I have recently returned from vacation in Greece and Istanbul, Turkey. Traveling to Europe and Asia, where the local time is 8 hours ahead of New York, I had a chance to take a break from the business demands of direct marketing and lead generation. In addition to taking a break from work, I wanted to soak up one of the most vibrant cultures in the world. As much as I wanted to switch out of work mode completely, I quickly realized that business issues are the same all over the world. I know that competition for business in the United States is intense, but it is nothing compared to what I witnessed first-hand in the Grand Bazaar.
The guidebooks taught me that the Bazaar is one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.
- Established in 1461, last year was the 550th anniversary of the Bazaar.
- It is spread across 65 blocks, which is equal to the size of 5 football fields and crosses 61 streets: throughout the 61 streets, there are 4 fountains and 12 warehouses.
- There are 26,000 employees who work at the Bazaar: these employees work in the 4,400 shops and 60+ restaurants and food stalls
- On a daily basis, more than 400,000 visitors stroll through the maze of shops.
Although the guidebooks gave me these facts before I got there, I did not fully comprehend the magnitude of the market. Having experienced it myself, the best description I can give is that The Grand Bazaar is truly grand. Patrons come looking for bargains on jewelry, rugs, leather goods and more. Moving from stall to stall, I knew I could bargain with the shopkeepers. I just had to decide which shopkeeper I would deal with first.
My experience in the Grand Bazaar gave me a chance to reflect on what makes some businesses successful and others struggle. It all comes down to customer service. Appreciation and respect for customers is the lifeblood of any business. Wikipedia defines customer service as the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase. It is a series of activities designed to enhance the level of customer satisfaction. As a business owner, I know that this is one of the reasons that many of my clients have been with me for decades.
During my time at the Bazaar, I wandered into a small shop that could barely fit three people. The shopkeeper noticed that I was moving my head to the music that was playing while I was browsing. He struck up a conversation with me, asking about the song that was playing (Maroon 5’s Moves Like Jagger). He kept asking me questions, so he could practice his English. After a while, I felt comfortable enough with him to start bargaining. My total purchase was not the smallest or largest of his day, but it triggered the best level of customer service I have ever encountered.
Once we finished the purchase transaction, Nihet the shop keeper closed his store and carried all my purchases through the maze of streets. It felt as if we had walked at least 2 miles. Once we walked through the Bazaar, Nihet waited with me until he found a cab and negotiated the price. He wanted to make sure I wasn’t taken for a ride…literally and figuratively. I thanked him profusely for his kindness, and promised that I would write a blog about his excellent customer service. In the short time I was in his shop, he formed a relationship with me. When I left him, I was a satisfied customer. I was happy to have made a purchase in his store.
In our once-in-a-lifetime meeting, he reminded me of the true secret of customer service. We are all judged by what we do before, during and after the transaction. We are not judged by what we promise. Nihet helped me, even when he could no longer profit from me as a customer. He exceeded all my preset notions of the shopping experience in the Grand Bazaar and left me with the “feel good factor” that all consumers desire. Halfway across the world, one Turkish shopkeeper embodied the DNA of true customer service; building relationships instead of looking for one-time sales. If he had a website, the url should be pleasingyoumakesushappy.com.
Sağ olun. This phrase is Turkish for “thank you for a service which was not necessarily needed to be performed”. This one’s for you, Nihet.