What an African Safari Can Teach You About Client Service

January 10, 2018

I began the year thinking a lot about client service, but little did I know that a safari in Tanzania would further reinforce and expand upon those beliefs. I can’t say that I’ve ever taken a trip, personal or professional, that has made me reflect on what turns out to be innumerable parallels between providing platinum service to clients and differentiated hospitality to guests.

When traveling in this environment specifically, you are fully reliant on the expertise of others to get from place to place, maintain your safety and find your next meal. While the examples may differ, my experience taught me that the key tenets of client service in practice can be transferred from the hospitality business to the consulting business. Here are a few ways how…

First impressions matter when building trust – “*Jambo!
At each new destination throughout our trip, we were greeted warmly by staff, introduced by name, handed towels to wash our hands, and given a cool drink. When it was raining, we were greeted with umbrellas and our hosts always asked us how our day was and if we needed anything. Once they learned our names, they referred to us by name for our entire stay. This warmth and hospitality helped us quickly adjust to each new environment.

A secure, safe space to operate instills client confidence:
At each stop on our trip, part of our welcome included a safety review. We were told not to walk alone after dark and to use our room’s walkie-talkie to request escorts, who somehow appeared within moments. Driving the muddy roads was not easy, but our guide Ndossi calmly navigated the worst spots, even pulling over to help others when they were stuck or sliding toward us. On a nature walk the leader carried a large rifle, and the rear was covered by a Maasai with an even larger spear. They all exuded confidence, shared what was expected and, as a result, not once did I worry for my family’s safety. Creating that level of security made it possible for us to experience each fascinating moment with a clear and focused mind.

Execute flawlessly:
At each property we were assigned a staff person who managed our stay from sunrise, which consisted of someone knocking on our door or shouting through our tent flap, to serving our meals, and checking on what we needed throughout our stay. When it was cold and rainy over lunch they brought blankets to the table, and somehow managed to deliver a pot of hot chocolate in the middle of the Serengeti. Collectively, they left no need unmet, which added stability and cohesion to the experience.

Anticipate the needs of others and adapt on the fly:
Our guide watched our reactions to each experience and adapted to our needs. By the third day he knew what type of animals excited us, what we preferred in our packed lunches and how much knowledge about our surroundings we wanted to take in while sightseeing. In the camps, if you did not eat the pineapple on your fruit platter, it would not be there the next day. This level of real-time customization created more efficiency and less waste, all while making us feel that we were cared for on a deeply personal level.

Don’t underestimate the power of surprise:
By day five of early morning wake-ups we asked for a later, 9 a.m. start. To our chagrin, when we got to the breakfast tent we were told it was too late to eat. We grabbed a few leftover apples and set off. Around one particular bend during our journey, while being told to be on the lookout for lions next to a rock formation, we were instead shocked to see a breakfast table set, mimosas and all, at the foot of an expansive, breathtaking view. The entire staff was in on the surprise and played along. It was a highlight of our trip, all planned by a guide who took it upon himself to make the ordinary magical.

This was a bucket-list trip in a place we had never been before. The animals we encountered were a thrill, but what truly made the trip something I will never forget was our warm, intelligent guide who never failed to make each day more special than the next, and staff at each camp that made us feel welcome and secure. The power of great service left our entire family with memories we will cherish for a lifetime. Isn’t that what client service is all about?

Special thanks to Ndossi from Ranger Safaris and Yohana, Juma and Justin from Elewana.  

* Jambo means hello in Swahili

Barri Rafferty is CEO of Ketchum, one of the world’s top communication firms, with offices and affiliates in 130 markets in more than 70 countries.

Outside of Ketchum, she participates in a number of groups including the sustainability task-force for the World Economic Forum and is a member of Arthur W. Page Society Page Up program. Rafferty sits on the board of StepUp, an organization with the mission of empowering girls from under-resourced communities to become confident, college-bound, and career focused and she is also a member of the governing body of OmniWomen, Omnicom’s Leading Women’s Network, for which she holds quarterly panel discussions featuring prominent women. She is the recipient of the Plank Center Milestones in Mentoring Award.

Barri is a graduate of Boston University (M.A) and Tulane University and enjoys watching soccer, volleyball, and dance – especially when her son and daughter are involved! Connect with her on Twitter: @barrirafferty