x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

When it comes to customer service, heritage is key

The Life: The contentious topic of customer service is rather intriguing. At the same time, people say customer service is incredible here while others are irritated, saying it is terrible. This contrast piqued Tommy Weir's curiosity - why the difference of views?

When it comes to customer service, leaders must try and leverage the UAE's great diversity into a win-win situation. istockphoto.com
When it comes to customer service, leaders must try and leverage the UAE's great diversity into a win-win situation. istockphoto.com

I find the contentious topic of customer service to be rather intriguing.

At the same time, people say customer service is incredible here while others are irritated, saying it is terrible.

This contrast piqued my curiosity - why the difference of views?

My daily interactions mirror the confusion of the market - some interactions are just brilliant and others are pathetic. How can the customer experience be so diverse?

The reality of customer service in this market depends on how you are looking at it. Every customer comes with a dossier of customer experiences or, better stated, a customer experience heritage. And every employee also posses his/her own customer experience heritage. Thus the confusion as to diversity in customer experiences with the two heritages often incongruent.

Every customer interaction is pregnant with expectations, emotions and opportunity. But in the UAE, the customer interchange is steroid-laced and primed either to explode prematurely or to provide a bountiful outcome. It is the intersection of the brand expectation, local experience, the customer's customer heritage (experiences) and the employee's customer heritage (experiences). Only here is this factored in a way to create the most complex customer environment found around the globe.

For global brands operating in the region, customers have preformed expectations from the global brand reputation. Actually, for any brand, customers have a preconceived expectation. Then the employees and the customers' customer heritage are added in. And the final ingredient is the actual interaction.

This becomes very complex in a market home to more nationalities than the United Nations has member countries. The UAE is where the world does business every day. And we just answered why there is such diversity in the customer service levels.

This brings us to the crux of the real question business leaders are asking: "How can we overcome this frustrating challenge in our business and provide consistent and stellar service?"

The first step is to truly understand what a diverse workforce multiplied with a diverse market means to the customer experience. Leaders need to embrace the reality that "we are not in Kansas anymore" (borrowed from The Wizard of Oz) and understand how to leverage this market's greatest peculiarity - its diversity.

This is the piece that generates the never-ending friction at the customer interchange. When queried most employees feel like they give good customer service, yet they do not receive it consistently. Employees have a tendency to serve customers in the way they want to be served. Yet, success comes in serving the customer according to his/her expectations.

This is where innovation comes to play - a market such as the UAE deserves a fresh approach synchronised locally. Since people are the key to managing the customer interaction, it is important for employees across all levels in the organisation to understand they have a role to play in managing these exchanges and to grow their capability to succeed. Success in building capability will come through managers coaching the employees on the job, providing motivation and continual accountability for the customer service level.

While there are many excellent customer service programmes, relying on the training department to purchase one of them is not the answer to building customer service. Given the regional realities, frontline managers need to be held to account for spending their time building and monitoring customer service skills.

This old-fashioned approach is the one proven to generate results.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, an advisor and the author of The CEO Shift . He is the founder and managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Centre