x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

UAE tops Gulf countries for service

As the result of a global survey, undercover shoppers find quality in five GCC nations still behind the US and UK.

Retailers must equip their employees with adequate product knowledge to entice customers to shop.
Retailers must equip their employees with adequate product knowledge to entice customers to shop.

The UAE has scored top marks for customer service compared with other Gulf countries, but lags the US and the UK, according to a new survey. Grass Roots, a Dubai-based consultancy, used undercover shoppers to gauge the quality of customer service in five GCC countries and found the Emirates had the highest performance score at 78.

This ranks the UAE higher than the regional average of 69, but below the 80 scored in the US and 78.7 in the UK. Mark Spicer, the operations director of Grass Roots, said mediocre customer service in the Gulf was not a pressing issue when shoppers were out in force, but in these times of financial hardship it was costing retailers crucial sales. "With the change in economic climate and the increase in competitors, the retailers now are beginning to realise that they have to change," Mr Spicer said.

For the region, Bahrain was second on the performance index with 73, and Saudi Arabia and Kuwait tied for third with a rating of 70. Qatar trailed with a score of 65. Lack of product knowledge was the most common problem found by Grass Roots's 800 mystery shoppers, who rated car dealers, fast food and coffee shops, banks and mobile phone stores between last December and January. About 40 per cent of sales staff did not recommend a product to customers or guide them to the appropriate area of the store. But the region scored well on first impressions, with 83 per cent of staff deemed friendly and helpful and 94 per cent of stores tidy.

"The stores are clean. They're spotless, which is great," said Mr Spicer. "But I'd rather go to a slightly grottier store where someone can answer my question." Within individual sectors, service at fast food and coffee outlets had the highest rating at 7.21 out of 10, followed by banks at 7.12, mobile phone operators at 6.96 and car dealers at 6.14. Mr Spicer said the problem had been a lack of employee training. "They've not been given proper product knowledge," he said. "How can the retailer expect them to succeed? They've almost been set up to fail." Laurent-Patrick Gally, a retail analyst at Shuaa Capital, said another factor was the Gulf's transient, low-paid workforce.

"Many people will come here on a three-year basis and, in terms of self-motivation in their work, this is not optimal," Mr Gally said. Robert Ziegler, the vice president of the AT Kearney consultancy in Dubai, said customer service was the number one area the retail industry needed to work on. Mr Ziegler said that as consumers had become more thrifty, retailers had resorted to deep discounts to lure them, but improving customer service was a much cheaper way to edge out the competition.

The Emirates had already overcome the initial hurdles associated with a rapid retail boom, he said, such as a lack of retail space and depleted stock. Now, retailers had to turn their staff into salespeople, rather than just order takers. "The next thing retail needs to work on is how they actually make the sale, instead of managing distribution," Mr Ziegler said. aligaya@thenational.ae