Etisalat customers find themselves held in a queue

Telecoms provider hopes initiatives such as a late-night counter will ease waits that can last more than an hour at its Airport Road office.

ABU DHABI // Etisalat customers called long queues at the company's flagship office "unacceptable" and criticised the telecommunications giant for failing to employ sufficient staff. Some customers had been waiting for more than an hour at the company's main office on Airport Road on the day a reporter visited and observed that only seven of the 17 service desks were staffed.

Waits of 30 minutes or more were routine, customers said. Several complained that it took multiple visits to set up their mobile phone, internet and landline accounts. "This is my second time here. I have been waiting for 40 minutes already and I am still five from the front," said Joseph Mallari, 31, an electrician from the Philippines. He was attempting to set up an internet connection for his home.

"It is completely unacceptable that there are not more staff working during the busy periods," he said. "I am surprised that more of the desks are not staffed. It is very frustrating." Jamal al Nuaimi, the general manager of Etisalat's Abu Dhabi region, said the company was aware of recent delays and was striving to address the issue. The company conceded that queues were particularly long last week, because of a surge in inquiries while staff were processing the arrival of new handsets.

Ahmed al Azizi, the senior manager of the Airport Road office, said a one-hour wait was abnormal. "The average waiting time is less than half an hour. Thirteen minutes is the target time," he said. The Airport Road office, which serves as many as 600 customers a day, has two shifts of eight sales advisers, with four extra staff on hand between noon and 1pm to handle the lunchtime rush. Mr al Nuaimi said the company would look into extending the extra staffing at lunchtime from one to three hours. He also said a review of staffing levels was under way.

Etisalat is the country's leading telecommunications company, with two-thirds of the mobile phone market and more than three-quarters of the land line and internet markets. Customers interviewed last week said they were discouraged by the sight of empty counters. "It is frustrating because you sit waiting here and see all the empty desks. "I don't understand why they don't just get more sales staff," said George Moussallem, 33, an engineer from Beirut, who lives in the capital.

"I would have thought they would be all operating during the daytime. "I have been here for 15 minutes. I expect I will be here for another 30 to 40 minutes. "Customer service in the UAE has gone down. It used to be that the UAE was the best in the GCC, but not anymore." Mr al Nuaimi said Etisalat had several initiatives planned to make 2010 a year of "customer service excellence", including a new counter open from 10pm to 6am, when other branches are closed.

"We had a soft launch for this facility at the end of last year, before December," he said. The all-night service counter is staffed by one adviser. He said the company was encouraging more people to use the internet and call centre to manage their accounts. Laura Dunn, 30, a marketing manager from Cheltenham in the UK, said she had visited the Etisalat office three times in one week trying to set up a new phone line.

"The queues are worse in the evening. The last time I came here with my husband in the evening, we got the ticket and looked at the queue and just gave up and went straight home," she said. "The opening hours are good. It's helpful because you can come after work, but it just takes a long time to get anything done." Saif Makki, 31, a civil engineer who has lived in Abu Dhabi all his life, said long queues were part of the way of life.

"I am trying to get a BlackBerry. Last time I came here I waited 40 minutes just to see someone to tell me what were the options for the different packages," he said. "Now I have to come back again and wait all over again. It is very annoying, especially because you see all the empty desks. "It is bad customer service not to have more staff working during the busy periods and it is bad business, too.

"If they have more staff working, they will process more people and make more money."