For those of you fortunate or otherwise to stumble across this column on a regular basis, you may have realised that one of my usual gripes is associated with the lack of appreciably good customer service in the retail sector here in the Middle East.
No matter how quickly we, as an industry intend to grow, if our customer service remains as it is, then maintaining the very high numbers of tourists and resident customers in the malls will be a hard fought battle.
My discontent that stemmed from the poor experiences passed onto customers from shop and service staff has recently changed however, as I have witnessed first hand, several occasions, where customers have not only been off-hand, but also blatantly rude to staff.
Initially I was shocked because I couldn't comprehend that a customer could find it necessary to unleash a volley of abuse towards a person who was simply doing their job.
The second time I witnessed this was whilst I was chatting with a store manager friend of mine. This time the experience had some rather unpleasant and certainly unnecessary repercussions, which left the staff member in tears and the manager ordering the customer to leave.
Both instances were avoidable, that's not to say however that in either case was the customer in the right, because they weren't. I would say though, that if the staff member was a little more experienced in customer management then I'm certain both of these instances could have been avoidable.
On neither occasion had the member of staff done anything particularly bad or wrong, however neither of them also appeared to be what I would call an experienced member of staff and as a result neither was able to manage the customer's expectations.
And here lies the dilemma; we have a rapidly growing and diversifying culture in the UAE (and the Middle East generally) which acts as a proxy for the retail sector, where all are welcome. If you can stand on your feet all day and offer the occasional smile, then you almost certainly have a job. However there is also a close association here with a culture that has mixed views on where customer service starts and stops.
For me good customer service is: offering me some alternatives to an out-of-stock garment or pair of shoes that I asked to try on, letting me know where else to look for something similar, or when the next delivery is arriving that might offer me something else I like, or indeed when the sale starts.
For others of course it means packing their grocery bags in the supermarket and carrying them to the car, or wandering around behind their family carrying their department store bags, while they continue to meander around the mall. Regardless of whether you consider the above to be right or wrong, the point at which customer service starts and stops can only be determined by the member of staff, and it is their industry experience and training that will help them manage the expectations of a customer, as much as the expectations of the customer towards that member of staff.
The two instances I witnessed involved customers who really needed to be left to their own devices in the stores, but instead were trailed around the store by overly attentive staff, something that I'm sure we have all experienced, but now manage to avoid.
The issue of customer service then lies not just with the staff but with the customers as well, so that in order to better the experiences we have in our malls and stores, we need to give greater consideration to the expectations we have of the store staff, as much as they need to learn how to manage our expectations.
- The writer is head of GRMC Retail Services, Dubai.