What I Learnt from the Fijians

by Sean Foster | August 25, 2022 | Newsletter

Redefining Customer Service


How are you?

Crazy, isn’t it? Am I really expecting you to answer that? Do I really want to hear how you are going besides the ‘all good’ standard reply? Do I even have the time available to give you in hearing how your day is going?

Sounds cynical, but only arriving in NZ in 2003 we were amazed that the local checkout person asked us how we were going. We started replying but soon realised that they didn’t really expect us to honestly share our daily news with them!

Recently I spent a fortune with a local company getting my Starlink and digital stuff set up in our new house. The customer service felt like it was on steroids. I forget how many times I was told that they are here to make me happy, to ensure that everything is perfect, that they are here for me. But I am still not a happy customer (ex) of theirs.

They charged me for every minute of their time. Their time-tracking software ensured this, even for the 10 minutes I made coffee for them and chatted about local stuff. They charged like a wounded bull and then became increasingly defensive when the problems persisted.

I have just returned from Fiji. We stayed in three different resorts and tried our best to experience the Fijian culture. We had heard that Fijians were friendly, but had not expected the customer service on a scale that we did. That got me thinking: How do they do it?

The image here is the evidence.


This garden maintenance guy (Matti) saw Erin excitedly picking up a tiny, shriveled, out-of-season mango that had fallen from a giant mango tree outside our room. At the time we had not even noticed him. The next thing we knew, he presented her with two perfect mangoes that he had knocked down off the tree for her, and then chopped some green coconuts for us so we could drink the water. He was so excited to share these magic Fijian treats with us, and I am sure none of these specifics were in his job description.

I would surmise that Fiji tends to get this customer service thing right because it has become culturally ingrained.

"Service, in short, is not what you do, but who you are. It's a way of living that you need to bring to everything you do if you're to bring it to your customer interactions." - Betsy Sanders

On the flight back home I gave this customer service a good roll-over in my head. My question was: ‘What is it that stands out with Fijian customer service that leaves me, as a customer, feeling appreciated and wanting to sing their praises?’

When comparing Fiji to some of my other comparisons, I was able to narrow this down to 3 pillars.

[1] Authentic. Unlike the check-out person, I really felt like they engaged with the greeting or conversation. Developing authenticity is a subject in itself: maybe I need a separate article just on this subject.

[2] Care. Yes, I really felt like they cared for us. And it seemed country-wide, not just the customer-facing staff. And the measure of ‘care,’ is tested when things go wrong. We had some of these experiences, poorly in NZ and exceptional in Fiji.

[3] Happy. I did a Google search: 'friendliest country in the world?’ I could not find any reliable or consistent results. Not sure how you measure friendliness besides experiencing it. Even outside the resorts, we noticed the high level of friendliness. Our experience was smiling Fijians yelling an enthusiastic ‘Bula!’ greeting.

Sounds too good to be true? It could be, but for a week that is what we experienced.

My takeaways include:

Exceptional, caring customer service needs to become a behavioural or cultural norm. It is not a fad, a workshop, or a focus area for some who need improvement.

The low-hanging fruit is to employ people who are naturally strong in customer service - they care, they smile, they listen, and they take initiative.

Time is precious, time is money, and we all have too much to do and not enough time. We all have this pressure. Try this to leave a lasting impression. Slow down your ‘customer care’ just a little, not to annoy your customer, but to demonstrate that your care for them is more valuable than your self-importance, and your precious time.

‘The fish rots from the head down’ - as a leader, if customer service is a bit yucky in your business, it is because you are probably not demonstrating exceptional yourself.

Until next time, Bula and Vinaka!


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