7- 13 November 2014 #731

The gate

The first rule of business is never to make an existing customer look elsewhere
Ted Atkins
My name is Ted Atkins and I have an office with Asian Trekking in Thamel. I think like a businessman because I am one, I have no choice. I visit Nepal often on work, up to half of each year. My company produces oxygen and other support equipment used on Everest and runs the Everest Skydive venture. I do this because it’s what I choose to do, because I like being here, I like Nepal and I like her people.

As my work place, I view Nepal through the eyes of a businessman, and as an outsider looking in. In the west we have a bunch of people, often very well paid people who we call consultants. Consultants look at your business from the outside and tell you what you need to do to either improve your business or fix it. When we get too close to the job we often cannot see the problem. We keep doing what we always did and if ‘you always do what you always did, you will always be who you always were’.

I see myself as a businessman as well as a guest and a client of Nepal. As such, I may be in a good position to offer some advice or to make observations. In my business, I place a very high value on the feedback I get from my clients. We don’t want to get negative feedback, but this is the most important information of all. What use is it to be told that your product is perfect? It’s nice to hear, but apart from a warm feeling you cannot use the information. However, if a client comes and tells me that he would prefer it if I make my product bigger, cheaper, last longer or make it in the colour red then I listen hard. As a result, I am still here, still in business.

A complaint is feedback. I often only complain if I care to see improvement. When I say nothing, it’s because I don’t intend to come back. We give feedback to our children because we care how they turn out. A bad parent says nothing even when the child is headed down the wrong path. Only later do they see the result of not saying anything. We all know that it is the beginning of the end when we stop communicating in any relationship. Sometimes this communication will not be what you want to hear. This is the time to listen hard.

I used to live in France. I did not care much for living in France and decided to move. This meant selling my house so the first thing I did was paint the gate. The gate of my house is the first thing that anyone coming to buy the house will see. This will be their ‘first impression’. There was a fascinating article some time ago about first impressions. In tests, a person was assessed for first impressions by someone who did not know them. Later the interviewer compared their impressions to someone who knew the person well. In over 80 per cent of cases the first impression proved highly accurate. Now this may not seem like big news, as we all agree that first impressions are important.

The gate to Nepal is its international airport. It is where I stood once again for 1 hour and 15 minutes to get a tourist visa. My flight from China was 2 hours 30 minutes, and I spent half of this time for a visa. Again. It is always like this. The next day my friend waited for two hours to collect his luggage. In Europe if I go to a shop to buy bread and they make me wait for an unreasonable time, I go to another shop. It is a huge mistake to think that you are the only shop and therefore you can do as you please. I often lecture to young people about business and I state that my first rule of business is never to make an existing customer look elsewhere.

P.S I sold my house.

Ted Atkins is a former RAF Chief Engineering Officer and now partner/owner of 4 international companies. This is the first of his exclusive column, Outside In, in Nepali Times.

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