British expatriates think customer service standards in the UAE are worse than in their home country while expatriates from the developing world are more satisfied, according to a new customer service survey Pictures used for illustrative purposes. Image Credit: Supplied

Every six months, Gulf News highlights and recognises companies that deal with consumer complaints from our readers. From July to December 2011, we have approached different companies to tackle several issues.

We evaluate and rank each company based on their speed of redressal, transparency of process, satisfaction with the solutions, cooperation on the complaint process and attitude towards consumers.

We would like to appreciate and commend RAKBANK, Mashreq and Standard Chartered Bank for their full cooperation with us. They have earned the top three spots for meeting and exceeding our expectations. They are very prompt in addressing the complaints of our readers, are very transparent about their policy, and explain in detail about their investigation and how they resolved the issue to the benefit of the complainant.

The top three companies share their best practices in customer service.

GN: How do you define customer service and how has it changed over time?

Mr Graham Honeybill, Chief Executive Officer, RAKBANK: For RAKBANK, customer service is ensuring our customers are extremely satisfied every time they interact with us. Whether they are visiting our branch, talking to us over the phone or even sending us a query online, our dedicated staff ensures customers are greatly impressed with our level of service. This has not changed over time for RAKBANK. As a result of our ongoing investment in training, motivating and rewarding employees, RAKBANK staff are continuously trying to exceed our high service standards across all contact channels with customers.

Mr Ambar Brahmachary, Head of Marketing & Customer Experience, Mashreq:
At Mashreq, customers are at the heart of our business. We are very conscious of the fact that it’s our customers that help us run our business successfully and drive us to achieve higher levels of service excellence.

Internally we prefer to use the term Customer Experience as it encompasses the entire journey a customer goes through when interacting with the bank. Starting from the first contact with the bank, be it seeing our communication, where we stress on open and transparent messaging, to offering customers the relevant products and solutions that meet their requirements to efficiently answering any request or query they may have.

Today with the increase in competition, products are starting to get commoditised and price differentiation is no longer sustainable – and customers becoming far more demanding and discerning, customer experience has become the new battle ground on which banks are differentiated.

Customers have far more power and are not hesitant to voice their dissatisfaction or switch banks if their needs are not met or due to specific service failing. Word of mouth has gained prominence in the last couple of years with customers reaching out through social media to voice their thoughts about a company.

Mr Khalid Al Gibaly, Regional Head of Consumer Banking, UAE, Northern Gulf, Levant and Oman, Standard Chartered Bank:  Customer service is now a primary differentiating factor amongst banks. For a bank to consistently deliver and attain sustainable growth year after year, it is imperative to keep a loyal customer base. Right customer experience is the key to earn customer loyalty. Over the past two years, Standard Chartered has been shifting its focus from being a product-centric to a customer-centric bank.

GN: What is your policy on post sales service?

Mr Honeybill, RAKBANK: The high level of our service is consistent before, during and after sales. We give all our customers, regardless of the stage of their relationship with the bank, the chance to provide their feedback through various channels. They can do so through our Customer Satisfaction Surveys and After Sales Service Programmes, which we conduct regularly.

Additionally, our customers are able to reach us through our accessible service channels such as branches, 24/7 phone banking, online banking, mobile banking and web chats. Customers can also contact us through Facebook, foursquare, Twitter and our websites www.rakbank.ae and www.rakbankdirect.ae.

Mr Brahmachary, Mashreq: At Mashreq we believe in building and growing customer relationships, not just selling products or services. We have provided customers a wide range of channels they can use to reach us based on their convenience — branches, call centre, website, online and mobile banking, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Furthermore our staff go through extensive training on service delivery and our endeavour is on providing first contact resolution.

Mr Al Gibaly, Standard Chartered Bank: For us, sales is just the starting point of our relationship with our customers; the real experience comes later. We adopt an approach whereby we aim to partner with them through their journey making sure to provide them with financial solutions that match their needs and reward them for their relationship with us.

GN: What is your approach when a customer claims they have experienced poor customer service  in terms of attitude?

Mr Honeybill, RAKBANK: Excellence in customer service is one of our core values and so any customer concern is treated as a priority. All complaints are thoroughly investigated and escalated by a special team who take full ownership and ensure that customers’ concerns are understood and solved in a timely manner.

We complete the service recovery with corrective action and, if necessary, conduct internal training or amend a process, to avoid recurrence. For us, customer feedback is regarded as an opportunity to further improve our service and the depth of our relationship with our customers.

Mr Brahmachary, Mashreq:
A lot of attention is given to customer feedback. First and foremost, disgruntled customers want to be heard, especially if their complaint is about an “Attitude Issue”. In Mashreq, we recognise that customers with complaints can at times get irritable and touchy. These customers are handled by our best officers in the most patient and polite manner. An immediate apology is extended to the customer on behalf of the bank and an immediate resolution is worked out ensuring our customer is satisfied with it. This complaint is investigated internally and an appropriate action is taken.

Mr Al Gibaly, Standard Chartered Bank: We treat all our customers equally and fairly. We have several channels for customers to reach us and register their issues and requests. All customer issues are investigated independently and all potential solutions are discussed with customers in detail before reaching a resolution. Internally, we practise a very strict code of conduct to ensure that everyone is aligned to our corporate values, particularly that of being “Trustworthy”.

GN: When a new fee or policy change is introduced, how do you inform the customer?

Mr Honeybill, RAKBANK: We communicate changes to fees or policies through a number of channels including Service & Price Guide, website, emails, statement inserts, SMS to customers and advertisements.

Mr Brahmachary, Mashreq: Being transparent and fair is one of Mashreq’s core values.
We communicate to customers prior to any change and constantly ensure they are
informed about any fee or policy changes in Mashreq. Furthermore, this is communicated through various channels of communication — schedule of charges prominently placed in branches, SMS, email, letters and website so that they are equipped with as much information as possible.

Mr Al Gibaly, Standard Chartered Bank: At Standard Chartered, we adopt a transparent approach when dealing with our customers. Through regular interactions and communications, we always raise awareness and communicate all fees and policies before making any transaction with our customers. Customers are informed about any policy and fee changes through our website. In addition, we always provide our latest Service and Price guide at the Bank’s 11 branches across the UAE. Our phone banking service can also provide details about any changes.

GN: What is your opinion about Gulf News publishing the complaints against your company?

Mr Honeybill, RAKBANK: We are thankful to Gulf News for providing our customers with a further channel to communicate with us and appreciate the opportunity provided to the bank to justify our stance on the customer’s claims prior to publication.

Mr Brahmachary, Mashreq: Gulf News is the market leader in treating customer complaints and has traditionally tackled all reader concerns. Gulf News, in collaboration with its partners such as Mashreq, provides customers a very conducive platform to be heard. To us it offers an in-depth understanding of customer needs that serve as building blocks for accelerating customer satisfaction and loyalty. The joint effort with Gulf News is yet another testament of our efforts towards solving customer concerns and ensuring that we deliver on our promises.  We thank Gulf News for giving us the
opportunity and ensuring this partnership  is a success.

Mr Al Gibaly, Standard Chartered Bank: At Standard Chartered we consider the voice of customers as an important element in our overall customer service strategy. All customer complaints are thoroughly evaluated and any significant learnings become case studies thus helping us to improve our customer experience. We would like to thank Gulf News for being the voice of the public and giving us the opportunity to further improve our customer service and enhance our customer experience.