How to win customers is a lesson that many business owners never seem to learn. I have 5 for you straight from Peckham
This week I have a tale from the wonderful streets of Peckham, South London. This is a true story. A horrific and hilarious lesson in customer service. I doubt you will hear another one like it. This story totally relates to last weeks blog post – Why The World Needs Heart Led Beauty. It also makes me realise that I didn’t make a mistake in writing it either.
I’ve been a South Londoner all my life. There seems to be no other place in London that is as infamous as Peckham. It’s been the butt of many a joke and the lifeblood of the Nigerian community in London for many years. It’s been dubbed ‘Little Lagos’ and for many reasons and I can agree with that.
It’s March 3rd and I’m walking down Blenheim Grove off of Rye Lane. I was engrossed in a conversation with my life sister and business colleague and BOOM! One of the Peckham Hair Aunties merges from her dusty hair shack. She looks like she rolled of out bed on the wrong side. Hair a hot mess, clothes mismatching and generally dishevelled. She shouts at me from across the road…
Now for anyone who isn’t familiar with a Peckham Hair Auntie, let me explain.
Peckham is full of hairdressers, real and imagined. These women take their hustle to a whole new level and they basically accost anyone who is walking by whose hair doesn’t fit their standard of ‘done’. Now for whatever reason it seems to be a crime to walk down the streets of Peckham with anything that isn’t akin to a Beyonce-esque weave or some Erykah Badu looking braids. There is a lot wrong with that. Black women and their hair is a politically loaded subject so I won’t even go there.
For anyone that knows me personally, you will know that my hair is relaxed and short. It’s pretty much a graded pixie cut. Some days I decide not to style it at all. I unwrap my head from my night scarf and I walk out. That’s it. Bish, bash, bosh. My hair is pretty reminiscent of the 90’s R’n’b girl group Total and I absolutely love it. Anyhoo back to the crazy Peckham Hair Auntie…
So she shouts at me from across the street in the most aggressive, startling, inconsiderate way I’ve ever had a stranger shout at me in the street.
There was a flurry of emotions. Anger, surprise, shock. My heart stated beating really fast so I guess you could say that was a sign of anxiety. In that split second I thought…
Why is she shouting at me? Is she crazy? How rude of her to interrupt my conversation? In what land and nation does my hair look like it needs doing? What an insult?
My countenance changed. I entered fight mode. Her tone was so aggressive that it made me immediately defensive. It was fight or flight. I thought “that’s it, I’m not taking this rubbish” So I shouted right back at the top of my voice…
“Do I look like I need my hair done. If I wanted my hair done I think I’m old enough to work that out and come and find your services!”
The whole street stopped in awe of my response. Eyes turned, people stopped walking, people stopped talking. I think a showdown in the middle of Peckham had just commenced. Lanre vs the Peckham Hair Auntie. She stopped at the front door of her dusty hair shack and did the most despicable thing. She slowly raised her middle finger at me. Yes that’s right HER MIDDLE FINGER! I was incensed and to cream it all off she did it again just to make sure I saw it if I hadn’t the first time.
Ok…so clearly this meant war.
My friend was so stunned that she was actually silent. I on the other hand was nothing of the sort. I shouted over the road again…
“Swear at me one more time and you will lose that finger!”
Peckham Hair Auntie, looked scared, she looked shocked, she couldn’t believe that someone actually stood up to her in all of her evident stupidity. She receded back into the depths of her dusty hair shack. I kissed my teeth in sheer disgust of her moronic midday show.
A man and his lady friend walking towards Peckham Rye Station gave me a round of applause. He even said “That was the right answer you gave her!” So why did it not feel like it? I realised that this situation had affected me on a deeper level for many reasons. Most poignantly, as a business owner, the customer service lessons were at the forefront of my mind and here is what I learned:
#1 – Start With The End in Mind.
Think about what a relationship with a customer is actually meant to achieve within your business. It’s a journey. A lot of people just think that business is an exchange of money for time. That couldn’t be further from the truth. The exchange of money in a transaction often comes after some kind of result. No result achieved often means no money. The Peckham Hair Auntie wouldn’t get money from me even if she was the last hairdresser on earth. She closed the door on me ever allowing her to get me any results (real or imagined)
#2 – Be someone who your customers actually want to speak to
Watch your tone. Don’t let confusion creep in about what you might or might not be saying. Speak nicely and clearly. Don’t be rude or aggressive. Building a relationship with your customer takes time and you will often have to give something of value before they spend any money with you. Be of value to them.
#3 – Don’t be a sore loser
You may not get the result that you want from a customer but handle it with composure and grace. ACE it. Always Concede Elegantly. Maintain your professionalism. It might be the reason that a potential customer decides to look you up again in the future.
#4 – In order to be influential you must first get in
Peckham Hair Auntie taught me that being short sighted in business is often a contributing factor to the failure of business. What if she had been nice and approached me in a nice manner? What if she had spoken to me with respect? That in and of itself would have set her apart from her counterparts in Peckham and I would have remembered her because of it. I may not have been her ideal customer bur I may have known someone who is. Recommendations and referrals build businesses, over and over again.
#5 – Solve Your Customers Problems, Don’t create them
No customer want to start a business relationship on the back foot with somebody. Businesses exist because they solve problems for their customers or they fill a gap that a customer can’t. Don’t make assumptions about your customer or their position. Ask questions, get to know them. Peckham Hair Auntie, judged me by my cover and that was her most damaging error.
Business is not a walk in the park all the time but the think that makes me realise that some people were not cut out to be business owners are the basic interactions that they have with their customers. Treating business dealings like a struggle often means that they will be. It really is that simple.
Despite the unpleasant nature of my midday showdown in Peckham this week. I learnt a lot. It taught me what not to do.
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading today’s blog and I think its also safe to say…
Lanre – 1, Peckham Hair Auntie – Nil.
Until Next Week My Beautis,