What happens when service standards slide?

How those irritating customer complaints can actually help a business

Opinion, Comment & analysis

Over recent months, I think I may have been lucky enough to discover the F&B outlet with potentially the worst service in Dubai.

Obviously I cannot say this for sure; I haven’t been to every outlet in Dubai. (There are quite a few F&B places here, you know.)

But due to the numerous trade shows and events taking place during the first quarter of this year, I have found myself repeatedly visiting the same venue — and as a result, limited to the venue’s choice of F&B options, have found myself frequenting the same café time and time again for meetings or that urgent mid-afternoon caffeine boost.

(As this is meant to be a discussion-prompting column rather than a finger-pointing exercise, I will not name names.)

It is not the product at this café I have a problem with: the beverages and the food served are all of a decent standard. The décor is pleasant, and the prices reasonable (considering its location).

But the service: the service has to be the most consistently bad I have experience during my time here in the Middle East.

Of course, this could be down to the fact that normally, if you encounter terrible service, you would not go back to a place; but the particular situation of this café has, unfortunately, ensured my repeated custom.

This could have been a golden opportunity for the outlet.

Having initially disappointed me with their service standards — getting my order wrong, making me wait another 10 minutes while it was corrected, then not even apologising — they had the chance to prove their initial, shoddy customer service had been a one-off.

Sadly, they did precisely the opposite, once again getting my order wrong, and once again not apologising.

The next time I went back, to meet with a colleague, he was kept waiting for 20 minutes to get our two cups of coffee, despite there being only one other person waiting.

When we complained to a server, he laughed, shrugged, and continued doing something else.

If I had seen any customer comment cards in this outlet, rest assured, I would have made a few suggestions. However as I could not see anything like this, the only action I have been able to take is to avoid this outlet, and advise other colleagues to do the same.

This example is symptomatic of why people continue to bring up the problem of customer service in Dubai.

Yes, we have some top-end outlets; yes, some of the F&B offerings here offer fantastic customer service.

But not all of them do, because they are not following up and getting feedback from their guests, and they are not then dealing with daily issues and training their staff accordingly.

And this inaction results in customers actively avoiding an outlet, and spreading their negative experiences to their friends, family and colleagues.

Anyone reading this and fearing their outlet might fall into this category would do well to check out the upcoming UAE Customer Service Week (CSW), which will be addressing just such issues.

The inaugural CSW — held under the Patronage of H.H. Lt. Gen. Sheikh Saif Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior, Government of United Arab Emirates, and in association with strategic customer service solutions provider Ethos Consultancy — will take place from June 20-24 and will feature activities, competitions, workshops, a two-day conference and service quality awards.

The conference, which aims to bring together local and international customer service experts to share best practice, will take place at Park Rotana, Abu Dhabi on June 22 and 23, while topical workshops will be held on June 21 and 24 at the same location.

Robert Keay, managing director of organiser Ethos Consultancy, said the event would be “a learning experience for all who get involved and a constructive step towards the improvement of customer service standards across the UAE as a whole”.

For more information on UAE Customer Service Week, visit: www.customerserviceweek.ae

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