From the Far South: Learnings from the Ends of the Earth

Author: Linda J. Popky

My husband and I just completed a wonderful adventure – a little over a week in South America, including visits to Argentina and Chile.

It’s near the end of winter in the southern hemisphere, which meant we could ski the Andes in August. We also ate an incredible variety (and amount!) of fantastic food, drank wonderful local wines, and saw great scenery, including some of the tallest mountains on the continent. A trip to Argentina is not complete without tango dancing, which we saw both in the streets and in special club performances.

Buenos Aires, Argentina and Santiago, Chile are both wonderful cities. Called the Paris of the Southern Hemisphere, Buenos Aires really does have a very European feel to it in terms of architecture and layout. Santiago is a big modern, bustling center. It’s hard to believe that both these cities are close to celebrating their 500th birthdays.

But there’s something that really struck us about South America.

To a first time visitor, both Argentina and Chile felt extremely warm and welcoming. We were able to get along quite nicely with very limited Spanish, as many people speak English. Costs in both countries are reasonable, though not cheap. And, as opposed to many other parts of the world, Americans (or Norteamericanos, as US citizens are often called, since this is after all still the American continent) are welcomed not shunned.

One day I was discussing the warm hospitality with our driver in Santiago. He said, “But of course. What you have to remember is that we are here at the ends of the earth. We’re not at the center of anything. No one comes here on their way to somewhere else, as they do in many cities in Europe or Asia. We know that if you are here, you traveled a long way to get here just to see us and we want you to know that we appreciate that and to do what we can to make you feel most welcome.”

What a refreshing point of view: you chose us as your destination, you came out of your way to see us, and we need to make sure you know how much we appreciate that.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we treated our customers like that?

Think about it: Your customers have taken a journey to reach you, not necessarily in terms of miles, but in terms of process – identifying needs, reviewing options, finally choosing you as a partner or supplier. Whether the decision was simple or complicated, they have traveled a metaphoric distance and finally arrived.

How much do we make them feel like we appreciate their travels? What do we do on an ongoing basis to recognize the efforts they took to reach us? Do we spend enough time and energy making our customers feel welcomed and appreciated? Or do we simply fulfill their needs, quickly and efficiently, then send them on their way to the next destination, making them feel as if they have just “stopped in” to our bustling center of the universe – a center that doesn’t necessarily revolve around them?

Customer satisfaction is transactional, but customer loyalty is relational. We may be satisfied with the outcome of a single transaction (or not), but we need to develop a relationship before we can become loyal. That’s why it’s not enough to just satisfy a customer’s specific product or service requirements – we need to go the extra mile to make them feel they have that special relationship with us. We need to show them how glad we are they traveled to the ends of the earth and chose us as their destination.

After all, not all of us can tango.

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