Customer Service
Relationship Management
Middle Eastern Style

Nothing's Bazaar about Middle Eastern Business Relationships
by Craig Harrison

   Companies boast today of the speed at which they do business. With the advent of the Internet it seems we're capable of doing business 24/7 throughout the world. Yet something is often lost in the process. Consider this foreign buying experience and what it means for our business relationships locally.
   In the Old City within Jerusalem time seemingly stands still. Each quarter of this ancient city within a city has its own flavor and unique feel. Shopping in the Old City is truly a social activity. As you wind through the narrow, crowded cobblestone streets and its street-wide bazaar known as the souk, you are surrounded by endless local peddlers and merchants of all backgrounds. The SBA would be proud. As you pass each shop you see brightly colored rugs, lamps, jewelry, and pottery of all types hanging from racks and tables laden with other items for sale. This is no shopping mall experience, with escalators, giant push carts and flashing neon signs. It's as if you've stepped back into time.
   Shopping in the Old City is a protracted experience. When you find a vendor whose wares you like, he invites you into his shop. It's usually dark and cool, a respite from the hot Middle Eastern sun. You are often invited into a private room. There you are relaxed, and shielded from the noise, dust and hustle-bustle of the streets. You sit on pillows or low chairs, at a beautiful middle-eastern table with metals interlaid in lovely designs.
   After a few minutes of exchanging social pleasantries, the shop owner excuses himself and reappears with a pot of fresh steeped mint tea. You are the focal point of your host. You are the guest and you're treated as royalty. There is no rush. A relationship is being formed.
   There is a particular vendor I will never forget: Samir. He was always so glad to see me, to welcome me to his shop and to savor the sweet tastes of baklavah with me. He'd show me photos of his children, and ask about my family. We joked, bargained (a common middle-eastern practice), and drink more tea before I finalized my purchases each visit. More than the products themselves though, I basked in the experience of doing business with Samir. That's what made it special. True, many of the items could be bought elsewhere for the same or even less money. But there was satisfaction in doing business with Samir. He took great care of me and made each buying experience special. The trust and understanding that we built together gave me a level of satisfaction I couldn't get from buying from a stranger.
   In sales today it's not feasible for most of us to do business in such a fashion as Samir. Yet, in our own ways we can strive to create and nurture customer relationships. Here are some things we can do:

  • Make doing business with us fun and inviting
  • Get to know our customers a little better with each interaction
  • Cherish our customers as the best part of the work we do
  • Be hospitable as though we were welcoming customers into our own homes
  • Treat new customers as if they were newly introduced in-laws

   You have the opportunity to create your own special relationships with your customers. Samir inspired me. May you be inspired to find ways to nurture relationships with your customers. And if you ever get to the Muslim quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem, tell Samir that Craig says hello!