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Marketplace insights

How many times have you patronized a business or organization and felt as if you were not valued or that your presence was not particularly appreciated? I am sure we can all share experiences of poor customer service; poor food service, rude checkout clerks, being ignored by office staff, etc.

Now consider a pleasant service experience, when someone went out of their way to meet your needs? Many successful businesses are very strict when it comes to how their employees treat customers. In some business operations, extensive training and well developed policy requires exceptional customer care. Well known in the business field and the one important thing that these businesses understand, is that you depend on your customers and patrons to survive. Without customers, there is NO business, it is that simple.

Poor customer service can be a problem in both tribal and non-tribal environments, in both profit and nonprofit industries. But when it occurs within our Native businesses and organizations, it could be especially frustrating. We depend on service agencies to help meet our needs. As tribal members and in some cases taxpayers, we are entitled to these programs. Unfortunately, as managers, we may not always promote the idea of exceptional care to those we serve outside the business realm. This should be reconsidered, particularly in these challenging economic times.

Customer service in Native businesses

Most Native businesses are faced with strong competition from other businesses, so it might be worthwhile to make delivering exceptional customer service a priority. However, for some businesses it can be a challenge when we hire employees that have backgrounds in the nonprofit service industry or tribal organizations, where client services may be looked at differently and not promoted as it should. Employees may require training and reminders that your business places a great value on customers and that the survival of the business depends on their continued support.

When assessing our training needs and how our employees interact and serve our customers, we should also consider that tribal employees may be affected by traditional characteristics. This may support or hinder the type of customer service that is delivered.

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When we think of customer service we think of a person following us around, attending to our every need with a smile; or aggressively trying to get us to make that final purchase. However, traditionally this type of behavior might be considered rude or invasive. We might feel more comfortable observing our customers or patrons from a distance. Aggressiveness is not in our nature. As Natives we may tend to avoid situations that call attention to us. This might create some perplexity in your service role, but the important thing is that you make the customer feel respected and like their business is appreciated.

Customer service in Native nonprofit organizations

Today, most nonprofit service organizations are at risk of budget and funding cuts that can reduce or eliminate their programs altogether. This may be one reason why many federal departments have transitioned their perspective on client care. Another reason could be the competitive element. Health service programs could be an example, in that patients now have private or state insurance that allows them a choice of service providers under their benefits. We are now paying for the services through other resources. For health organizations it might be in their best interest to upgrade the quality and delivery of services provided to their patients and clients.

If you look at it from a business perspective, these employees and service providers might place a greater value on those they serve. They might begin to see how their jobs, and even their organization’s survival depends on good customer/client service.

We should also enforce the value of our role as consumers by exercising our choice to secure products or services from Native businesses and organizations. This will help to build a strong local economy and allow us to continue to meet our own product and service needs.

It should be understood how improved customer service can, not only ensure success, but the survival of both tribal businesses and nonprofit organizations. The importance is that we as customers, clients and patrons should understand our role in that success by making our interests known. And as managers, business owners and employees, we must ensure the survival of our businesses and organizations for the sake of healthy Native economies, as well as full tribal sovereignty through continued control of our service organizations.

Lucinda Hughes-Juan has many years of teaching and training in the fields of business and management, with a focus on the cultural dynamics in Native businesses and organizations. She is an enrolled member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She holds an MBA in global management, and is currently a Ph.D. candidate in business and organizational management. E-mail her at