Service survey: Americans are the toughest customers

ABU DHABI // Whether you tend to rave or grumble about the quality of customer service in the UAE has as much to do with your nationality as the employee's attitude across the counter, according to a new poll. There is a "staggering" difference between how people assess their treatment at the hands of staff in hotels, banks and shops, depending on where they come from, says the Customer Satisfaction Survey released by the service standards group Ethos Consultancy.

While 88.9 per cent of respondents from nations in the Middle East were pleased or impressed with local customer service standards, just 15.9 per cent of expatriates from the Americas agreed it was adequate. Just over half of Asians from the subcontinent (50.9 per cent) were content with the level of service compared to back home. "The nationality analysis we did was to ask something we've never asked before," Robert Keay, the managing director of Ethos, said.

"One of the questions was, 'How does customer satisfaction compare here to your home country?' and the results were staggering. Indians, for instance, thought it was fantastic, while those from the western persuasion said the exact opposite. If you're a western expat, your expectations are high but your experience is low. If you're not a western expat, your expectations are low, but your experience is high."

Overall, only a third of all respondents (34 per cent) were satisfied with customer service across the UAE, whereas 43 per cent were dissatisfied. Nearly half (49 per cent) of all surveyed also felt service was below that of their native countries. Those with the highest standards and poorest experiences were people from the Americas with 85 per cent saying service was worse than their home country, followed by Australia/Southeast Asia expatriates (84 per cent) as well as Europeans (73.9 per cent).

The happiest customers, who felt the standards were better than their country of origin, were from the Middle East (88.9 per cent) and Africa (63.4 per cent). My Keay said one way to boost service in the UAE was to shift priorities towards training. "At banks, for example, there's a focus on giving you a nice experience in the building. They look like palaces, the upholstery is fantastic, the AC is fantastic," he said. "But that same level of attention hasn't been given to the bank staff."

Banks were judged the worst offenders for poor customer service in the survey, followed by government departments. "Quite often when you try to get someone on the telephone, you're waiting a long time for them or you are waiting for them to call you back," Mr Keay said. Airlines and airports rated the best, followed by hotels and the hospitality sector. Ethos, which organized the UAE's Customer Service Week in June, conducted the online survey of around 400 people between June 15 and July 15 to mark the occasion.

The results were consistent with a poll carried out for The National last year, in which banking complaints topped the list as problems that were handled the worst in the UAE, followed by telecoms grievances. Private companies also rated higher for customer service than government entities by the study, which was conducted by the YouGov research organisation. Aarti Ajay, the associate director of the IXL management consultancy in Dubai, noted a disparity in the UAE between Emirati business owners and unmotivated employees "just trying to make a monthly salary."

"For the people being put in front of the customers, it's not their concern how delighted the customer is or whether they'll come back. That should be the concern of the person running or owning the shop," she said. "You can't expect [the owners] to be in a every shop trying to woo customers, so the personalisation - how important my customer is to me - is not evident." In her native Philippines, Ruaida Mohammed said smiling shop workers rush to greet potential customers.

"That's what I miss," said Ms Mohammed, 31, a coffee shop supervisor. "Here, sometimes in a supermarket, you ask for some assistance and they just ignore you." Timeliness was a bigger gripe for Jamie Nevshehir, 28, a consultant. He waited 15 minutes to catch the eye of a waiter last week to request his bill. "Restaurant service is not as fast compared to what I'd expect in the UK, and the bill is the slowest part."

Still, Jayaraj KM, a 48-year-old hotel manager from India, rated service better than back home. "Airports and hotels are very friendly," he said. "And it never costs us to smile."


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