Image via WikipediaI've got into the habit of carrying a bottle of Masafi around with me, so pretty much every morning starts with a quick nip into our local ADNOC service station to buy a bottle for myself and one for Sarah.
Invariably, the lone blue-trousered cashier is stacking newspapers, crushing crisp packets or doing something else more important than actually standing next to the till and waiting to do the one thing cashiers do best: take the cash. I usually leave the money and walk out waving the two bottles. They know the code, so I don't have to wait around for them to scan the bottles, something one is now forced to do if buying anything else there, thanks to the Tyranny Of The Scanner.
I have watched people buying other stuff and the drill is always the same - the customer is studiously ignored until he or she is standing waiting to pay at the cash desk and starting to fidget, at which point, the cashier will slowly shuffle across the shop and grudgingly swipe the goods before demanding payment, usually with a grunted number.
It struck me this morning just how very wrong this scenario is. The customer is almost always made to wait upon the convenience of the shopkeeper, who has defined pretty much any task in the shop (a destination intended to be attractive to the customers it depends upon) as more important than actually serving the customer. Nobody complains, partly because this is the way things are and partly because finding anyone to complain to who has any power to effect any degree of change is just too much investment for likely no return.
I only thought about this at all because I had been in a workshop thingy the day before and one of the questions we had considered was where UAE banks' pain points were. I had made the point, not unreasonably, that one of the greatest pain points for banks in the UAE is that their customer service, without exception if anecdote is to be believed, stinks. I have found nobody who would recommend their bank to me, have never complained about my bank (which I, admittedly, do quite often) and had someone respond with a cheery, 'Try my bank, it's great!'. If anyone ever does, I think I might have to be treated for shock.
Someone else in the workshop thingy corrected me. The abysmal customer service of banks in the UAE wasn't a pain point for them, because it doesn't actively hurt them. People still bank with these people, despite their anger. So banks don't care about it, it isn't a business issue for them, my colleague claimed. And he was right. Well, sort of. It's not a pain point for them simply because they're ignoring the issue - not because there is no issue to be addressed.
Like the awful ADNOC shop, banks treat their customers with very little consideration. The many instruments and vehicles of international finance do not include customer service, although all of the money banks play with belongs, ultimately, to customers. There is no thought of anticipating customer needs, instead the customer is forced to wait upon the banks' pleasure. Escalating the complaint is almost impossible - you get stuck in the numbing vortex of the call centre, which has been designed to take customer feedback and beat it into submission before discarding it. And so 'management' is effectively cushioned from the pain - the call centre is where pain begins and ends 99% of the time.
Because there's nobody listening to the customers, the management of both ADNOC and banks don't see that there's anything wrong - that perhaps there's a better, happier, way of doing things that likely costs less than the annual staff party but that has the potential to transform the brand experience of the people the business depends upon - it's that inability to see the customer as germane to the business that informs the appalling customer service of both. They'll spend millions on telling us we're happy, but not one penny on actually making us happy.
The easiest thing to do is craft a mission statement that puts the customer first, conjure up some brand values that include 'customer-centric', then run some nice, reassuringly expensive, ads that talk about customers and then completely ignore the customer in any business process, staff training or management objective.
Because customers aren't king any more. We're just dirt on the shoes of management teams sitting around in focus groups congratulating themselves on how much they invest in us, whose last thought would actually be finding out what we think or feel.
I'm quite enjoying watching companies start to experiment with social media. The first step any half-decent practitioner (ie: anyone who doesn't call themselves a 'social media expert' or, worse, 'guru') counsels companies to take is to start listening.
We've already seen some rather shocked reactions as a result of that advice. The first shock is frequently at the whole idea of listening to customers. ("Yew! Who wants to listen to them?"). The second one is when they hear what customers actually think about, and are saying about, them.
I wonder when ADNOC (the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, thank you for asking) will start...
(Yeah, so I'm grumpy. Bite me.)