesses that do provide excellent service, the rewards are clear. Nearly three quarters of Australians confirmed that they’ve spent more with a business because of their history of quality customer service, and 71% said they would be willing to spend more on excellent service, the Amex report found.
I doubt Janela the Coconut Lady will read this blog, but she has re-enforced these findings. I only wanted to deal with her. And in case you are wondering, she easily outsold her competitors, who had exactly the same product, price, and location. Quick calculations reveal we went on to purchase over 200 coconuts from her.
How much of a difference do you make to your customers, to your company, to your colleagues? No matter which company you work for, your position in the company or how your product compares to competitors, going above and beyond to provide a great service experience is a major competitive advantage. One of my favourite sayings is “people choose to buy on price unless you give them another reason not to”. Like Janela, we all have the opportunity to provide customers with reasons to deal with us other than a cheaper price. A business lesson for all of us.
Jason Buchanan – General Manager – WA / Asia