I recently read a useful article by Don Peppers about how small businesses can use “data” to improve their experience in the Amex Open Forum.

And it led me to think of Ghana, where small businesses abound. And while these small businesses may not be able to use the “data” methods Mr. Peppers describes, they do have a lesson for us in how to improve the customer experience.

In Ghana, commerce is different: small shop stands, often open along the road, are the rule. These are one person businesses: a drug store, a hair dresser, a shirt seller. It’s a world away from mega malls and eCommerce and major marketing.

And it reminds me of what big companies could do more of : get out of the office and into the lives of customers.

That’s all these 1 person shops do : they live and breathe (literally) their customers.

So it leads to interesting choices. For example, the shops are almost always one or two product focused. This is because these are the products they are expert in (why clocks and footballs, I’m not sure…). And for the customer it’s clear where to go for what.

The shops state clearly just what they sell.

And the owner stands in the shop and pulls the wares off the shelf to show how they work. She then sees right away if the product is defunct, and get another one (as happened in our purchase of a football).

Owners choose names of the shops that resonate with their customers: “God is my saviour Drugstore” and “Jesus loves. Football store” abound. As a Westerner living in Europe, this can seem quaint, but the names show a deep understanding of the customer base. In a world where religion dominates daily life, what better way to sell your shop than to link it to God?

So the advice from Ghana : get out of the office. Observe your customers. Ask them questions. Sell to them. It can bring refreshingly obvious insights. Maybe the things you think are crystal clear aren’t coming over that way to customers.