Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Service With a Snarl

ADNOClogoImage via Wikipedia
I'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.)

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EyeOnDubai said...

No, grumpy is good. I have been through that mill so many times I have no clue even where to begin. And it's not just banks - certain large electrical retailers, hypermarkets, shop staff...

Even when they've been told what to say, the people in the front line haven't been taught why, nor have they been allowed the initiative and responsibility to actually do anything about it.

But Step One is taken - a new blog started, The Valuable Customer, where we can at least snarl back!


the real nick said...

Try shoplifting. Petty revenge but it will lift your spirit!

fourstar said...

"They'll spend millions on telling us we're happy, but not one penny on actually making us happy."

Nail. On. The. Head.

Dave said...

Be careful if the price of masafi changes - they may chase you down the street.....

Jules said...

"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."

Absolutely spot on. It was a sad day for me when I realised this is how it is in Dubai. I still throw tantrums every now and then (completely futile of course).

In my mind, training is a key function that is, on the whole, seriously lacking in Dubai. But then why would companies provide customer service training if customer service isn't one of their core values?

"I'll take my business elsewhere" doesn't pack quite the same punch as it would in some other cities, does it? Makes me feel quite helpless at times...

PS I've just recently stumbled upon your blog. Love your work!

Luke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Luke said...

Nobody complains because even if you do you don't get anywhere. I would scream at incompetent bufoons working at telecom and utility providers when we first arrived. How many times did I argue with Etisalat that they have all my documentation and that they as a telecom company should now be able to sort these minor issues out "on the phone", even explaining to them the history of the telephone and why it is called that!! And still all I got was "Sorry sir, you have to come to the business centre" - I'm sure he was wobbling hs head when he said that.

Did my rant change anything? No. Why? Because I am a captive customer. They know that and don't care. You end up just going along with it to save your own sanity.

You on the other hand can save time, money and aggravation while using the only effective means available to make your point, by buying your water in bulk and popping a bottle in the fridge the night before.

Susan said...

Stay grumpy! I agree with your friend : The abysmal customer service of banks in the UAE wasn't a pain point for them, because it doesn't actively hurt them.

They don't care, its not just banks, its all of them, etishite, dewa, duh, the whole bloody lot of them. They don't care, they get your money anyway and they don't give a stuff if you get the service you pay for because they know that it will be the same everywhere and they know you know!

Grumpy too.

alexander... said...

The Valuable Customer is, incidentally, linked here!


EyeOnDubai said...

: ) indeed! Thanks. Now I've actually got to feed the thing!

Media Junkie said...

...and I only realised how appalling customer service can be in Dubai after coming to Canada. I love the current bank I'm banking with - and all it takes is a smile and niceness. I feel like I'm royalty, even though I'm holding a student account.

HE said...

If you have the chance, go down to Crate & Barrel in Mirdif City Centre. Look around and try to notice the difference. Wait for someone to approach you and see what a world of difference it is. Yes, I’m afraid I have thrown the nationality card here, but anyway.

What I personally feel is that these employees at the service stations are ill treated by their employer, they are not paid well and they have their priorities all mixed up. If I had left my home country, left back a child or two, left back my husband / wife, im sorry, but my priority is not you or how you feel. What I want to do is get through the day, get through the month, get my salary and send some of it back home. All this while I am constantly thinking about back home, thinking about my children and my family and how I am going to leave this place as soon as I make enough money. These people are genuinely not happy with their situation. Their incompetent employer doesn’t help, instead of explaining and discussing things with them, they bark out orders. The manager in the store will try his best not to see you, and that is exactly what he has told his juniors. If a problem escalates, guess who’ll get in trouble? So the best answer to your problem is no answer at all, this is the country of blank stares.

If these employees are truly happy and content with where they are you would see a world of difference. And it is not your or my job to make them at ease. It all lies with their employer and how they educate them. But none of that is happening and I don’t see it happening in the near future.

Banks? Banks are a different story. I was a banker, I thought I was the shit. And I was a teller, that’s like at the bottom of the food chain in the banking world and I still thought I own you because “you? You, don’t understand system, me? Me understand system and I have too much policy and me wear tie” – hated it and everything it represented. Still do. Bankers are paid well, so they have no excuse.

Etisalat? Im about to punch my screen – different breed these people. I feel like they are one eyed green beings that run on batteries all in human costumes, they all meet up at 12 midnight and nibble on cables and their batteries recharge according to human frustration. They give the term “daylight robbery” a whole new meaning.

But who’s listening? Who cares actually? As long as we have 38 different types of cupcakes in the city to choose from, 29 different lattes (7 or 8 sizes), as long as we can upsize our meals for 1 dirham, as long as I take 20 minutes looking around the food court thinking “what to do? What to do?” – then there’s no problem, I have plenty of choices, I am free to choose. Etisalat, my bank and the service station are the last thing on my mind. You have the freedom of choice.

Im upset and its late. I am trying to quit smoking. Sorry about the rant.

Anonymous said...

Agree with absolutely everyone. I've been here over 30 years and if it's possible, the service seems to get worse by the year. There's nothing we can do about the banks and the phone companies as we have no choice. However with retail, whether it be shops or restaurants, we can. We should vote with our feet and that is exactly what I do.

rosh said...

"thanks to the Tyranny Of The Scanner."

umm... if they do not scan the product, would the books register a sale and consequently cash collections? Perhaps ADNOC could redesign its control processes.

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