RUNNING A SMALL BUSINESS IN THE PHILIPPINES – SERVICE IS KEY
Service is the Key to Success
Many foreigners move to this country and for various reasons decide that running a small business in the Philippines is what they want or need to do. Just like any where in the world, but probably even more so here, small business success stories are few and far between. Even back in the western world, start-ups have an astronomical failure rate, and then you throw in the added complications in this third world country of such things as bizarre and excessive red tape, corruption, inexperience with your target market and cultural differences of local employees, and success in the small business world is a daunting task for even the smartest and most experienced entrepreneur.
So how do you beat the odds if you are firmly committed to the idea of running a small business in the Philippines?
My experience so far here is that the key to that is customer service. Anyone that has spent any time in the Philippines knows very well that the average Filipino just does not understand the concept of customer service. How often do you deal with a business establishment where the front line employees do not know anything about the product or service they are selling? If that were not bad enough, they also just don’t seem to care whether you are going to be a satisfied customer or not. Then there seems to be the deer in the headlight type reactions if your needs stray anywhere outside the narrow guidelines set out to them by their superiors. In very few instances do the front line staff have any authority to deal with anything and the prevailing attitude is that they better not take any initiative for fear of reprimand from their boss. In the end , most customers are left with such a bad experience that they will never return let alone refer future prospective customers. Unless of course there is nowhere else to go, which is usually the case since the most basic principle, known the world over, that a happy customer is good for business just seems unknown to business managers and owners here in the Philippines.
That reality though frustrating to us as consumers, is a huge opportunity for those of us that decide to be on the “other side of the cash register”
I will relate a personal experience that can be a classic example.
Here in Dumaguete City there is a long established real estate company who it appeared was basically the only “game in town” for years. When my wife decided that she wanted to become a broker I strongly suggested one of the first things to do was check out the competition to see if there was room for another player in the game. Upon investigation the common reaction when people were asked about their experiences in buying or selling properties was that yes, indeed this potential competitor had most of the market, but the common thread was that their service sucked in every way. Emails were rarely returned, and when they were, there was little attempt to fully understand the needs of the customer. More often than not, clients were told that the inquired about listing was no longer available and then the client was then pitched properties that had little in common to what the clients were actually looking for. Sometimes, if clients were looking for a house in the 4 mil range, they were then steered towards properties in the 10 million range.hmmm,, don’t you think if some one wanted or could afford a 10 million pesos property, that they would have made inquiries about ones in that scale? When appointments for viewing were arranged, often agents would show up late or not at all, leaving the potential clients standing around for extended periods of time making phone calls that were not answered. The final icing on the cake was usually that the agents were unwilling or incapable of communicating the intricacies of the transactions they were supposed to be guiding along. Lets face it, if some one is dropping millions of pesos on something, they have a right to understand what s going on and any questions they have answered to their satisfaction. More than one client of this company when interviewed by us, complained that if they asked questions , they were treated as “problem” customers.
Enter my wife. The first thing she did was spend close to a year studying tirelessly to learn the intricacies of the real estate industry (and getting her board certification) so that when people asked her questions she could answer them in a knowledgeable way. She has also grasped the concept to not use the excuse “its the Filipno way” and do things in a way that customers really want. To be treated like it is fully understood that a customer that walks in the door is the person that keeps the business , “in business”. Without them , the bills do not get paid, the family does not get fed and there is no money for toys, fancy clothes or vacations. The customer is king ! Without him, the business is nothing!
She has found that it is not hard. It only means doing some little things like getting out of her chair when a customer enters, looking them in the eye and shaking their hand. Being attentive when they speak, answering their correspondence or phone calls and showing them the respect they deserve by being on time for appointments.
Today, only six months after being in business she is successful beyond her wildest dreams and the future is a rosy as it gets. The number of people who approach her through referrals from previous clients is staggering, and it is in large part simply because she has learned to treat customers better than her more established competitor.
So to those business people who are willing to change the status-quo of abysmal customer service in the Philippines, I believe there are opportunities beyond anything you will experience in the West. Here in the Philippines, it does not matter what business is chosen, if you can offer it with good customer service , you will always have a competitive edge in your market because in most cases the competition just does not care how the customer feels.
The sky can be the limit when the competition sucks!