Language barriers and poor communication with customers is holding many small businesses back, according to an online marketplace.
MrUsta, which matches consumers looking for home services with companies able to provide them, launched the Usta Academy after receiving complaints about independent businesses listed on its site. The company has more than 7,000 small businesses listed, although only about 800 to 1,000 are active on the platform.
“The complaints were coming from both sides [the customers and the ustas],” said Ibrahim Colak, co-founder and chief executive of MrUsta, which is named after the word for 'expert', or master, in Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and Farsi.
“We had a couple of issues, which was frustrating.”
The main problems centred around communication and language barriers, said Mr Colak.
“In the UAE we have people from many countries and on email you can easily get misunderstood.”
Sales techniques are often also an issue for the companies, which struggle because they cannot afford specialised sales training.
“So when they have an offer, want to give a discount or launch a new product they don’t know how to sell it,” said Mr Colak.
The company decided to launch a special academy to upskill the ustas, an idea which came from a session the company staged about VAT to help the businesses it works with to prepare for the introduction of the tax. So, after it completed the VAT session, it ran one on painting, too.
“After VAT and this paint session we thought, why don’t we do it regularly? So we checked with service providers and customers about what their biggest problems were,” said Mr Colak.
MrUsta reached out to a number of companies, which agreed to run sessions for free as part of their CSR activities, in everything from business English to painting – a service that had attracted numerous complaints.
Usta Academy has partnered with the In5 Innovation Centre; Eton Institute, a language and communication-based learning centre; and Booster Academy, a sales coaching academy. National Paints carried out a session on painting which was attended by Bloomsford, a maintenance and handyman service company.
The academy is currently running sessions on communication and sales, and it plans to add further classes on law contracts, customer rights and first aid training.
“It was very helpful for us, to be honest,” said Shanawaz Ahamed, a managing partner with the company, who attended the painting workshop.
“We never used to take on any design paint jobs. But we learned how to do that. It was explained to us how we should apply the base coat and how we could make designs using rollers and plastic covers, textured designs. That was a new thing for us. We are practising it now.”
Jejo Kokkali, 32, from India, who owns Blue Amber, a maintenance and technical services company, attended the sessions on business communication, which teaches professionals how to introduce themselves and address customers, as well as pitch for business.
“I have lost some customers because I don’t have the right words to use, so these classes are helping me,” he said.