I (Megan – the intern) was recently lucky enough to take a sabbatical from England and visit Thailand for a month. Whilst experiencing some of the highest temperatures on Earth (something far removed from my life in the North East), I and twelve others travelled around the country, visiting some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
I well and truly immersed myself in Thai culture and experienced life as a local, which tested me to my limits more than I ever could have imagined. It also opened my eyes to the fact that life there is so very different to the life I have come to know and quite frankly, take for granted, in England.
There was one other thing, however…
Whilst Thailand may be somewhat behind Western countries with regard to technology (for example, only 5 – 7% of people in countries in South and Central Asia are active users of social media, compared to 44 – 56% of people in North America and Western Europe*) in some respects, this is no bad thing at all. As an avid user of all forms of technology and social media, it was quite a shock when, upon my arrival, I found myself disconnected from all of it. However, I quickly found that that did not mean that I was disconnected socially; rather, it meant that I had been taken from one form of socialisation and thrown into another.
The fact that a large proportion of people in Asia do not have access to social media as easily and conveniently as we do means that many businesses cannot rely on it to gain publicity for their company. As a result, they need to find alternative, yet equally effective, forms of marketing and publicity.
And they seem to have found it. You may (or may not) be aware of Thailand’s nickname: the land of smiles.
No doubt, at some point, you have encountered a particularly friendly, enthusiastic and helpful shop assistant, for example. They’ve more than satisfied your requirements and you’ve left the store in a brighter, happier mood than that in which you entered. Instantly, your perception of that store is amplified. That person, and consequently, that business, is more likely to stick in your mind and you are much more likely to want to pay them another visit in the future. Unfortunately, in the UK that is not something we generally experience on a daily basis, anymore. However, in Thailand, I found that is very much standard practice.
For example, we were fortunate to make the acquaintance of Jenny, a lady who manned a stall on a beach in Koh Phangan. We were, of course, interested in the products, but what originally drew us to her was her offering of “free hugs”, which was written in big letters on her stand below the products. To her credit, we all received our free hugs from Jenny and after a chat, by the end of which we practically knew her life story and she ours, we began our walk back to our hotel with big smiles etched across our faces. I, for one, felt more inclined to revisit that stall more than many of the stores I’ve visited in the past in England.
Why? Because she made us feel like we were valued, important customers to her and she was happy to share a smile and a friendly conversation – and there were no retweets or favourites in sight.
I’m happy to say I had many more similar experiences during my stay. On reflection, these experiences have made me appreciate the power of a simple smile. Whilst social media is now one of the biggest and best platforms of communication for many businesses, it’s also important not to forget that behind the pay check is a person, not a computer, and customers appreciate companies who take the time to recognise that.
That’s why I think it’s great that, while being experts in the field of social media and online marketing, the team at Harvey & Hugo make the effort to get to know each and every one of their clients on a first name basis – they could probably tell you exactly how they like their tea and coffee too!
So what were my lessons from the land of smiles?
* Information correct as of Jan 2014, retrieved from http://wearesocial.net/blog/2014/01/social-digital-mobile-worldwide-2014/