x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE customers don’t like their banks much and aren’t likely to recommend them

Most of us have a relationship in some shape or form with a financial institution in the country, and based on our latest survey at Souqalmal.com, very few of us would recommend our bank to our friends and family.

How many times has our experience with banks dominated the dinner party? Most of us have a relationship in some shape or form with a financial institution in the country, and based on our latest survey at Souqalmal.com, very few of us would recommend our bank to our friends and family.

The yearly survey was based on the responses from 4,210 of our users, who were asked a simple question, “Would you recommend your current bank to a friend or family member?”

The outcome showed that only 11 per cent of users would recommend their banks to their loved ones, 14 per cent were neutral, while 74 per cent would not actively promote their bank.

In such a competitive market with more than 50 banks and 500 banking products, customer service should be one of the most obvious ways of differentiation.

Is this a surprise? Probably not for many of us. Is it a perception or is it reality? Some would argue yes and some no.

Before 2008 and the global financial crisis, growth in the market was such that there was no real need for banks to focus on service and loyalty – selling was the most important thing as that was the key driver of growth.

Post financial crisis, institutions focused on risk management and cleaning up balance sheets. Yet again, service took a backseat.

Now that the market is back into growth mode, be it slower and more competitive, retaining customers and selling more to them should finally move up the agenda.

The UAE is a complex market when it comes to customer service as banks and financial institutions are dealing with a diverse set of customers with very different priorities.

Emiratis highly value personal service and relationship, and consider branches a key component. Western expatriates are typically after convenience, such as online banking (as long as it works and does not require branch visits), and subcontinent expats tend to put emphasis on the competitiveness of the products offered.

This added complexity in the market drives variable complaints from quality and convenience of the branch network, pricing levels, speed and personal follow-up on issue resolution and many other matters – it’s not easy for a bank to get it all these things right.

Looking forward, we all hope to see quite an improvement and a change in the levels of service provided, but the main questions are how long will it take and who is most likely to get it right?

When it comes to our current survey, Noor Islamic Bank had the highest rate of recommendation by its customers where 25 per cent of its customer surveyed said they would actively promote the bank.

So what is Noor Islamic Bank doing differently? I was curious to know what it believes it is doing right.

And the answer looks like by being proactive in seeking customer feedback on its service, thereby helping the bank to fix problems before they become a more serious headache.

“We are very proactive in seeking customers’ views on our service quality,” says John Chang, Noor’s head of consumer banking.

“Every month we ask our customers to rate us and track their responses. Our quality service team follows up on any criticism directly with the customer and, if necessary, we improve our processes and provide staff with training.”

Customer service is one the most powerful strategies to keep customers on board.

We just hope that these statistics will help the UAE banks to see the opportunity for growth and to realise the importance of customer loyalty.

Ambareen Musa is the founder and chief executive of souqalmal.com