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04 March 2024

Quality customer care vital for survival in hard times

Memorable customer service sets companies apart and ensures repeat business (PATRICK CASTILLO) 

By Nina Varghese

In the current global economic slowdown, places such as Dubai will see a back-to-basics move and customer service will become a deciding factor in ensuring that clients return, according to the latest research from Joshua.

The Joshua Group is a business development and training firm, which is set to release its second customer service survey.

Ruth Field, Vice-President, Middle East, Joshua, presented her views on how the climate has changed over the past 12 months and what the financial crisis means in terms of customer relations.

Field said: "At present, media outlets all over the world are focusing on stories of job losses and financial instability as companies enter into crisis management mode. But history has taught us that focusing on the customer is the best strategy to ensure your business survives in difficult times."

Jayesh Ravindranath, Head of Marketing, at Landmark Group, said: "Customer service across retail formats is extremely inconsistent, ranging from good, bad and indifferent. Companies have not made the effort to train staff, especially when it comes to high-end products such as electronics where the customer requires advice and information."

Field pointed out: "We believe putting the customer first should be the main objective of each and every organisation, not simply cost-cutting, which is a very short-term strategy and makes it harder for businesses to grow when the inevitable upturn begins." The survey said less than six months ago it was a case of "build and they will come". Dubai was a land of endless opportunity, with the population growing at an unprecedented rate. Consequently, growth was the main focus for many companies. People were here and wanted to spend money, as a result of which good customer relations were scarce, it added.

"Although we believe that Dubai, and the GCC, are better placed than most to weather the current storm, we also believe the concept of excellent customer service will become more important than ever," Field said. "Therefore a shift is needed towards a 'build and give them a good reason to come' strategy, which Dubai has historically been successful at prior to the unprecedented growth of the past three to five years. This is something that I have no doubt Dubai will get right again, especially as businesses will have to reasses their core values during the economic slowdown."

The Joshua survey said: "The opportunity has arrived to put a stake in the sand and begin to build longevity and sustainability on a solid-based foundation. Dubai has some of the 'very best in its class' and sustainability comes when the world talks about a memorable experience and not just the largest tower."

The customer service survey, carried out at the beginning of 2008, revealed some alarming trends, indicating that at best Dubai only achieved an average rating, and in some areas, for example taking ownership of an issue and anticipating future needs, fell well below international standards.

The silver lining is that economists are predicting the Gulf markets will still continue to grow, albeit at lower levels in the short to medium term.

However, it means that organisations and companies in the region will have to do what it takes to improve their competiveness. This means that delivering excellent customer service will become a "must have" and not just "nice to have".

Memorable customer service is what sets organisations and companies apart and ensures repeat business from valued clients. In times such as this the repeat business from loyal customers is essential for survival. Raising and sustaining standards of customer service must become the mantra of today's management in this increasingly competitive environment, according to the survey.