Service with a smile or a grimace?

The Middle East is notorious for its lack lustre customer service standards. Whether you are ordering a takeaway burger, trying to organise a time to get your car serviced, or simply making a call to book a manicure, nine times out of 10, it proves a frustrating exercise. Language barriers and the general malaise of many companies and their staff are a constant source of irritation.

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By  Gemma Greenwood Published  September 21, 2006

|~||~||~|The Middle East is notorious for its lack lustre customer service standards. Whether you are ordering a takeaway burger, trying to organise a time to get your car serviced, or simply making a call to book a manicure, nine times out of 10, it proves a frustrating exercise. Language barriers and the general malaise of many companies and their staff are a constant source of irritation. The travel industry is no different, which is a sad state of affairs considering how much difference a service with a smile could make to both the customer and the travel service provider. Rude call centre staff are simply turning away business and therefore, eroding their profit margins; and I have several examples to cite following several mystery shopper exercises undertaken by Arabian Travel News this month. We decided to find out whether hotel room rates were cheaper by booking direct with the properties, either online or via their call/reservation centres, or by calling a travel agent. The results of this survey will be published in the October edition of ATN, but in the meantime, let me share with you some anecdotes gleaned from this exercise. Hotel reservations staff were generally friendly and efficient, but travel agents were, on the whole, nonplussed. Some asked the mystery shopper to call back later because they were eating their lunch; others promised to e-mail or call with hotel room rate details, but eight out of 10 failed to do so. One agent claimed he could not understand what the mystery shopper wanted and slammed down the phone. Some phones were unanswered, which was surprising because they were ringing at the outlets of what are considered to be Dubai’s top 10 agencies. Travel agents cannot afford to turn away business in this manner. Not only was the mystery shopper shocked and offended and unlikely to return to the agencies in question, but he was also determined to spread the word to other potential clients that the businesses he dealt with are inefficient, rude, and reluctant to earn themselves a profit. Gregory O’Neill, the managing director and vice president of the Asia Pacific region for BCD Travel, recently told an ATN reporter: "Customers don't want service, they want the costs driven down as much as possible. It’s nothing to do with relationships, it’s all about costs." He was speaking at a press conference to promote the fact that BCD Travel, the world’s third largest global travel management company, had launched operations in the UAE. But Mike Buckman, BCD’s CEO, reminded O’Neill that although clients were understandably cost-driven and demanded value for money, “service is the most important factor”. Travel companies Middle East-wide would do well to take heed of Buckman’s school of thought. More information on BCD Travel's new UAE venture will be published in the October edition of Arabian Travel News. ||**||

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