Naeem Arif is a multi-award winning entrepreneur, business owner and business consultant. He is known as a Customer First Enabler, and over the last 20 years, he has consulted for some of the biggest brands in the world, including British Airways, The BBC, Jaguar and Land Rover.
Naeem is the vice-chair of the Midlands Retail Forum and sits on the Executive Committee of the Sutton Coldfield Chamber of Commerce. He is also a five-time bestselling author and has been published in English, Russian and Mandarin. His recent book, customer First, was the no.1 bestseller in multiple categories, including Customer Service in numerous countries. The book focuses on some simple concepts including this;
“Too many organisations are chasing turnover and profit. You need to pursue Customer Satisfaction if you can do that, the money will come by itself.”
A concept that has been part of his DNA, with his parents believing in this approach in all the family businesses they built, and it is a mantra that he lives by. The environment in which he grew up in also had an impact on his current self. His parents got into business as a way to make a better life for themselves. Growing up, Naeem saw his parents work paid jobs as well as build businesses on the side. Their businesses were dear to them, and they treated their customers as guests. As such, they would be keen to take advantage of opportunities to make money, but at the same time, always wanted to make sure they had happy customers.
It’s about getting the balance right between taking opportunities, and also giving value to his customers.
While talking to Naeem, it is safe to say that Entrepreneurship is definitely highly significant in their family, as in his earlier years he would work on weekends, in the school holidays and on Saturdays which became an opportunity for Naeem to make money for himself growing up. As the owners’ son, he was given responsibility early and also understood the value of money. When the school tuck shop closed down for renovation; he started selling sweets to friends. This developed into football badges, footballs and then in the Sixth Form a personalised T-shirt business. This was never big money, but it honed the skills in terms of buying, selling and customer service.
Rather than joining the family business, after university he took a graduate job with Price Waterhouse Coopers, allowing him to take his business experience and use it to build relationships with many corporate clients. While the size of the organisations may have been more significant, the concepts remained the same. The knowledge and experience that was already built into him made him a valuable consultant, which lead him to work on some significant transformation projects globally.
However, despite his budding success, Arif continued to work with his family, while having a career of his own. In 2005 they invested in a new project that saw Naeem become a franchise owner of United Carpets and Beds, a renown national retail business. Starting a new business is a difficult time for anyone, but as a family, they pulled together, and for this reason, the project became a huge success. Despite knowing nothing about the products, they were always confident about making it a success. As they knew it was not about having cutting edge technology or new ideas, it was about getting the basics of business right. Big Data and SEO are both as equally important, but in retail, a friendly welcome and excellent service is a perfect formula for success. It is no surprise that this business has grown year on year for 15 years now, despite the challenges on the High Street. Problems that haven’t seemed to compromise his success as he and his family have won multiple awards, many for Customer Service excellence.
“Excellent customer service is how SMEs will dominate the marketplace; customers will remember your service much longer than your price, and they will tell everyone they know about the great experience you gave them.”
As well as Naeem achieving customer service excellence, he is also attempting to tackle one of the biggest economic challenges at the moment involving the decline in the financial growth of the High street. Although recent reports state that approximately 18-20% of retail is now online and thought to incline to 25%-30% over the next 24 months this, in fact, means that the high streets are evolving rather than declining as such. Based on the fact that Naeem knows that what he offers customers, which is nothing less and nothing more than excellence.
Combined with his understanding of what makes a high street great, and how to replicate a formula around the country for everyone’s benefit. Ensuring that an improvement on the connection with the target customer is made, which is wanting to be achieved by workers speaking the language of the customer and looking after them so well that they wouldn’t want to shop elsewhere. This is something that successful brands do well, and Naeem’s time working as a corporate consultant allowed him to learn the secrets of the corporate boardroom from the inside and out.
As well as being a great mentor for people going through hard times. Naeem has also put his knowledge and experience into practice with Business Basics First, a three-month program of his that features five modules with “customer first” being the core module which is coincidentally the very title of his recent book. The course teaches entrepreneurs and business owners that the main objective of the business is to make themselves more memorable, conduct better services have better customer-to-business relationships that specifically outline the undeniable importance for enterprises to put the customer before everything else.
He wrote his first book as mentioned previously in 2004 at a time when the industry he was working in seemed to have only one “expert”. He decided to partner up with his friend and colleague Tauseef Sheikh so that they could share their knowledge with the world. This book went on to become the top-selling SAP ERP book in the U.K. for six months and in the U.S. for an astonishing nine-months.
‘Customer First’ talks about how to grow your business by becoming so remarkably good that customers will never want to leave you or abandon your business. It talks about how to create loyal and long-lasting customers. It portrays how to create a brand image which customers can simply not forget. Writing books was the best way Naeem found to reach the hearts of his clients and increase his credibility in his market. “Customer First” is his fifth and most important piece of work. There is a chapter called ‘The 12 Golden Rules of Customer Service’ which is also now a specific course that Naeem teaches. It puts in place the basic things that every customer service strategy should have. For example, ‘being helpful, even when there is no sale insight’ is a principle that encourages your staff to think about more than just making money. Companies that adopt this principle often find that they increase their chances of converting prospective customers who are won over by the friendly nature of the customer service that they receive.
Naeem is a proud Brummie and is also keen to give back to the Birmingham Community. Birmingham is an integral part of the U.K.’s economy, as a lot of business is done there and statistics confirm that a lot of start-ups originate from Birmingham. With its diverse communities and functional transport networks, it is an ideal place to start a business.
He also gives back to the community by offering his hand in helping charities that work with children. Providing his support to the youth of Birmingham with his place on the Birmingham Youth Sports Academy committee, an academy that received the Queens Award for Voluntary services which are the equivalent of an MBE.
Sharing knowledge and experience is not something that people find comfortable, for fear of giving away their secrets. Naeem does not believe in this, he is keen to share and help others as a way of learning and growing together. At a time when the world seems to be full of experts, the publishing process can help you stand out from your competitors.
Since joining High Profile Club, I have received a lot more opportunities that I have been able to take advantage of. Naeem is on the Editorial Board of Modern Retail magazine and is a regular contributor to other publications such as Customer Experience Magazine, The Asian Today and Retail Gazette.
“If you truly are an expert in a sector, then it is your responsibility to share that knowledge with your peers, and it should be your passion to see that field sector grow. By sharing you will not reduce your own knowledge, you will help everyone grow together, imagine if Edison or Tesla had kept electricity just to themselves?”
It is massively important to him that his work is not just about making money, but also about doing the right thing. He felt that in addition to having an impact on his own career, writing has an effect on other people’s lives as well. His book preaches customer care from every angle as well as correct business morals and way of moving in the economy. “When people come back to me after reading my book or attending our courses and say “hey, you have really helped me change my performance in the market! It makes me feel proud.”
Naeem recalls the times where his team have saved businesses that were in trouble and the families that rely on them.
“Knowing that our work is making a difference is extremely rewarding.”
This is particularly true in the SME space, as SME businesses, which are usually Owner-Operated or family-based businesses. The marketplace today means that you don’t need to have Retail premises on Oxford Street, just as a Fleet of Trucks are no longer essential to run a significant business, as technology now removes so many barriers.
“Not only can SME’s challenge the big brands, but they can beat them.”
Meaning that we are currently living in the most significant time in history for Entrepreneurs and SME business owners. Where digital technology and innovative thinking has plateaued us to a place where we can target and connect with anybody we want. A connected global marketplace is realistically accessible, as Social Media tools allow us to read the market, identify and communicate with people on more of a personal level.
If you look to the global giants, there aren’t any “magical formulas” behind their success. Richard Branson built Virgin based on excellent customer service, Amazon has thrived due to its ease and variety all in a 1-click ordering process and Apple products just work, which is fantastic customer experience. Though these may sound like basic strategies, these guys are Brilliant at the Basics.
When asked to give one piece of advice to other entrepreneurs, Naeem would say; – Not only can the small businesses challenge the big brands, but they can beat them. Following the era of “value for money” and “brand identity”, customers now demand personalisation and experiences. Faceless corporates are finding it harder to maintain the attention of their customers these days; an independent coffee shop can challenge the likes of Starbucks, just because of the way they make their guests “feel” and the excellent news is Naeem is at the forefront of this new business beginning.