If you've ever played poker or studied statistics, you're familiar with the study of probability.
You also know that if a situation has two possible outcomes, there is a 50 per cent chance of each occurring.
So, why is it that whenever we go shopping and ask the sales associate a ‘Yes/No' question, we get irritated, annoyed, repulsed, suicidal and borderline insane when we hear ‘No'? Logically, we know that the negative response has a 50 per cent probability.
Perhaps it has something to do with poor customer service or perhaps it is something even more basic. Once I was in a prominent shoe shop and nearly fainted as my eyeballs devoured a pair of purple radical high heels. I galloped over to the sales associate with swift agility and squealed: "Do you have this size in wide fit?"
The gentleman looked at me and gave me his best smile. He then demonstrated a slow pendulum-like head wobble. I could not really interpret if he was replying with a ‘Yes' or ‘No.' And then... silence. A smile, head wobble and… silence.
What does this mean? Smiling generally indicates that the person is in agreement with you.
But the mysterious head shake had me confused. What was more exasperating was the silence that followed. It felt as though the sales associate was being evasive and just wanted me to "Get lost".
Snubbed and dejected, I left the store without the delicious purple-radical-high-heels. Naturally, I was in no mood to shop any more and headed straight for the parking ticket validation machines by the exit.
What happened here is not a rare occurrence. Customers face similar situations every day. Such incidents can easily strip away positive feelings such as enjoyment and delight that are often associated with retail therapy.
I hear many people whine about bad customer service, lazy sales staff, disconnected associates and quirky representatives. However, it is supremely ostentatious to assume that the entire Middle Eastern cosmos of sales associates are unhappy, inconsiderate, callous or strange.
Culturally you are accustomed to receiving negative messages such as "No" or "Not at the moment" in a way that is different from the method the sales associate used.
Some cultures loathe negative messages because they do not separate the messenger from the message. The cultural dictaphone in their mind constantly reinforces older learnt patterns.
Here, conveying a negative message is equated with being unable to deliver what is required. In essence, it means failure. Absolutely no one likes to feel that.
We live in the Middle East, where an astounding 80 per cent of the working population is imported. More than 140 nationalities call this ‘home.'
Why then, aren't companies investing in cultural sensitivity training? By such training I mean the real deal? Not another imported trainer.
Companies today need to understand the cultural nature of their front line. Negative messages are a part of reality. Consumers know that.
When such messages are delivered with confidence and authenticity, they convince the customer that the associate is being truthful and genuinely cares for the customer's needs.
This breeds trust. And trust equals sales.
The writer is a Dubai-based entrepreneur specialising in the retail sector.