Nalini Joseph: Business skills needed on path to greatness

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 24, 2021

By Nalini Joseph

I was sitting at Hoff’s Grill on Innes street enjoying the biggest “half chicken” I have ever seen and started talking to the friendly lady serving us.

It turned out that our server, Jolene, and her husband are the owners of Hoff’s Grill. As we continued to talk, I learned that Jolene’s children all work at the restaurant with and for their parents.  The youngest (at 13) can total up bills, separate them out and can even run the fancy Square point-of-sale register that they have.

I then remembered one of Jolene’s children who had waited on me in the past; I remembered her particularly because she appeared so young, sweet, accomplished and quick on her feet. As Jolene continued to talk about “a day in the life of a Hoff’s kid,” I was duly impressed with all the people management and business skills her children were acquiring — for “free!” I began thinking about the invaluable lessons her children were gaining as a result of a few hours at the family business each day. At a very young age, they understand the importance of greeting people with direct eye contact and a smile. They learn how to manage difficult employees who show up late or who bring their personal problems into work. They figure out how to improvise quickly when an employee calls in sick or worse yet, doesn’t show up to work. Besides customer service skills, they know more than the average child their age does about marketing, advertising, profits and losses.

Better yet, they know how to weather a huge economic crisis such as a global pandemic.    

Growing up in India, it was not uncommon to see children starting at the age of 10 — or sometimes even younger — accompanying their father to the family’s place of business.  It could be a small corner store, an 8-by-10 warehouse selling metal bars or even a huge place like a clothing store or an appliance shop. The children would work an hour or two early in the morning with their father and then head off to school.

Today, many of these children who are now in their 50s, are millionaires and retired. The children have taken over the family businesses in many of these families. Because the population is so huge in India, there is always huge competition for business. This atmosphere of constant competition naturally leads to increased customer service.

There is only so much a business or salesperson can offer in terms of marking down prices; what can be offered is personalized and unparalleled customer service. Case in point: I entered a restaurant (in the same vicinity as Hoff’s) just a few hours later that same day, hoping for a quick cup of coffee before the restaurant’s closing time. I assured the polite hostess that I only needed a cup of coffee, but before I could say anything else an employee that was standing behind the hostess barked in a loud and defiant voice “we close at 8:30!” If I had not been so tired from a long day of work and meetings after work, I would have left the establishment immediately.  I did, however, decide not to come back to this restaurant to dine or enjoy a cup of coffee.

Jolene’s children have been taught the value of the age-old idiom “the customer is always right.” They have internalized and exhale great customer service. They know the importance of counting each penny and accounting for each loss.

As your child walks along the path towards greatness, try to think about ways in which you can teach them about how to deliver excellent customer service. No matter what your business or profession, the human element is of utmost importance. Even if you crunch numbers and work behind a screen all day with little human contact, you must use your personality and people skills to communicate with those who need the numbers.

Teach your children early to interact with adults in a respectful and friendly manner. This skill will pay dividends as they grow and face a world that is full of conflict and dissonance.

Joseph is a resident of Salisbury. Email her at