Learning how to serve

This October, the Cap-Haitien SOIL staff participated in a three-day business training course hosted by Partners Worldwide. Two days of the training were dedicated to enhancing our management staff’s knowledge of basic business principles, such as calculating the price per unit of sale, negotiating price points, and reaching profitability. The last day was a customer service and marketing training for all of our service staff, which includes anyone who comes into contact with clients, from the receptionist to the office management to the bucket collection team.

Brunel Louis, the business trainer, was a huge hit. Not only is he knowledgeable and experienced in running his own business, he also knows how to transmit his skills so that others can grasp and apply new concepts.

“I really appreciate Brunel’s dynamism,” said Gregoire, SOIL’s Business Consultant.

Marketing role playing: Charles pretends to be a “tough guy smoking a cigar” while Madam Bwa tries to make the sale.

Marketing role playing: Charles pretends to be a “tough guy smoking a cigar” while Madam Bwa tries to make the sale.

Tailoring any business or non-profit organization to the local context is a must, and with the help of trainers like Brunel, SOIL is even more equipped to do so. We pride ourselves in cultural fluency here at SOIL, from requiring all foreign staff to speak, read, and write in Haitian Creole (while many organizations are run in French or English), to hiring as local as possible. But business is a new territory for us, and we’re hungry for all the experience and advice we can get.

Here’s an example of how Brunel brought the local context into the customer service training. He asked the team to imagine that they are on their farm in the countryside. Someone unfamiliar walks by and doesn’t say hello. There is a large hole in front of the stranger but they don’t see it. What do you do?

Everyone agreed: “you let them fall in the hole!” and the room erupted with laughter. Don’t worry, this was a parable, not to be taken literally. But Brunel focused on the importance of greeting and recognizing others is in Haitian culture and applied that common understanding to good communication in customer service. Make sure that you have a professional appearance, always start the conversation on a warm and personable note, respond to social cues if the client is not interested, but be persistent.

We learned so many tips from our time with Partners Worldwide, and we can’t wait to start applying them. SOIL has been developing social business models in order to make our sanitation services and waste treatment more financially sustainable and scalable. If you’ve been following us, you’ve read about this in some of our other posts, such as the launch of our Port-au-Prince Ekolakay household toilet pilot project, or our EkoMobil mobile toilet cost analysis.

The long transition from an aid-based model to a business model is a team effort. It’s empowering for all of us at SOIL to begin recognizing that we all share more of a business vocabulary now. We can now discuss topics like market segments or SWOT analysis on a more professional level. The team has been asking me when we’re going to plan our next business training, so I think that even though we’ve come so far, we’re just getting started.

SOIL’s Sanitation Director Emmanuel noted that, “This will certainly help us address our weak spots. We need to work together to put these principles into action.”

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