Friday, December 05, 2008

RTF: The First Impression…

I heard a lot about “dress to impress” slogan when I was in college. That phrase was mainly used for seniors who were being coached to jumpstart their careers through job interviews. Guess what? Even my small college in Kentucky, Berea College, had a deal with S&K , where the company would sell suits to seniors for a huge discount. I bought my interview suit there.

I must concur that first impression is a big deal. That is because for the most part, human beings are judgmental. We make judgments about people and things all the time. I know it is pathetic, but I make judgments even at Wal-Mart! I know judging a book by its cover is a fitting as a very good advice, but let the truth be told; we are creatures who pass judgment so quickly.

As such, with all your great qualifications, try showing up at a job interview in flip-flops (kandambili) and see if the interview will go well. I’m sure that wonderful Human Resources personnel will make a quick judgment about your character the moment you walk through the doors.

Has this first impression anything to do with Tanzania? You bet.

I remember back in the days, waaaay back when, I had an encounter with a now defunct Alliance Airlines’ General Manager in Dar-es-Salaam. (Sorry my American friend, a GM position in Tanzania actually means something serious). I was hustling for some deals – not exactly a “mission town” type of deal, but something more respectable. Me being unaware and all, I showed up the best way I knew how – in jeans and a t-shirt. The Alliance Airlines’ GM was kind enough to mentor me about the first impression – he commended my “intellectual understanding”, but pointed out that I couldn’t sell what I had in my head because of my appearance. Phew!

I don’t think the lesson sunk it then. I was a victim of a slow and rigid culture around me.

It is over 11 years since I received my lesson from that kind airline GM, but folks in Tanzania have not changed much. The problem, believe it or not, is even with big corporations and institutions that are supposedly have funds to put the best store front. Surprisingly, they don’t.

I made a vacation trip to Tanzania at the end of 2004. While in Dar, I just wanted to see if I can transfer my United States’ CPA credentials with me when I move back to Tanzania. The best place to go was obviously the National Board of Accountants and Auditors, located near the National Library.

The first person I encountered at NBAA was a guard (mgambo) at the main gate. I tried to explain what I wanted to accomplish, but the poor guy couldn’t give me proper directions. He resorted to directing me to some two ladies (who by the way, were on breakfast break early in the morning, and one of them actually completely ignored me). I had already started going back to the Bongo’s it-is-slow-down-here mentally, so I didn’t mind the snail’s pace response.

Nevertheless, let’s go back to the mgambo guy. Why in the world would a reputable organization such as NBAA put a mgambo as the face of the organization? I know the mgambo is there for security purposes (and to swing the gate open when the big shots drive in and out) , but shouldn’t NBAA find an educated receptionist who has a clear understanding of what NBAA is all about and where to direct visitors?

With exception of Vodacom, I encountered similar situation at TTLC and other big corporations where a typical receptionist showed signs of not having adequate information about the corporation. The worst place for this offense is government offices, where a receptionist can actually give you the nastiest attitude.

I’m not qualified to educate corporations on the best practices, but I know that first impression goes a long way. And I surely know when the first person you come across is a mgambo, it is sure sign that the company or the entity you are about to deal with ain’t got a clue…

Obviously, this is all tied to customer service, which stinks in Bongoland. I know I have a witness out there…
Photo Credit: Michuzi

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