Consumerism to Comity; Customers to Clients

The economies of the Caribbean Islands are primarily reliant on tourism, government, and ancillary services. The current crisis causes a complete collapse of tourism and will test the resilience of Caribbean entrepreneurs.

But this situation will not be permanent; sooner rather than later things will return to normal – albeit a “new” one. So what is the businessperson to do? First and foremost, stay healthy, preserve whatever business is left and engage whoever remains around. Secondly, stay in close touch with those who cannot enjoy your service now. And thirdly, rethink the new normal and act upon it, now.

Business as unusual
Take Bonaire. In 2019 the number of visitors by airplane rose by 7 percent to 158.000. The increase in visitors arriving by cruise-ship rose by more than double that: 15 %, totaling 458.000. So on a community of 20.000, a total of well over 600.000 visitors per annum dwindled to nearly nil in a matter of days to weeks.  These numbers indicate that all Island entrepreneurs need to bootstrap their business for now, but at the same time scramble for takeoff when health returns. 

Reduce, re-use, recycle and reposition
Obviously, this means embracing what business is left, reducing all expenditures that do not contribute to carrying fixed costs, and re-using and recycling all that can be used to service customers. But it may also mean serving whoever is still around. Or recycling old acquaintances. Some remain less susceptible to the hit. For example: governments. They must continue their service and most consider investment as part of recovery programs. Time to refocus on such activities and reposition for the upcoming programs. Still others can be served from the “five-foot social-distancing enterprise”: content may be created that is related to or based on your business, and may be sold online.

Be a sticky note
This leads to the second point: stick to your constituency like super glue. Harness the power of the Internet and stay in close touch with those who cannot enjoy your service right now. This can be done in many ways, particularly through social media, YouTube, webinars, online courses or newsflashes, online book or -product sales; yes, even through the good old CRM-system and its periodic newsletter. The point is to embrace the customer and to continue to kindle his or her interest by sharing content. 

Consumerism to Comity; Customers to Clients
(The principle of creating a friendly and social atmosphere, social harmony, and the application of courtesy and considerate behavior towards others.)

Perhaps the most important is the third: it is unlikely that the new-normal will be identical to the old-normal, or even liken it. Interests, intentions, appetites and allegiances will change. We need to re-think and act. And that gives rise to the deeper question on the desirability of the old-normal. Were the old ways the best? Indeed, tourist numbers were increasing rapidly. 

But is that the ultimate goal for Caribbean Island economies, whose unique selling proposition is a combination of a pristine ocean, nature-preservation, and a culture of resilience, integrity and genuineness? Can the Islands’ community and ecology sustain such an approach, longer-term? 

Fortunately, marketing polls are clearly showing a shift from consumerism to comity. Valued are sustainability, nature- and health-consciousness, self-actualization, community and genuine human interaction. Hand-in-hand goes a change from customers to clients. Whereas the former purchased a commodity at a store, the latter pays a premium in consideration of a specialized, personal service.

While the customer bought and walked away, the client stays the client. He or she values the intangible element: the relationship that is at the heart of the business. And continues to pay for the experience. Viewed as such, the prime purpose is not to turn a profit. It is to understand the client’s wants and needs and create a suite of innovative services that exceed them. Profit is the outcome.

These trends will only be amplified by what is going on right now, and suggests a rethink. Of consumerism to comity and of customers to clients.

Weero Koster LLM, MSc is an acknowledged energy expert and assists entrepreneurs, MNC’s, NGO’s and governments in creating and expanding sustainable business and is a frequent writer and speaker on business related topics. He has been a Dutch “advocaat” and partner in international law firms for over 25 years and resides and works on Bonaire. The contents of this article may not be relied upon for any legal purpose.