The influence of the village square


Every village has one. At least, every single village I have come across has one. It is mostly in the centre of the village. It usually has a big tree sitting right in the middle of it. It holds a very special place in the life of the village. It is a place—the place, where every major gathering of the village folks happens. This is the location where much of the social gatherings take place—funerals, marriage ceremonies, festivals, etc.

It is where the chief or queen mother and the council of elders will sit in public to hear and arbitrate contentious issues. It is the one location where you do not want your personal issues to be brought to. Because if your case ever got to that place, it would spread fast throughout the village, even faster than the wildest fire on the driest Harmattan day. I am sure, by this time, anyone who has ever stayed, or even just knows something about a village, might have figured out that I am referring to none other than the village square.

Like I said earlier, every village I have come across has a village square—even the global village. As with every village, the global village also has a village square—one that is as central to the functioning of the village. It is a place where the village gathers to talk about the village. This village square of the global village is what we have aptly christened the Internet!

As a matter of fact, the Internet is indeed, the ultimate village square. If you have spent just a few minutes on any social media platform, especially the one where half of all individuals on this Earth congregate, you would realise that indeed, the Net is just a reincarnation of the typical village square back in our villages. The only difference being that this village square is a lot scarier. At least, in my village, we all knew each other, knew where everyone stayed and where every individual’s farm is situated. But not this global village square. On the Net, we know very little about each other.

Justifiably, we have reason to be apprehensive of this particular village square. The thought of being paraded on the Net is enough to send shivers down the spines of many. We have seen the lives of many, especially those of the celebrity class, been dragged through the mud all over the Net. People have actually lost their lives just because of the barbarity of the bullying and molesting they faced on the Net. Unscrupulous individuals hide behind their keyboards to make life a living hell for others.

But the Internet is not all evil. There are many good things that also happen to people on the Net. For one, people who never had a chance at getting their voices heard can now share their views to the whole world, with just a click of a button. People have become rich beyond their wildest imagination, thanks to the Net. Lives indeed have been changed, destinies have been discovered and revolutions have been initiated just because of the Internet and all that it comes with.

Being a typical village square, the Internet (and social media) has one special appeal to those who congregate there. People want only their best sides to come out there. People prefer that if they are going to be spoken about in the village square, it has to be something positive. It is not pleasant when the skeletons in our various closets are paraded in the village, especially this village square.

There was a study published earlier this year claiming that the desire to be given positive reviews really affects our behaviours, especially at work. This holds particularly true for those who serve customers on a regular. According to the study, when customer-facing professionals believe a particular customer will go ahead and leave a review on the Internet, that employee behaves differently. The motivation to look good in the eyes of the many millions on the Internet is enough to get employees to put in their very best.

The study claimed that customer service employees would go above and beyond the call of duty, when they believe a particular customer might go ahead to do an online review of the service. It does not matter whether the customer actually does go ahead to do the review online or not. The mere thought that a customer might do a review online is enough to affect the performance of the customer-facing employee. The study was titled How and why (imagined) online reviews impact frontline retail encounters”. It was published in the June 2023 edition of the Journal of Retailing.

It is not too difficult to understand why what a customer says about an employee’s performance would be of importance, especially to that employee. Knowing that the company might use what customers say online as part of evaluating the one’s performance is enough of a reason. If your promotion, or even end-of-year bonus, might be affected by what a customer is going to write about you online, it makes sense for you to take that customer seriously. Just as an eatery would put on a good show when it is aware there is a food critic visiting, so would a customer service professional put on a good show if there is a customer who will go online to talk about his or her experience. It is the desire to look good that engenders that additional determination to impress the customer.

Customers who are aware of this phenomenon can use it to get employees to do a better job at serving them. Knowing that the customer service employee would appreciate a good review, the customer can allude to an online review and use that to get the employee to do a good job. However, it is also true that some unscrupulous customers might take advantage of this to “force” customer service employees to do certain dubious things.

It was interesting to note that the influence of a potential online review on the performance of a customer-handling employee does not always hold true. The aforementioned study found two instances when this happens.

Firstly, it was determined that customer service employees do not put on any special performance for customers, when employees believes the online review will not do anything special for their goals in life. If an employee does not really care what is written about him or her online, that employee would perform as before, doing nothing particularly exceptional. Such an employee will not go to any great lengths to please the customer, believing that there is nothing special to gain.

Additionally, the study found that sometimes, it was just impossible for the employee to give the customer any special service. This could be because the customer-facing employee does not have what it takes to give the customer that exceptional service. It is a fact that in some instances of poor customer service, the blame does not lie with the employee. It is no fault of the employee because the level of service the one gives is all the one is equipped to give.

Aside these two instances, businesses can however use this phenomenon to bring out the very best in their customer service employees. For instance, knowing how important it is for people to look good in the eyes of others, the business can use it as a way of motivating front line employees to offer the best of services to their customers.

The business can set up a unit that would gather stories of front line employees doing their very best and then post those stories online. It helps if these positive stories are posted as third party endorsements, rather than coming from the business itself. People will regard stories coming from the business with a pinch of salt. They would be suspicious of the purpose of the story and be doubtful of its authenticity. At best, the post would be seen as nothing but a PR piece by a desperate company trying to lure customers. Therefore, the business can create separate profiles on selected social media platforms, profiles that are distinct from the business. These profiles can then be used to promote the positive stories about staff performance online.

It is a truth that online reviews would only continue to grow in importance as more and more customers go online to do business and as more and more businesses also take their businesses online. Even businesses that are strictly brick and mortar are slowly taking aspects of their business online. If the business has any form of presence online, then that business should expect customers to deal with it online. This is why it is of utmost importance that businesses bring to their customer-handling employees insights such as the one this article has been about.

A business that is interested in giving its customers the best of in-store experiences should use ideas such as this to get its customer service employees to put in a performance of a lifetime. The business should be able to leverage the determination of the employee to look good online as a tool to get the employee to perform well. Adding this idea to other important strategies such as employee empowerment, good working environment, and a good salary would work wonders for the performance of employees and by extension, the experience of customers. Ultimately, the influence of the village square can be an important factor in the success of the business.

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