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Jennifer Orode: ‘Be intentional about your dreams and be determined to achieve them’

By Tobi Awodipe
11 March 2023   |   4:30 am
Jennifer Orode is a customer service expert who re-engineers businesses across Africa to achieve high profitability by delivering exceptional experiences to customers.

Jennifer Orode

Jennifer Orode is a customer service expert who re-engineers businesses across Africa to achieve high profitability by delivering exceptional experiences to customers. A fellow and member of several bodies, she is also a chartered manager with the Nigeria Institute of Management (NIM).
Orode holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration (Finance) from Coventry University and has been trained as a portfolio manager by the International Faculty of Finance (IFF), United Kingdom. Passionate about driving business growth and transformation, as well as creating wealth for both customers and organisations, she has led businesses and multi-dimensional teams across various capacities. She is the curator of the Entrepreneurial Training Program, CRSP, which has equipped entrepreneurs to engineer customer-centric businesses.
Orode further explored her entrepreneurship career by starting up Ingenium in 2022. She also founded Astute UK, an investment brand that facilitates start-up investment deals through its community-based tech platform for founders, investors, and deal originators.
With a life philosophy summed up in the acronym, G.I.V.E., she tells TOBI AWODIPE about starting her entrepreneurial journey from a painful experience, applying customer-centric approach to growing businesses and brands and how businesses and individuals can remain sustainable and create wealth in these times.

Take us a bit through your career journey, how would you describe it?
I studied Industrial Mathematics at the Delta state university. I remember getting a job in a computer accessory firm in Abuja, right after graduation. It was my first working experience and it was indeed an interesting one. ‘I would do well in the Information Technology space’, I thought to myself. However, during my time there, I wore many caps working as a customer service rep, a marketer, operations person and even in the logistics unit. I had to juggle these responsibilities within a couple of months until my NYSC posting.

After NYSC, I got a job as a customer service representative in a stockbroking firm in Lagos. I knew nothing about equities or investments, but I already made certain discoveries about myself during my first work experience – I loved figures, I enjoyed seeing relief/smiles on customers’ faces, being able to resolve challenges, bringing ease to customers and, generally, being a solution. All of these gave me confidence that I would do just fine in my new role. I must confess, it wasn’t the easiest, it was rough; I quitted more than I wanted to stay. But then, all of these experiences strengthened my career foundation.

In the midst of all the challenges, I remember reassuring myself that my hard work will announce me; I kept at it. Customers began to notice me, sang my praise, and even sent emails of commendation to the management. I remember once my MD called me to his office explaining that some of our international customers sent in their commendation, saying, ‘whoever Jennifer is, she’s an exceptional customer representative.’ The management’s confidence in my competence grew and my work started getting more attention and commendations. The general customers and the HNIs of the firm preferred me. My first MPR with the firm was one I will never forget.

Genuine hard work is very rewarding and this satisfaction cannot be bought. Every unit head of the organisation commended my contribution to their unit and made beautiful remarks and how an asset I was. This blew me away and I was ever committed to creating an impact on both customers and my employer’s business. Don’t get me wrong, incentives were nothing to reckon with, it wasn’t even enough to take one to work and be back; it wasn’t so great. The business culture wasn’t also one for productivity. However, my motivation wasn’t in any of those. One thing that was important to me was, learning from every situation/experience.

I learnt virtually from every unit and to management’s surprise, they couldn’t decide where to place me to maximise my potential; I was perfect for all departments. Every unit task I was given was met with exceeding results. I grew, got promoted and utmostly, I was asked to create a desk that never existed, The Fixed Income unit. It was the first of its kind position and happened in the era when the equity market crashed and in 2008 when there was a global recession.

Again, I put in the work, developed the unit, grew in knowledge, skill and the customer base continued to increase. I got all my jobs through referrals from customers. I found a deeper love for customers in all I do and I wanted to be more, to get better. This is evident in my passion for knowledge acquisition, my certifications, and my training.

Why did you venture into entrepreneurship?
Entrepreneurship is a remarkable part of my journey as it has always been one of my goals and aspiration. However, its realisation came earlier than I anticipated, and funny, through an unfortunate situation (well, to my benefit). I was fired from the last place I worked as an employee. My line manager felt threatened by my work and never reported my contributions. This made the management assume that I was a liability. After this, my husband said to me, ‘You are not working for anyone again, no one can pay you enough for how you work.’ And that, really, was the end of a phase and the beginning of another for me.

I thought carefully about my potential. What do I have? What can I offer? I was certain that I had my skill set and a customer base to kick off with and so I concluded that I was going to figure it all out as I journey along; I always do anyways. I ventured into my employer’s line of business (Astute Professionals Ltd) and my employer’s customers knew I was somewhere else, they moved. Customers told me, ‘Jennifer, wherever you are, we will go.’

At first, they were concerned about the newness of the firm, but my name, being the brand they can identify with, was all that was needed to convince them. This is what every brand should ascribe to or aspire to be. I always listen to my customers and know areas they require more. Many came to me not just for investment advice anymore, but also on portfolio and structure. This pushed me to acquire more knowledge, undergo training and get certifications.

My level of experience has exposed me to the pain of customers from an employee’s point of view and now as a business owner; I can also clearly see their pain. As always, I have listened to customer yearnings and the pain of not getting what they deserve from brands, this is the foundation with which Ingenium Concepts Ltd was built. We are passionate about inspiring excellence in businesses, their growth and transformation through customer service intervention, refined cultures, strategies and structures. Consequently, it is safe to say that my aspiration to improve the experience customers get from brands has a two-way approach, the brands and their employees.

When you say businesses should about the customer, what exactly do you mean?
Customers exist for a business to exist; it was first the business of the customer. Now, every need/gap an entrepreneur is setting out to being a solution is for the customer. As such, businesses should be set up for the customer. Simply put, it is the business of the customer (their pain) and should be for the customer (the solution they seek) but the latter is from reality. My book explains how businesses should be set up for the customer.

As one passionate about driving business growth and transformation, what would you say are some factors hindering businesses and SMEs from achieving these twin goals?
Branding. One important element of branding amongst the intangibles is the vision. Where is the business headed? What is the destination? When you know where you are headed, you plan on how to get there and that brings us to the mission. Who are you and what do you have? This is where planning begins. Now, knowing whose business you are getting into (customer) is a vital part of your planning and success.

A lot of SMEs haven’t figured these out realistically. It’s on paper, but it’s not reflective in all aspects of their business journey. Understanding your audience will help to figure out the resources needed for the business (this would range from, finance, human capital, product designs and impact), and how to access these resources as well as allocate them. Through these, on boarding the right workforce becomes easy.

Remember your employees are a major part of your business structure; they implement it. Understanding SWOT analysis is also imperative. That is, maximising your strength and strengthening your weakness. A lot of businesses have their business plans with SWOT analysis clearly stated and highlighted for guidance. However, SMEs are more focused and distracted by PESTEL analysis, being aware of other factors that could impact your business. SMEs are now not only aware of these factors, but have made them a distraction to the business.

Take for instance, government policies. Which African SME has control over what pronouncement the government would make, as well as, its impact? So, why dwell over what you can’t control? Now, let’s consider setting up the right team to drive the vision of the business, do SMEs have control over these? Absolutely. They can decide to not add to customers’ pain given the hardship of the environment by giving customers genuine solutions they are willing to still pay for with complimentary service support. The business will always adopt the values of the owners.

In light of the harsh economy, how best can businesses and individuals remain sustainable and create wealth?
It’s simple, be more to customers and genuinely serve them. You need their resources to stay in business, remain relevant and sustain. Customers are not requisitioning a perfect product, but a perfect service to make room for any imperfection in your products/service. Focus on being a pain reliever. Don’t be a pain enhancer like most businesses are doing today.

As an entrepreneur yourself, what would you say business owners suffer the most in Nigeria today?
External actors: infrastructural support, import of poor governance; internal factors: lack of structure, wrong set of employees and finance (well not the soul of the business, I would like to add, just the fuel that propels it).

You say you intend to train four million people in customer service this year, how are you looking to achieve this feat?
Through partnerships across Africa, sponsorship and my team. You will agree that the more people we can train, the better our chances of improving the experience customers get from brands. But how do we get to train a lot of people if they aren’t aware of the training? This is where the partnership is important to further drive visibility, and sponsorship to help drive the impact of this project.

Customer service is lacking in many businesses and corporate organisations and despite many players in this field, it persists; why?
It is a foundational problem than it is an employee’s problem (branding). How would a square peg fit into a round hole? It’s not about who can speak the general language or who has studied the full curriculum but personalities, aspirations and motivation. It takes one who is motivated differently to serve. It is not the number of interview rounds and a general training wouldn’t cut it either.

How are you poised personally to change the narrative around customer experience?
Being of service is my passion; it’s my design and DNA. I have seen the narrative in the business I have set up and I have experienced it serving customers as an employee and now as an employer. Serving is my passion. No wonder my philosophy is G.I.V.E; this is what serving brings.

Growth— helping you to become more and giving real depth to your business. Impact –­­­­­ helping you achieve real transformation, Value­ – realizing the real potential of your business and Excellence -bringing onboard best practices for business growth.

What importance does a great customer-centric approach play in improving the overall outlook of a business, brand or organisation?
Customer-centricity is the ideal business approach that creates the right perception that strengthens brands, drives growth, improves profitability, as well as confers relevance and sustainability. The reward is never-ending.

As one who has worked across different sectors, would you say women thrive in the upper echelon in the corporate world?
I am not one to speak for any specific gender. I have seen both genders do well in their career. However, here is what I would say, businesses require the resources of customers to stay relevant and sustained. And if we understand the psychograph of customers, we know they are emotional buyers.

Now if we agree that women are more compassionate and have elements of emotions to support their analysis and insights, then we can see why often times, women are successful at what they commit themselves to. However, their support system to achieving the most is their families.

You also founded Astute UK, what were you looking to solve with this when you started out?
The pain of investors having to subscribe to a lot of platforms in search of viable opportunities thereby the visibility restricted by the number of platforms subscribed to. While on the other hand, the pain of start-ups seeking to raise funds yet not getting the right support from platforms aside from listing opportunities being offered. Astute is about visibility, viability and community support.

You say you are passionate about helping younger women coming after you, in what ways are you doing this?
Through business coaching, my entrepreneurial training program, career mentorship and training, 2CT (The Customer-Centric Service Training).

Do you have any regrets, would you do things differently if given a chance?
I am not one for regrets. I always learn from every situation. Failure is good; it presents you with another opportunity to be better. It comes with its cost, but the rewards are far-reaching.

What career or personal challenge has threatened to derail you so far?
I would say it’s not a derail, but a setback I am determined to come back from. That would be the challenge of setting up a business in a completely new region where culture and perception differ.
However, what keeps me going is that customers’ yearnings and business principles are the same irrespective of region and race. I am unstoppable, I know this and my team and I agree on this.

What personal mantra do you live your life by?
Do not leave anyone who comes in contact with you the same way you met them; leave an imprint. It comes with its cost but its satisfaction cannot be monetised. Also, genuinely care.

If you were speaking with a young woman that looks up to you, what would you tell her that would help her thrive and succeed career and life-wise?
You are an asset. Be intentional about your dreams and be determined to achieve them. However, please note that half the time, it may not look possible, but the truth is, everything is possible when intentionality fuelled by determination is the order of the day. Stay positive; be genuine to yourself and others. You can achieve what you want, should you commit your mind to it. Be intentional, be determined and be committed.

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