Save for the service lavished on a paying customer at a five-star hotel in the UAE, customer service in the Emirates is nothing to write home about. Put a bunch of people together and, sooner or later, talk will turn to the saleslady who was a little too snotty when ringing up a purchase, or the waiter who fumbled an order and never saw a reason to apologise or make amends. Twitter and Facebook are awash with complaints against the customer service, or lack thereof, provided by Etisalat, Mawaqif, every health-care facility and every bank in the country.
And yet, with the passing of time, I’ve become immune to being mistreated in that sense, despite my rights as a consumer. I can’t return a purchase I made just yesterday because a salesperson just doesn’t feel like it? OK, fine, what am I going to do, make a scene? Or I’m put on hold for close to an hour and my internet problem at home is still not solved, despite calling my service provider daily for a week? I’ll just keep calling – what else can I do? When you’re repeatedly overpowered in the customer-service arena, you eventually start taking those punches and soldiering through them because, other than complaining to peers who are in the same boat, you have no other option.
Except now I’ve been living in Canada temporarily for the past few weeks – and what I’ve experienced in customer service has me dreading how I’ll react the next time I’m wronged as a customer in the UAE.
I was shopping in a store in downtown Toronto, picking up a few items of clothing here and there, when a saleswoman stopped to chat to me and inform me that a huge sale was starting the next day and, if I liked, she could hold on to the items I wanted and I could come back and pay for them tomorrow at the discounted prices. I thought she was joking. She wasn’t.
Then, I headed to an electronics shop to buy a charger for my phone – I had forgotten to bring an adaptor that would allow me to plug in my UAE electronics into a Canadian wall. The saleslady sold me an adaptor she insisted would work with the charger I already had, and said it would be cheaper than buying a new charger. When I got home and realised that the adaptor she sold me didn’t work, solving the problem was as easy as heading back out for a short walk to the nearby store. She apologised profusely, refunded my money despite the open packaging of the adaptor I no longer wanted, and found me another cheap solution.
Did you know about price adjustments? That means, if you buy something today, and it goes down in price in the week after you bought it, you can bring in your receipt and you will be reimbursed, in cash, credit or debit; it’s up to you.
At a pharmacy, as the cashier was ringing up my purchases, she asked me if I had any coupons. Coupons? She got up, grabbed the shop’s flyers, and used the coupons in there to save me CAD$6 (Dh23). I was flabbergasted.
The shopping experience holds a special kind of sparkle when you’re afforded the respect of a paying consumer who should be gained as a lifetime customer. For a self-professed shopaholic, it’s going to be hard to return to being made to feel like I’m an annoying, demanding customer getting in someone’s way.
Hala Khalaf is the deputy Arts & Life editor at The National