Years ago when I first started out in business I went to India to see one of our clients. My family had a shipping agency and we had partners and agents all over the world. Mumbai was a crazy place, a vibrant mixture of poverty and wealth, of dirt and opulence, of despair and opportunity, all crammed into a small island. The smells and noise and people were overpowering and exhilarating. Just reading this back makes me want to go again.
I was in my early twenties and two things struck me from that time that I still remember to this day. The first was meeting the two men at the door of the office building. One was in charge of opening it, the other was in charge of closing it the other side once you had walked into the building. Both conducted their jobs with buckets of enthusiasm, their welcome delivered with a beaming smile and the wiggle of the head. I was made to feel so welcome that it warmed my heart. I remember been surprised at how people could have that much pride in such a seemingly simple job. Only after my week in the city did I learn that for most people in Mumbai to have a job at all was a source of pride. To work was to be proud. Also the guy in the inside was senior as he enjoyed the air conditioning. The outside guy has something to aim for.
The second thing I remembered was the sign on the reception desk:
“A customer is the most important visitor on our premises, he is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption in our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favor by serving him. He is doing us a favor by giving us an opportunity to do so.”
It turns out this phrase is replicated in signs all over India and was written by probably the most famous Indian of them all, Mahatma Gandhi. I wasn’t just impressed by the simple common sense of the words but also that I’d never really considered that Gandhi would trouble himself with such pedestrian matters as customer service. But like many great people they often have a way of cutting through to the simple realities of our everyday life. We are all, to some extent, suppliers and customers. We have jobs and we are consumers. And this really is the essence of life, something for something and doing it the best you can.
Anyway, without getting too spiritual and “yeah maaan” about everything, I often thought that when I had my own business that I would put that sign on the door. So metaphorically speaking I’ve done that here on the first post of our new site. This is the essence of what we’re about.
After I wrote this article I found a lovely picture of Gandhi’s possessions.