Khmer people tend to be very honest
For Josh Jones, Operations Manager of the Three Corners Coffee Company, having service excellence in the environment of Cambodia is all about relationships.
Jones, the son of Pentecostal missionaries who brought him to Cambodia as a boy in 1992, has learned a few things along the way about interfacing successfully with Khmer people during his 19 years here.
“In Cambodia relationships are very important. If employees have a relationship with their boss, they are more likely to stay around and you can avoid such a high turnover rate,” he said.
“To do sales of fresh roasted coffee, I work with my sales team quite closely, and continue to foster their relationships. When you can stand next to somebody they will be able to trust you,” Jones said.
“In a case where you don’t have that relationship, you have to ask for it.”
One of the difficulties in bringing Khmer staff up to international service standards is the background of rote education systems that stressed obedience rather than creativity.
“In the education system, people are sometimes given a box to place themselves in and they place themselves in it so well.
Jones says Khmer staff will really soak up what a foreign manager does, for good or for ill.
What you say and what you do will affect your Khmer staff. They soak up everything that you do. What you do in everyday life and in business makes a big impression.”
Jones describes Three Corners Coffee Company as the first international quality coffee roaster in Cambodia – and the only one doing commercial coffee: selling to Lucky, Bayon, Paragon and Pencil markets.
Most of the coffee beans come from Mondulkiri and Rattanakiri provinces and is of the Robusta variety.
“The taste is really good,” Jones says.
The Three Corner Coffee Company is a social development enterprise owned by Kurt and Kelle Richter.
“The vision is to make Cambodian coffee, to support the various ministries and NGOs that are suffering due to the economic downturn and they would like to be able to support the good work that is happening here through the sale of coffee.”
Some of the proceeds earned by Three Corner Coffee goes to White Lotus, an organisation that supports women who have been in difficulties.
“I am here to do what the NGOs cannot do, to give people training,” Jones says.
“NGOs tend to bring in short-term people who think they are going to change the world, but it leaves local people with a certain attitude that may not be the most productive in the long term. People coming here should live here and stay. Cambodians need people who are going to work with them continuously. Otherwise they think this is in and out. They need to want to make their home a better place.”
“We need to empower Cambodians to make their own decisions. I want them to have the ability not only to learn, but to go after something they want.”
“Anybody who comes to live and to work beside the people in a long term fashion to give them an image of not only do business in a correct way, but not look for handouts, and to go get it for yourself - people here need that image because they have not seen that yet.”
An interesting aspect of Khmer culture for westerners to take note of, Jones says, is it is harder to lie.
“There is less ability to lie in this culture. Khmer people are about saving face and having a certain presentation about themselves. Through that, many people are much more honest and true than in the west. They are much less than available outside. Here if you lie you lose face, and that in and of itself is a big issue.”
Jones thinks Cambodia has been deeply influenced by other people from other cultures and is afraid there is a tendency to set aside the richness of Khmer culture in favor of something from the western mindset.
“Cambodians have taken westernisation from places like Korea and Japan which have been highly influenced by the United States,” Jones said. Jones, who speaks fluent Khmer is here voluntarily after a difficult time in the USA.
“I came back here because of all the problems in the USA – a ton of taxes, housing and food expensive – it was very difficult, and there were not many opportunities for me. In the USA I was just another Joe Schmoe.”
To illustrate differences between Cambodian and western behavior, Jones said laughter among Cambodians does not always denote humor.
“Laughing can be seen as a fall-back. If Cambodians are embarrassed or scared they might laugh. Sometimes it is difficult to ascertain if something is funny of it they are perturbed,” he said.
When there is fear, there might be a frozen reaction, Jones observes.
Another thing important be mindful of showing too much attention to a Khmer lady.
“If you show attention to a woman, they might start to take it as a big deal, whether you are married or not and this is different from western culture. The maturing rate is possibly slower among Khmer ladies due to how long they stay with their families,” Jones said. “Family is very important in Khmer culture. Sometimes ladies don’t ever leave the family which is a cohesive unit that they depend upon that for protection and support.”
Jones says the best thing about Khmers is their ability to accept, which is also a double-edge sword.
“Sometimes Khmers don’t consider their culture enough and they are willing to internalise other peoples above and beyond their own so readily.
I think all the events of the past have contributed to that.”
When locals learn that a foreign face like Jones’ issues a fluent Khmer language, the reaction is often surprise, followed by twenty questions.
“They ask me where I’m from, whether I’m married, how much money do I make,” he smiled.
For Jones the Khmer language ability is an advantage.
“It immediately puts me in an ability where I’m able to connect with the staff and where I can be a manager of things. I’m partly translator and cultural connector,” he said.