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  • Writer's pictureTribes Team

3 Pillars of Good Customer Service from a tribal perspective: Woshdee, Bahozho, K'enidzin

Great customer service is good business and good for our culture. In the Navajo tradition, it comes down to 3 values: Woshdee, Bahozho, and K’enidzin.

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What is good customer service? What is the type of customer service that our tribal people always appreciated?

Think back just even 100 years – envision that you are a tribal person and you need a saddle maker, some new types of lambs to add to the herd, a herbalist for a ceremony, a home builder, a dress maker. How would the entrepreneur have treated the customer back in those days? The customer would have had to seek out the entrepreneur for a good or service. Usually, and to this day still, it meant that they would have gone to their home. One of the most important actions when one has a visitor is Woshdee which means “come in” but the actions around Woshdee have deeper meaning. We are taught to greet in a happy manner, to welcome in, to offer food and coffee, to engage attentively in the visit. Thus, the very first interaction that occurs in customer service is Woshdee, welcoming. Part of woshdee is to make the guest feel relaxed. This can be accomplished through light conversation and a positive compliment. When you compliment someone, it needs to be genuine. One should learn how to look for the good in every surrounding, every person. When even the smallest compliment is provided, the customer will feel important and know that you acknowledge them as so.

Do you have an uncle or aunt that is so friendly to all? In Navajo we call that Bahozho (means exudes happiness). Or they acknowledge elders as my shima sani (grandma), shi dah (uncle), shi dezhi (little sister), etc and they know clans and even know that a certain person holds a place of honor in the community and makes sure they are acknowledged and treated special. We are taught to have light thoughts and to be humorous. Again, if you are ever around a traditional tribal entrepreneur, they aren’t serious. They offer light jokes. If they know you well, the jokes may be even more humorous. Bahozho is important to us as we say its one of the keys to long life and happiness. Its so important that when a child first laughs, we actually have a celebration.

Another important value is K’enidzin (which means honors and acknowledges clans and honors others). K’enidzin is a pillar of our societies. Its how we support one another in all our community lives. How does bahozho and k’enidzin take place in the workplace? Have you been to a trading post where someone that practices bahozho and k’enidzin works? Its an amazing experience and you feel good when you leave. If your young, under 50, you feel so good when someone smiles and acknowledges you as she’awee (meaning my child). Or shi chei (for an elder, make sure the white hair is because they are an elder) which means my grandpa.

Woshdee, Bahozho and K’enidzin also means learning to have humor, joking in a good way. To have friendliness. Its’ also important to be aware of honored position that someone holds. This is similar to how a mayor, judge, college president, chief of police, celebrated elder, are treated in far away cities. We have to be aware and take the time to know who is an esteemed leader, medicine person, entrepreneur, farmer, sheepherder, and acknowledge them. If you don’t know, ask them. Figure out ways to find out. If someone comes in and they look distinguished, the way they carry themselves, or the way they are dressed with jewelry, acknowledge it. The same goes if someone isn’t so well dressed or looks like they are struggling. Its good to acknowledge them and give them words to uplift them. Genuinely find something positive to say to them. We are taught that all our important, every kid, grandparent, everyone and that we are supposed to lift up each other.

We build on these values with other time honored values such as being positive and poised. Again, these virtues are celebrated and important to every day interaction. We all hear stories and have experiences of both good and bad customer service from our own people. It’s a wonder why someone would treat another badly. In the tribal way, we are supposed to always think good positive thoughts and be disciplined with how our mind works, to not let in wonder. In fact, this is so important we have ceremonies to make the mind right again.

As business owners, as managers and supervisors, if we don’t know these values and virtues already, we must learn them again and incorporate them into our daily lives and teach our children, aunts, uncles, grandpas, cousins, to be good employees that offer customer services.

As we create commerce, start restaurants, hotels, casinos, its important that we be part of nation building by building tribal members that are proud everywhere, in the ceremony, in the hunt, in the community run, in the farming, in the songs, and in the service to customers. We all are a part of saving our cultures, and you know what, we also create a good business that our people will want to come back to.

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