x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

A little self-service can go a long way at gas stations

Some services are necessary and others - like the petrol pump attendant - are arguably less vital.

You drive into a carpark. The attendant presses the button, waits for the machine to spit out a piece of paper and hands it to you. And, lest you are loath to reach your hand out of the window at any time, he will do the same for you when you exit.

Is this just another added convenience? Or is it, as Dr Nnamdi Madichie at the University of Sharjah suggests, that "we are living in a country where the customers are really spoilt"?

Among the hundreds of thousands of hardworking employees who, for example, clean the streets, water lawns and pump fuel, many provide essential services that improve society.

Still, "do-it-yourself" surprisingly is underrated these days. As The National reports today, a study published by Dr Madichie suggests that at least some of the population is in favour of a little elbow grease. The introduction of self-service pumps in Dubai and the Northern Emirates last year ultimately failed but also showed that 30 per cent of people were in favour of pumping their own petrol.

For some, this is a no-brainer. Petrol stations in most countries have self-service and also attendant pumps, allowing consumers to choose. In the Emirates, however, the idea of self-service pumps has met resistance.

There are a few obvious reasons. High heels and business attire are hardly the wardrobe for an impromptu stint as a petrol station attendant. Summer time also inclines many to appreciate the work of people who brave the heat, while not necessarily wanting to join them outdoors.

The truth is that for many it is too easy to get used to the all-service, all-the-time mentality that is possible in the UAE. Simple tasks, from picking up litter, to watering the lawn and bringing groceries to the car, should be well within the capabilities of just about everybody. Excellent service means something entirely different than overwhelming service.

The point is not to eradicate an entire sector of the economy, but to help it take a step up. The UAE's development trajectory is based on higher skilled, higher value industries including service. As the economy matures, services will have to provide value for money, not just offer a superfluous helping hand.

This will see wages rise for hardworking people in much more meaningful occupations. And, hopefully, others will learn to fend for themselves a little bit more and, perhaps, even get out of the car to pump their own petrol.