Green Element Weekly Podcast Interview with

Naeem Arif –  Author of Customer First

Naeem Arif is the author of “Customer First” and MD of NA Consulting and United Carpets. In this conversation, Naeem shares his experience of advising large businesses and managing multiple companies.


  • Chasing happy customers is better than profits
  • Working with employees and organisational culture
  • Business transformation for large organisations
  • Global village and diversity in the workplace
  • Demand for sustainability in companies
  • Millennials won’t sacrifice meaningful work for more pay
  • How treating one customer with kindness lead to more customers

Useful links:

Naeem Arif –

Customer First –

NA Consulting –

High Profile Club –

United Carpets & Beds –

Sapiens –

B1G1 –

B Corp –

Sustainable Developement Goals –

Will – intro: 00:02 So welcome to the green element podcast. Thank you so much for coming along. We know each other through the, um, High Profile Club, which is a PR really interesting PR club. That I’ve, I became a member of last October, November. And how long have you been a member of?

Naeem: 00:23 I think September. So similar time.

Will: 00:25 Right. And we don’t really here to talk about that and we were more, we’ve connected through that and through that connection we’ve understood what it is that you guys do in your organization and how you work. And I think you’re writing a book at the moment on the cohesion of staff and how you treat your staff. And if that’s very much in the, um, briefest of what it was we’re trying to achieve. It’s this podcast of helping people understand what it is they’re doing and how to do it. So could you introduce yourself and tell us a bit more about who you are and your businesses, et Cetera?

Naeem: 00:59 Yeah, definitely. We’ll look festival. Well, thanks for inviting me on. I’m quite looking forward to this. So my name’s [inaudible]. I run three businesses. Ah, I’ve got a consultancy, which means I get to work with some great global brands and some smaller businesses. Um, and the other main business I have is a carpet and flooring business called United C arpets. Um, I was born just outside Birmingham and my businesses tend to be around the Midlands, and so, uh, uh, I’m quite a local boy.

Will: 01:28 Okay. How do you think you’ve written this book? What’s the book called?

Naeem: 01:37 So this is my fifth book. It’s called “Customer First”. It’s all about why organizations should think about their customers first. Um, and the reason why I think it’s relevant for your discussion is, um, you know, one of the big quotes early in the book is stop chasing, turnover and profit and think about customer satisfaction. Cause when you get really happy customers, the money will come. And the way you know, millennial mindsets, a generation Z mindsets, everyone’s changing. You know, people are more interested in more than just your products. They’re interested in what your, what your organization is about, what you do for society and the environment. And, um, I think businesses need to start paying attention to that. I’m bringing into their story playing for their customers.

Will: 02:26 Okay. And so what would be your first steps if you are a small business, uh, listening to this podcast and you, what, what would you suggest you do? Start off with, with understanding where to get to where you would want them to get to?

Naeem: 02:45 I think the last couple years we’ve seen a lot of high profile businesses go out of business because they’ve literally just disconnected with their customers. That can happen for a lot of reasons, but nowadays because there’s so much competition, so many alternatives that businesses are checking that um, what you’re doing is, um, environmentally friendly, ethical. Um, have you got good service record? So like, you know, Uber, I had a big, um, that a big footprint in the UK. All of a sudden news breaks about how they treat their, um, their customers, their suppliers, they drivers. And suddenly Uber’s global expansion goes on hold. And it’s just a classic example of, um, of what can happen. So if you are an existing business or if you are a new business, we always talk about really thinking about your customers, what they believe, what they think, what’s important to them, and start understanding that. And if you, you know, if you can get that angle for instance, where you think there’s, there’s a gap in the market because, and that particular industry or a service area, people aren’t doing things ethically or if they aren’t hmm. Environmentally friendly or if they aren’t looking after their employees, you can jump into that space and you can really sell that story. So that’s something that people should really, really think about when, yeah. The setting up or if they’re in business, I want to go to another level, grow turnover, go expansion. That’s a great place to start. I think.

Will: 04:16 I’m not wrong in saying that everything is connected. I, I remember you were talking about how you communicate with your staff and you’re in the carpet shop and how often you guys meet and how often you go out. Um, that must play a part in the whole process because if you’ve got happy staff, you’ll get happy customers. And they will try it and then do a better job.

Naeem: 04:45 Yeah. 100%. I think, you know, when you are a solo business or a very small business or, or a family business, you know, we’re, we, we started off as a family business. Um, it’s really easy for three, four, five of you to be really entrenched in§ the values and the ethos of the business and the objectives as you start growing. And as you start getting staff involved, those guys have got different objectives. You know, most of them probably just want to go home. Most of them have got career aspirations and things like that for them to get them aligned to your organization values and to get them involved. It’s really important to have that two way conversation. hmm. And especially when you’ve got probably people from different backgrounds or with different career aspirations and ages. Uh, I just think communication, communication, communication is massively important and two way as well. Not just communicating down. Get their ideas and feedback.

Will: 05:46 As you’ve, as you’ve grown, have you, is it much harder to, um, I don’t know. You’ve got 20 odd staff. Is it, is it that much harder? I mean, is this, is the stuff that you can do to preampt anything going wrong or is it, should you just fail, find your way through understanding and making sure that you are, you have got cohesion and just, you know, your staff, therefore keep that in mind and grow with that in mind? Or are there certain things that you could say actually think about that?

Naeem: 06:18 I think when you’re a smaller organization and the organization and you’ve got one bad apple, it’s a big percentage. And when you’re 20 and you’ve got one bad apple, you can sort of cover people. Um, when you’re growing, you sort of want to recruit people who are all rounders or you want people working with you who will, you know, turn the hand to a multiple bunch of things. And as you grow, um, you know, for instance, we recently took on someone literally just to cleaning. Yeah. Just to cleaning the store. hmm. Whereas 12, 15 years ago when we first set up the carpet business, we, you know, we all did it. You know, I did it. hmm. So I think as you grow, everything changes and you’ve got to be ready to change. But remember that your staff are the ones who are real, the real assets to the organization.

Will: 07:11 If you recruit well, you know there are massive accelerator. If a recruit badly, if you’re unlucky, they can be a massive poison in your organization. You know, really bring out the negative in everything and in yourself as well because you then don’t trust your staff or you don’t trust that personal because of that one person you sort of double checking people and clamping down on people. But when you’ve got great people, um, you know, you know, they can run things themselves and, and that’s the thing to a, to be thinking about when we recruiting and growing, hmm. A little bit of luck, but, you know, try and give people the opportunity to grow and try and recruit well if he can.

Will: 07:51 Do you personally recruited everyone or do have other people doing it for you?

Naeem: 07:58 Yeah, so, um, there, there’s three directors. I mean, we’re focusing on the carpet business. They’re the three directors that there’s myself, my mom and my dad. Um, and I do all the recruitment. hmm. In fact, I’ve, I’ve always done all the recruitment in this business, just thinking about it for some reason. I don’t know. I think maybe because I’ve spent a lot of time in the corporate world and worked for lots of other people. Um, it’s just, I guess I’ve just taken up taking that role on. My parents have always worked for themselves in business, so very rarely they worked for anyone else. So I guess it’s just, it’s just happened that way. It’s not that I feel like I’m a great interviewer. It’s just full of them that way in our organization.

Will: 08:41 Yeah. Just wondering, because I was speaking to a CEO of a large company recently and he actually does all the final interviews, uh, because it’s not that he’s a control freak. He was very open. I’m not a controlled freak, but actually if we want to have good people and that fit our culture, it’s not hard for me to spend an hour with someone because that hour is so important in order for our company to grow. And for us to, I found that really interesting that he put his, everyone’s got to prioritize everything and he puts the priorities. I mean they’ve got 250 300 staff actually. So, you know, it’s not a small feat. He’s obviously an enormous weekly two people felt that it was really important.

Naeem: 09:29 But in that situation it speaks volumes about the kind of culture you’ve got there. You’ve got a very big organization is quite big in any scale. You know, it’s not small, a smaller organization, but it speaks to me about the culture. It speaks to me that if I was being interviewed by the CEO of an organization with 20, 30, 50, 100 hundred people as your, as your example, it tells me that I feel that the CEO will want to know me personally and that would make me feel good. Um, I, I’d be, I’d be, you know, willing to sacrifice some things maybe to join that type of organization.

Will: 10:06 That was my thoughts. It’s not often you hear is it in large organizations, which is why I go, I wouldn’t bring it up. It’s another way of doing things. And I think your consultancy business, you work with a variety of different organizations. I would imagine you see a variety of different cultures within those organizations.

Naeem: 10:30 Yeah. So, um, just to prep the answer, the last, I’m 45 this year, so since I was 21 I’ve, I’ve worked in, I worked for PWC, uh, IBM, and for lots of organizations. So really got to see some very big clients. Um, got to see the way things run. Um, it’s very interesting how different industries have different mindsets. Uh, I spend a lot of time recently and sort of manufacturing spend a lot of time in retail, a heck of a lot of my 20 odd years in public sector. The way people treat people is very different. Um, and I think that reflects in those organizations as well. Um, you know, I, at the moment, one of my bigger clients that they’re going through a massive redundancy phase. Um, and, um, it’s, it’s well publicized on, on the news we’re seeing from the inside, from the, from the projects were running, we’re seeing those human roller coasters. hmm. But you know, at the top, the, the, the, the board are responsible to the shareholders. They’ve got to do their job and then as you come down the layers, everyone’s gotta to do their job. Um, and uh, yeah, it’s, it’s unfortunate when it happens, but um, yeah, it’s sometimes a difficult situation, um, to deal with. But people have got their jobs to do there, I guess, and they’ve got to get on with it.

Will: 11:59 Yeah. So I’d like to talk a bit about the environment. I know we’ve talked a little about the social and culture and stuff within an organization, but from a sustainability or from an environmental point of view, do you feel that’s creeping in to businesses? Have you seen it? So I’d like to ask you on the carpet side with the people that buy more environmentally friendly carpets because I’ve recently just bought a red carpets and there was a big, obviously a big factor for me and I did, but I’m just wondering on the golf side and then on the consultant’s side, whether you’re saying it.

Naeem: 12:35 We don’t tend to get people ask that question. Uh, W W we’ve been in business about 15 years now in the conference business is our 15th year coming up. Um, we do on average about a hundred 120 orders a week at the moment. So let me just get through a lot of carpet. It’s very rare that we can ask about the environmental factors about a carpet, which is interesting because you can have wool carpet and he’d have synthetic carpets and obviously you will cop it. hmm. Made from wool. Um, so there is a, an element of maybe animal products in there or the wellbeing of animals. I don’t think anyone’s ever really cared about that or asked me personally. hmm. But no, I mean people don’t consider very much, um, on the carpets and the, the flooring and the bedside. We don’t get many questions about the environmental or the ethical sourcing, uh, on that side. No.

Will: 13:33 what would be interesting is to, I wonder if it’s a bit of chicken and egg, whether you put up a few posters or items around and just have you thoughts about new environment and I look at these type of products and then in six months time go and look at your orders and see if the orders of changed.

Will: 13:58 The pattern is you’ve ended up with more environmentally friendly products. You are, you as a team on sending it, but you’re putting the idea into people’s head. I don’t know.

Naeem: 14:07 I think if we did that, I think it would be another differentiator. I think, uh, sometimes yeah, there could be two carpets the same and the customer’s very close. You’ll have that on that. And I think they would be customers who might be tilted one way or the other with that kind of messaging and I think, you know, obviously there is the, let’s try and do the right thing for the environment anyway because it’s our planet and our future generations. hmm. We don’t want to leave them, um, with, uh, you know, a hospital parcel or a bad situation. But I think genuinely that would be important to people. And if we had something like that, it would probably help sales.

Will: 14:45 Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And then so on the consultancy side, going into different organizations, have you seen a cultural shift in sustainability and the environment?

Will – Midroll: 14:59 Thank you very much for listening to the Green Element podcast. We really value your opinion and we’re wondering if you could take part in a survey that helps make this podcast better, please. Dot. UK podcast’s survey. I hope you enjoy this episode going into different organizations.

Will: 15:23 Do you, have you seen a cultural shift in sustainability and the environment?

Naeem: 15:29 Yeah, definitely. I mean, um, if we go back to the sort of the manufacturing side, um, manufacturing things in, uh, and you know, waste disposal and being efficient and being seen to be efficient is really important. You know, um, I’ve seen organizations promote the fact that, you know, uh, the, the levels and the volumes of waste, the output, uh, and the, the reuse, uh, you know, that’s a very definite thing that organizations will promote and use. And especially now with social media, obviously last eight, 10 years, definitely people who use those things as well as the way of getting people’s attention to say, you know, buy our tin of paints instead of this tin of paint because we are ethically sourced or we, you know, we don’t harm the environment and we don’t just churn out waste. I’ve seen it in many industries, many, many industries.

Naeem: 16:27 But the interesting thing for me on this is the fact that, how much I’d say in the last three or four years, it’s revitalized. Um, I remember being at school 20, 20, 25, 30 years ago. It was a very important thing, the environment and don’t waste things. I, I did chemistry at university, so we’d look at process maps and, you know, how can we use things and catalytic converters and all these things. It did seem to go away maybe five or 10 years ago. Okay. The last few years. I think it’s, it’s come up again where again, organizations are very proud to say that they, um, you know, take coffee shops now we ethically source our coffee. Um, or, you know, body shop or people like that. A lot of companies are talking about this more. And can I ask you another question? When you say that, are you also talking, what about things like, um, you know, um, sort of gender and ethnic, um, diversity and things like that because I’m seeing a lot of that as well at the moment. You know, it’s a big drive at the moment to say, uh, we want to get more females into management positions. We want to be seen to have a more diverse work workforce. So we’re seeing a lot of that as well.

Will: 17:34 I think there’s a cultural shift going on. I think that sustainability and in the environment has kind of kickstarted a shift that was already happening. And I think the thought people that look at climate change on the stand and try to address climate change and try to address organizations, environmental impact or the sort of people that are empathetic to what else is going on within an organization about the cultural bit, um, ethnic diversity or you know, we at green elements. I mean we’re a B Corp. Um, and through that we have understood a lot more about how it all fits together and, and it’s, and I definitely think everything goes hand in hand, particularly in … , which they’re not really the same. That’s all. But I think it’s just thinking about the people isn’t it? We’re thinking about generations. We think about other people,

Naeem: 18:41 What you’ve just said there, that all sentences thinking about other people. I’m a wholehearted with that. I think it’s, it’s thinking about all the things and just making money, you know, um, you can dig into your millennial mindsets and things ice and it’s like maybe the age is getting to the point whereby they are saying, do you know what? We no longer scrumming around trying to make a living and we’re no longer worried about having, um, great things. We’re also concerned about legacy and what we’re going to do for other people and what we’re going to leave behind. Um, and I think, yeah, you’re right. It’s about what else can you do? Uh, I’m seeing a lot of that in, in sort of the SME markets. You know, companies who are doing great turnover and probably got four or five, six employees. I’m seeing a lot more in the bigger corporations of seeing the smaller companies. It’s easy for them to just switch things and move things around so they could be, you know, looking at one, one cause or one charity at the moment and then add another charity very quickly, you’ll switch. But with the bigger companies it takes a bit longer I think for them to get that changed through.

Will: 19:47 Yeah, absolutely. I just lost my train of thoughts. Anyway. Yes. Hahaha.

Naeem: 20:05 A couple more things you might remind you. So, um, you know, a lot of people recently are trying to get onto this, pick one of the UN 17 sustainability goals. Are you seeing a lot of that? We seeing um, uh, people, a lot more companies giving people time off to go and spend time in the community. Do some community work. So we’ve seen a lot of that as well coming up.

Will: 20:26 Yeah. I mean I do remember what it was. Within the legal profession, lawyers, lawyers, the legal law companies are really struggling to get partners now because the younger generations are going, I’m earning 60, 70,000 pounds a year. Brilliant. Why being a partner? It means I have to work longer hours. I have to work all weekends and I never see my family. Yeah, I’m earning enough where I am, so therefore why do I need to earn anymore? Apparently talking to law firms big, they’re starting to worry about it. We’ve got to remember that millennials are age 14 below an every year a millennial is getting older and older. So therefore, I mean I’m only just outside of millennial at the age of 43 so, and that’s a huge part of our workforce with stats like 92% of millennials will buy from an ethical consumer, you know, stuff like that.

Will: 21:35 You just go, Ooh, we are. And of course we’re seeing a shift and culture. It does me, I th I think it’s a really good thing. Personally, I think that it won’t stop people working hard because people would always worked hard. People take pride in their work. And I think people, a lot of, particularly the older generation, I’ve seen that our millennials are lazy. No, they’re not actually. It’s just that they are more focused on their work and they will get things done more quickly. They won’t be happy to sit there and just, you know, do whatever and then pretend they’re working. Yeah.

Naeem: 22:13 And then leave at five o’clock and go home. They want to do more. Don’t make. And I think that’s, that ties in very much with the work that you guys are doing, the awareness you’re raising because they’re not just happy taking them on a, they always want to know [inaudible] what, you know, what else am I doing? How else am I helping people? We’re seeing a lot of this at the moment with them. A lot of companies, a lot of organizations inviting people from mentoring to become mentors. And I think it’s the same thing again, it’s, it’s people thinking, you know, we can be more than we are. We can give something back. Um, you know, and the sustainability of future generations, we can give them more. And I think it’s, it’s across so many things that we’re seeing this now. Um, it’s, it’s great. I, you know, I wouldn’t have read the other way where we’d all go back to me, be I’m sitting at home and just not go in, out and just seeing our families. And that was it. I think it’s the right way to go. We’re a global village as a world. And, um, you know, community integration, community cohesion is massive, I think.

Will: 23:17 Yeah. You read “Sapiens”?

Naeem: 23:21 No, you know, I don’t like books. I do the, all the audio things

Will: 23:24 Anything, I’ll have a look at that. And he talks about the fact that we’ve got less world wars now and how we’re much more global and how we’re all working together on everything. What you just said, global village. And it is, it’s almost now us against the rest of space. As it were.

Naeem: 23:47 Will be interesting actually meet ever happens in our lifestyle. I mean I’m, I’m a couple of years older than you, but um, when you, when you watch like a, a space field, like, um, like the Will Smith warm with the, with the aliens and then it suddenly becomes the world against, you know, the aliens and then we all come together. But that would be very interesting if I ever happens. But yeah, it’s, uh, we, we, we’ve got this thing in the news recently where, um, there’s been a bit of altercation between India and Pakistan. You, you would’ve, you would’ve heard, um, you know, um, my parents are Pakistani, brought her background. I work with probably about two dozen Indian people. And it’s really interesting how it’s, we’re all just saying the same thing. We don’t care. We all live and work together, you know, can we stop, you know, it’s 20, 20 nearly surely we don’t need to shoot each other to get to get somewhere.

Naeem: 24:42 And it’s really interesting how things are changing and people say, you know, social media is ruining everything. It’s not, it’s actually helping us get together more. You know, I think, you know, that’s, that’s, that’s an important thing. Um, it helps people come together more. And again, bringing community together, bringing people together. It’s a massive influence, I think on a, on a better world. But, you know, I would say the I love social media.

Will: 25:06 How do you think you can influence? How can I influence change?

Naeem: 25:13 Wow. Okay. I think that’s, um, that’s a really good question. Um, I think that the thing with the changes is, so I’ve done a lot of business transformation work and you always talk to big companies. You’ve got, you know, 500 or 5,000, 20,000, 40,000 when I was at Birmingham of a workforce and it’s like, how do we do stuff?
Naeem: 25:33 How can we change all these people? Or how can we make such big change in the relatives? It comes with one action, one mindset, one thought. It’s one step at a time. Um, and I think that’s what, again, come back to social media. That’s what social media is aligned to. Do you seeing people, especially with things like hashtags, jump onto a Hashtag and go, you know, um, there’s one goes around at the moment, it’s one of the charities. I’m involved with a youth sports academy, you know, making things better, making Birmingham better, you know, changing lives. I think everyone can do their best and be part of a bigger movement. You know, you don’t have to be in the same place on the same project, but with a connected world we can all do our little bit and the bigger pieces, the bigger I and effectively. Um, and I think that’s what we need to do. We need to try and do something each. Uh, and then that will just massively, uh, accumulate up. Do you know about this? There’s, um, there’s a charity, Buy One Give One, B1G1. Again, that’s the same kind of thing, isn’t it? It’s lots of people just doing something a little bit. I need, oh suddenly become a massive movement. And, and that’s the thing, I think power is in, within everybody to do something.

Will: 26:51 That is cool.

Naeem: 26:53 Yeah. Brilliant.

Will: 26:54 Um, so what do you think one was one thing that people could do after the podcast? What would you like people to do?

Naeem: 27:03 Okay. hmm. Well, I’d say my big thing is about, um, don’t chase profit, chase happy customers. Um, I’m going to, I’m going to give you an example of something happened in December, just before Christmas. We had a customer, a big order. Uh, he’s about 3000 pounds. Um, but the lady kept, she’s paid about half the deposit and she came in crying and she worked for one of the hemorrhage. One, it was one of the Poundland shops are these tangled or whatever she’d made be made redundant. hmm. And uh, now it was a choice of pay for the rest of the carpets or get married, which kind of issues and [inaudible] we effectively care for when I say this because I’m going to get people trying to all the time gave her a bunch of the coffee for free, wish to a very happy marriage and said, don’t worry about it.

Naeem: 27:55 Now, she didn’t try to, even more than she actually told everyone. She knew we’ve got loads more customers out of it and we didn’t do it for that reason. We did it because we had there a 27 year old lady who was just beside herself just lost a job. I think if you’ll, if you’ll listen to this and you feel like you know there is something you can do for somebody else, just do it. Just did it just you’re not going to become poorer by doing someone else a favor. You’re not going to suddenly lose the whole market because you gave someone some advice and certainly you’re not going to run out a time in your life just because you spent five minutes listen to someone else’s problem. Yeah. If you can help someone do it, the universe will give it back to you, guarantee you

Will: 28:40 you’ll become rich or anyway, this is not financially you’ll become richer.

Naeem: 28:45 Yeah. Yeah, you will. And you never know when that will come back on you. You know, when we’re all old and gray or when we’re at a difficult stage in life, if we can all do something great, it means someone would be great for us. Why don’t they have one stage? You will definitely come back to you.
Will: 29:01 So where can we find out more about yourself? More about your businesses, et cetera.

Naeem: 29:06 Right. Okay. So, um, so I would say, yeah, United Carpets is my carpet business. You can come along and buy some carpet officers actually 80 up and down the country. I’m just one of the directors. So, I own some of them, I don’t own all of them. Um, but I would say, yeah, #NACBBF come along, jump on, see what we’re doing, seeing what we’re about. hmm. And to be quite honest, if, if you’re in the area and if there’s something we can help you with, we’d like to help you, uh, whether it is a financial reward or not, give us a shout and we’d like to see what we can do.

Naeem: 29:41 Brilliant. We’ll look forward to it. Right. Thanks. Naeem. We’ll put all this stuff at the bottom of the podcast on the website. Thank you so much for today. It’s been really interesting. No, I problem my friend. Its good to speak to you.

Will: 29:53 Yeah, you too. Take care.

Will – outro: 29:57 Thanks so much for listing. We created this podcast for you so we’d really appreciate any feedback you want to give us. You can do that by rating and reviewing on your favorite podcast. Oh for Itunes, visit forward slash apple if you’d like to keep in touch then we invite you to join our free Facebook community, which has everything to do sustainable and ethical business. Lots of daily conversations, themes and great ideas. A really great place to work and network with like minded individuals. If you open Facebook and search for the green element, hit the group search function. We will let you right in all of the show notes, any links, any references to that on this podcast. It will be featured on our website, Green Dot. UK as a special thank you for listening. Please head over to ww dot. Green Dot. UK forward slash podcast 2018 and you can pick up a free guide on how to Greenup an environmentalist your business or organization. That’s Green Dot. UK forward slash podcast 2018 finally, I would like to thank Ben Chapman for writing the fantastic opening music. He is an amazing artist with a phenomenal following. It was a privileged, he said yes to even write it for us. We look forward to seeing you next week and hope you have a wonderful day.

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