Is the customer always right? - Part 2
In part 2 of our series on customer service in Qatar, The Edge uses social media as a tool to report on real examples from consumers
How difficult is it to get a response to a customer complaint in Qatar? Using social media conversations as a starting point, Victoria Scott features some readers’ negative experiences with local companies, and as a counterbalance, asked for their response.
Mention the topic of customer service in dialogue in Doha and everyone is guaranteed to have a story to share. The good, the bad and the ugly, it is all there, although often a bit too much of the ugly.
TheEDGE decided to take this conversation to the local community, using Facebook and the Twitter hashtag #CSQatar to elicit expatriates and locals to share their experiences with poor customer service in Doha. Predictably, there was a significant and emotive response, some of which were so vociferous they had to be censored.
And although one-fifth had of those good experiences to relate, many of the stories were negative, and about a quarter were still seeking a resolution to long-term complaints.
The local community shared their experiences of poor customer service and the company’s reactions to those complaints – relatively unique to Qatar. Subsequently, TheEDGE selected from a total of a couple of hundred complaints across different business sectors, and contacted each company to ask for their response to the poor customer service.
Some Qatari or Qatar-based international firms have designated customer service lines, and or complaint forms on their websites and others do not. However, despite some companies displaying an interest in the customer’s dissatisfaction, others do not get back to the customer.
POOR STAFF TRAINING
As highlighted in part one of this series in TheEDGE’s last month’s issue, several of the complaints received reflect a common concern in Qatar. It is evident that some of the employees are not trained efficiently to deal with customer complaints properly.
For example, a gentleman residing in Doha had trouble obtaining Qtel services for his new villa in West Bay Lagoon. Qtel staff at Lagoona Mall insisted they did not offer services in West Bay Lagoon, despite him telling them that he lived just across the road from their shop.
Correspondingly another Qtel customer, a woman who had Qtel fibre installed last Christmas. “The team arrived about an hour late,” said the woman, “Then an installation that should have taken 30 minutes, they spent all morning on.” Previously she had installed a booster to give Wi-fi reception in all areas of her house, but with the new fibre installation, this was not possible.
She further explained that many different engineers visited, but they were unable to fix the problem. “I had to sit in the back room near the washing machine to get a good Internet connection,” she added. Both Qtel complaints were noted and addressed via e-mail to Qtel by TheEDGE. Fatima Al Kuwari, director of public relations and social media at Qtel, responded five days later. “We obviously want the installation process to be as smooth as possible, and we’re sorry it wasn’t in this case,” said Al Kuwari, “We’ve undertaken direct training in Qtel shops, so hopefully the Lagoona Mall team is now better able to help customers. We’ve also updated our website, which has an online map of Qtel’s Fibre availability.”
In response to the woman’s complaint, Al Kuwari explained that Qtel contacted her directly after TheEDGE approached them. “And Qtel has implemented a full training and development programme for installation teams,” explained Al Kuwari. “We’ve made a number of improvements to our installation services in 2012 – including an expanded number of time bands. In terms of the customer’s Wi-fi coverage issues, there are technical limits to Wi-fi coverage, which can be impacted by the position of the router, thickness of walls and size of the residence. To boost coverage, we’ve introduced HomeZone, a new router that extends the coverage area for wireless devices and tablets.” The woman customer said she finally made the decision to buy HomeZone, which has now restored her Internet connection around her home, although she also expressed that she would not have had a successful resolution to the case if TheEDGE had not become involved.
LACK OF SERVICE VALUE
Moreover, TheEDGE tackled an area of customer service that generates a great number of complaints in Qatar – motor vehicle garages, specifically the after-sales service. Another woman expressed an issue she had with Volkswagen’s (VW) service centres. She felt there was a complete lack of two-way communication, and an apparent lack of concern about the quality of the company’s relationship with their customer, which is a common shared experience in Qatar. In July, her VW Golf failed to start; therefore she took the car to the garage, Saad Budwazir.
On August 2, it failed to start again. She called Saad Budwazir, only to be told that VW servicing had moved to a new supplier. On August 13, her car was ready to be picked up. On the way back from the garage it broke down again. She went back to the garage, but from then on she struggled to find out what was happening.
“I expected they would call to update us,” she said, “We never received a call and every time I tried to call, I received a busy signal or no answer. The few times I did get an answer, they always said they were going to check and call me back, but they never did.”
As it is common in a country with a diversity of multiple nationalities working side by side, part of her communication issues could have been down to the language barrier. In mid-September an Arabic speaking colleague drove to the garage, to be told that they did not have the required spare parts in stock.
VW has a dedicated customer service phone line, which TheEDGE called to address the matter. On October 8, Jean Paul Abbosh, general aftersales manager of Audi and Volkswagen Q-Auto responded. “We regret that our client could not have her problem solved through the previous dealer,” continued Abbosh, “At the time our client delivered her vehicle to our facility in August, we were in a transition period; however our priority was and still is to serve our customers and to ensure their full satisfaction. We assure her that we are taking her observations into serious consideration to continuously improve our services. We hope to see our client soon in our facility and we will give her our full support.” A few days after the call, the car was finally returned after two months in the garage.
A RELUCTANCE TO ENGAGE
There seems to be a reluctance in engaging with the customer in Doha, and it is not just the case in the motor vehicle service industry.
According to another woman customer, which touches on another concern many customers have in Qatar, employees are not encouraged to ‘think outside the box’ in order to solve problems and incidents. “Last December while eating lunch at Biella at Landmark, I ordered the Fagioli soup,” she said, “Fagioli is Italian for bean. When they brought my soup, it was basically broth with tiny pieces of vegetable. I explained to the staff that this soup was supposed to have beans in it and they said “no have”. She added that she even pointed out that there was a supermarket in the same shopping mall, which would have sold the beans needed.
Following the incident of the meal at the Italian restaurant, TheEDGE contacted Biella via their Facebook page on the October 3. They responded the next day and stated that all menu items are strictly controlled, and claimed that Fagioli soup was not on the menu in any of its restaurants in November or December last year.
Peter Lyons, operations manger of Siddiqi Hospitality explained, “It is however true that Qatar has supply issues and these issues often leave many establishments without key items at short notice.” Lyons also denied that Biella does not allow its employees to think for themselves. “We can state from experience that Qatar does have an abundance of repetitive, almost robotic service – but Biella’s training programmes have been developed to break the mould. We feel our employees are among the best trained within the casual dining sector,” he argued.
The differing accounts from customer and company here aside, this incident also highlights a few related issues. There is, from developed countries a certain expectaion especially dealing with known international brands – which often for many reasons, such those offered above, cannot be met despite the best of intentions. Going back to the training and communication issue, the two cornerstones of customer service should translate to staff engagement with the consumer.
LACK OF COMMUNICATION
The Communicaid group, a worldwide skills consultancy, says good communication is absolutely vital when dealing with customers. “Demonstrating to customers that we are listening to them and value their feedback, combined with the ability to convey clear messages with warmth, will enhance customers’ experience,” they advise.
However, this was not the experience a male customer had when shopping at Carrefour City Center. He tried to return a faulty steam mop to the store and was told by the supervisor that they could not help him, therefore, he asked for the duty manager, and was told that in fact was not on duty at the time. “So, I asked for the manager. He simply talked over me, repeating again and again that ‘my maid had broken it’, but I don’t have a maid. The end result is a customer who has taken their business away – all for the sake of replacing a QR500 appliance.”
Meanwhile, another Carrefour customer was double charged for her shopping when paying by credit card at Carrefour City Center. “There was a timeout,” she said, “But I received an SMS showing the debit from my account. They said that the payment hadn’t worked and I would have to do it again, that it was normal.” According to the woman, two payments were taken from her account, despite assurances to the contrary.
Nearly a month later, despite calls to management and emails between Carrefour and her bank, she still has not been refunded. She claims she asked Carrefour for a goodwill gesture to reflect the amount of time she has spent chasing the payment herself. “But the manager told me that it was not in their policy to offer any kind of goodwill gesture,” she concluded.
Once again, TheEDGE took action and e-mailed several listed contacts on the Carrefour Qatar website, but received no response. The manager of Carrefour City Center referred TheEDGE to the head office in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. After unsuccessful attempts of constant phoning for days, TheEDGE was unable to publish a response from Carrefour.
MIXED RESPONSE AND SERVICE
TheEDGE had a few pleasant surprises while compiling this article. In some cases, responses were quick, and companies were proactive.
Despite being accused by many of poor after-sales service. Qtel, for example, was quick to respond and follow up. However, TheEDGE did experience frustration, with some companies finding telephones unanswered, e-mails not responded to and conversations with employees challenging to say the least. This highlights how hard it often is for customers to have their voices heard in Qatar. While there are good examples out there and one can only hope that customer service levels in Qatar will improve.
Got a bad (or good) Qatar customer service story? Send us an email or write to us on Twitter or Facebook to share your experience.