Let’s talk about Love

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Seriously? Love in business? It doesn’t belong there!

We often think of business as just an enterprise for providing a product or service, earning income and making a profit. And it would seem out of place to bring such a warm, emotional and moral concept like love into it. However, this stems from a misunderstanding of both love and business.

Let’s start with love.

What is love? Love isn’t just a feeling, however warm and exciting. Love is rational. It is the deliberate regard for another person’s wellbeing. In the words of the British writer C.S. Lewis, “Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”  So love isn’t getting excited about a member of the opposite sex or having tingling sensations within your tummy when he or she approaches. We also shouldn’t think of love as condoning wrong behaviour or overlooking poor performance. Love is simply desiring another person’s good; it is the attitude of looking or seeking to benefit someone else. This could be a spouse, a friend, or a neighbour. It could also be a boss, an employee, or a customer. Therefore love can include discipline or rebuke, where it is intended to make a person better. And it can involve refusing to grant a request or favour where this will cause the person harm.

We come now to business. Is business just about goods and services, revenue and profit? Well, not really. At its core, business is about people – human beings. Business involves meeting their needs and furthering their welfare. When we produce clothing, manufacture domestic items, provide health insurance, assemble cars, educate children, impart workplace skills, and engage in retail trade, we are providing value to people. In an earlier post, I referred to the classic statement on the purpose of business by Jeff Van Duzer, Provost of the Seattle Pacific University in the USA. He stated this as follows:

Business exists to create opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identity in meaningful and creative work. And it exists in order to produce goods and services that would enable the community to flourish.

When we look at business in this way, it becomes immediately apparent that business is about people. True, we need to understand the mechanics of cost, price, strategy, and management in order for a business to function well. But we must not mistake the tools for the goal. The goal of business – any business – remains the people.  Shareholders own a business. Employees work for the business. Vendors work with the business. Customers are served by the business. Everywhere you look you see people. And the principle for relating with people, which is to love them as oneself, has to be applied in dealing with these different groups. Shareholders are to be loved by managing the business profitably. Employees can be loved through fair and humane workplace policies and practices. Customers should be loved by ensuring our products are of good quality and that our processes and systems make it easy to interact with the organization. What about the larger community? One obvious way is by ensuring that we do not pollute the environment in the course of our business operation.

So does this look like love belongs in business? It most certainly does.

Choosing to serve

The decision to serve, in whatever capacity, is a conscious choice. It has nothing to do with the expectation of a reward or even the assumption that those being served would acknowledge it. In fact, sometimes they won’t appreciate the gesture. Our motivation and inspiration comes from the example of God our Creator and Redeemer, who serves us by providing a universe loaded with good things and who offered himself as the payment for our sins, thus reconciling us to himself.

Thus true service is a sacrifice of love. Through our job or occupation, in our care for our spouses and children, in the assistance and help we render to our neighbours, service looks beyond what is to be gained. It reaches out to help because it sees the other party as valuable, someone in whom God’s image shines forth. And it considers it worthwhile to deny oneself of one’s own convenience at that moment in order to serve or help the other person.

What’s your Customer worth?

Service pixWhile offering good service does not depend on the financial return involved, it’s still helpful to consider the true financial worth of every customer we currently serve. Like I often emphasize, businesses fail to offer good service because they are thinking short term. How much is this person paying or buying right now? What value are we deriving from her in the present? However, when we shift our focus from what the person is purchasing right now to her value over a lifetime of transactions, it helps us form a better estimate of today’s encounter.

Supposing our customer, let’s call her Mrs. Garba, is an online buyer of domestic appliances. She buys N3,500 worth of kitchen utensils monthly, and she would go on to remain a customer for seven years. How can we determine her customer lifetime value or CLV?

A simple approach is to apply the formula below:

CLV Formula

 

 

 

Mrs Garba’s CLV, therefore, would be N3,500 X 12 X 7 = N294,000.

This simple arithmetic helps us realize that Mrs Garba’s value to our business goes beyond the mere N3,500 she is spending right now. She is worth a whole lot more!

It’s about your Customers

unhappy customer

Businesses exist for their customers. This obvious principle is one of the most difficult for modern organizations to truly get. Customers are confronted with a myriad of complicated procedures and processes for receiving a service. At the end, you wonder whether the business is a process laboratory rather than an entity designed to serve people.

It is essential that customers get the service they need without having to go through so much hassles of process and procedure. True, modern challenges like terrorism, money laundering, internet fraud, etc, might necessitate that companies adhere to certain regulations. And by implication, customers would also have to comply with certain requirements. However, a service oriented company would make these as minimal as possible. And it would also ensure that customers understand why certain requirements are made.

Above all, the service representatives should recognize and treat the customers as humans who should be loved and respected in every service encounter. For, without them, I repeat again, there would be no business.

Service – a Distinguishing factor

There is a bakery close to my house. I like going there weekly to buy bread. Although I have not been too fond of their service, I continue to patronize them because  the product is satisfactory and the store is just a walking distance.

This morning, my wife informed me another bakery might be opening some metres closer to our house. If I check them out when they do open and find that their bread (that’s the priority!) and their service are much better, what do you think I would do? Switch, of course.bread

Often, businesses become complacent and assume they have their customers for life. They forget they are in competition with other providers, both present and future. And while the product is excellent, they ignore the need to provide good service.

Businesses lose customers not just because their product is deficient, but also because their service is poor. And it is crucial they get this in order because service is the purpose of business after all.

The Heart of Service

Genuine service comes from a caring heart.

When you receive a call from a customer, when you meet with a customer making an enquiry in your store, when you attend to an accident victim in the hospital, when a customer brings his faulty car to your workshop, your ability to care is crucial.

The secret to offering great service is to be more concerned about the person you are helping than yourself. This is why genuine service is so rare.

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We have a distorted view of things. Each person seeks his own interest and does not care about others. This is the heart of Nigeria’s problem; corruption is a moral problem. And it has an old name – Selfishness. We create our universe without ourselves at the centre. ‘It’s all about me’ – that’s the universal anthem. And when we adopt this as our rule of life, genuine service becomes impossible.

In his delightful book Life@Work, John Maxwell lists what serving entails in our practical dealings with people. Among others, he includes:

    1. It means getting to know people as people, not just human work machines.
    2. It means learning their names, their spouses’ names, their parents’ names, and maybe even their kids’ages and birthdays.
    3. It means becoming a good listener, not just a good talker.
    4. It means getting involved with people, not always keeping a professional distance. (While I am often guilty, I have a brother who excels at this)
    5. It means remembering the conversation

Simply put, serving people means getting to deal with them, literally. It means getting to know them. And this has to be deliberate.

There is no hiding the fact that serving people can be messy. There are irritable people, insincere people, and callous people. Some will take you for granted. I have dealt with customers who lie just to have their way. And a number of us have worked with people who simply cannot be satisfied. They will literally drain you. But it’s the way to go, if we desire fulfillment in life. No wonder Jesus said, he who would keep his life will lose it. However, when we sow that life as a seed for the good of others, it yields an enormous harvest.

In dying, we live

It’s Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Jesus, and here I am meditating on death! But perhaps it’s not entirely out of place. This baby was born to die. His life was a life ordained to service, and this service was to die.

However, his death would bring life. Speaking of himself, Jesus stated that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24) He was speaking of his approaching sacrificial death for the sins of humanity. And this principle goes well beyond the circumstance of Jesus’ ministry; it applies to the whole of human existence. It takes dying to self to bless others. It requires self-denial to care for and serve others, for our sinful human nature is basically selfish.

wheat isolated on white close up

Interestingly, just like the death of Jesus, our ‘death’ produces true life. We do not truly live unless we are giving our lives for a cause or a person. And so many thinkers and figures in history have pointed this out. Our own ordinary experiences confirm this. Mothers know what it is to give their lives for their children, husbands die to their own interests in order to love their wives, friends make sacrifices for the sake of one another. Yes, we die. But in dying, we live. Self-denying service is a death unto life – true life.

And this is what Christmas is about.