Baksheesh ... it is an ancient word with origins in Persia commonly understood to mean a tip or gratuity for services rendered. We all understand the art of tipping these days; you cannot eat out without calculating the right amount of gratuity expected by your server, even when the service was neither exemplary nor remotely beyond the minimum required to deliver your order. We are so accustomed to performing this ritual that we just factor the tip into the cost of the eating out. The servers factor it into their expected income, and the host employer is the beneficiary of his guests supplementing his employees’ wages without his involvement. Some establishments have arrangements where the customer is so generous, the help pays the host a portion of their gratuity for the opportunity to “work the corner,” as it were.
I first learned the word Baksheesh when I was a boy in Kenya while reading the book “Mama Was A Missionary” by Charles Ludwig. He recounted a time when sitting in a barbershop waiting for his turn, the character before him, upon paying for his haircut, asked the proprietor for Baksheesh. Charles observed the barber then complied by applying a dab of hair lotion to the customer’s head. The lesson was you pay for a service rendered, but it doesn’t hurt to ask for just a touch of something extra. Perhaps it is like the mints on your pillow when you stay at the better places.
I have no idea why that passage of the book I read a half-century ago has stayed with me, but I have found that when appropriate, there is great satisfaction in granting the Baksheesh, be it a generous tip or a gratuity for really good service, wherever it comes from. Waiters, paper boys, taxi drivers, tour guides, mechanics or whomever has earned the reward, there is a good feeling associated with being generous — that is until it is expected.
There is also satisfaction that accompanies acknowledgment of service deemed worthy of the tip or even the compliment. When you are the recipient of the gratuity, you know you have successfully pleased your customer. There are times when it is simply inappropriate to accept the monetary reward, and the refusal is the correct response.
Then there are those exceptions where the tip is less than honorable — the bribe. Never tip the officer that has just pulled you over. A coerced gratuity where you are trying to guarantee a favorable outcome is generally unpleasant at best and possibly extortion at worst. Baksheesh is well known as a form of bribery throughout much of the world where the term originates, and it can be downright corrupt or just dammed inconvenient.
When we opened our motorcycle dealership, there was great excitement with the first sales we made, and it was fun delivering our beautiful motor bikes to appreciative customers who were equally excited. The first few years we endeavored to make each purchase seem like a celebration. We didn’t ring the bell, sound the gong, or set off the alarm sirens like they do in some dealerships, but we tried to make our customers feel special, letting them know we valued their confidence in us and our product over our competition’s products.
We enjoyed surprising them with benefits that weren’t expected. If someone purchased an expensive motorcycle, and we didn’t have to cut the price or throw in accessories to make the sale, we were free to give away something nice to send them out the door feeling like they were appreciated and part of our family of valued customers. We even established Preferred Customer status and offered discounts on all future merchandise. They knew they could get priority service when necessary and my home number in case of emergencies. It was fun for a while.
My grandfather had his own auto repair business. I always admired him for that, and I am sure much of my interest in the world of mechanics stems from the same genetics. Erv had a saying that I have learned to be very true, and I have it framed on my office wall: “If you do something for someone one time, they appreciate it. If you do it a second time, they expect it, and the third time, you damn well better do it.” For a long time I just thought that was a funny saying, then it became all too true.
What happened? Why did the simple act of giving a little bit back to the customer become burdensome and no longer rewarding? Overthe last 10 years, the shopping experience has changed for all of us, both consumers and service providers. There is a sense of impersonal and disinterest in much of our online commerce today. It is sort of like getting your food in the drive through lane — no tip needed.
The way we can literally transact so much of our purchases from a distance without ever even speaking to another human voice removes the personal contact and the need to be civil to each other. So much so that in many of the instances where it is necessary to actually be face-to-face, there is almost a hesitancy and a cautiousness that wasn’t there 10 years ago.
I watch young people especially have difficulty relaxing and feeling at ease when they are forced by circumstances to bring their motorcycle into the shop for service and repair. This is out of the comfort zone from the safe world of the Internet, and it seems there is an automatic sense of distrust, perhaps from too many advisers on search engines or online forums.
If consumers begin their journey through the Internet by doing research on say, a new bike purchase, they can literally get information from all over the world about every aspect of the potential purchase without ever once speaking to a real person. And their data file on the bike may be so full that when they actually do enter your store, you are at a serious disadvantage because you do not know what they think they know.
So while I lament that we have lost that once fun experience of meeting a new customer and enjoying the selling process of getting them onto the new motorcycle of their dreams through personal interaction face-to-face — much like the sharp and knowledgeable waiter at a great restaurant would see to it that your dining experience is fantastic (after all we are not selling transportation as much as we are selling fun) — we have got to overcome the hurdles of the new shopping model and find our buyers where they are, which very likely is not actually in your store.
Gone forever may be the art of Baksheesh, where you are able to give back something unexpected as an expression of your appreciation. Instead, the discount is now expected up front, more like the bribe to gain advantage in this strange new world. Perhaps we will get ’em later once they get to know we’re family, too.
Tim Woodsome and his wife, Nan, are owners of Cruisin’ 66, a Victory, Motus, Royal Enfield and Ural dealer in Ozark, Mo.