BY FAZEENA SALEEM
DOHA: Companies in Doha invariably promise efficient service, but customers, by and large, are dissatisfied and feel that the service providers often fail to be friendly.
Many say customer care is unsatisfactory everywhere — in supermarkets, banks, fast food chains and even hospitals. What leaves customers upset and even angry is what they call unprofessional, rude and unhelpful service. The problem, they say, is increasing mainly because customer care providers are not properly trained, or have inadequate knowledge of matters they deal with.
“Customer service expectations are higher than ever before, and people no longer have the time, patience, or desire to have in-person interaction to get support,’’ according to a senior public relations professional.
One complaint is that some service providers discriminate against customers because of their nationality, appearance or personality. They also say that staff at the front office or at service counters are sometimes rude and ignore customers — something that goes against the norms of good customer service. Others say that customer service providers in some companies, mainly government institutions, are often busy on their mobile phones during working hours.
Customer care, many point out, is not merely fielding calls at call centres, but understanding that anyone dealing with a customer is expected to provide the best service.
This newspaper spoke to a cross section of people about their experiences, and also to some customer care providers to hear their side of the story.
Customers say all that they ask of service providers is: Treat customers with respect, be knowledgeable about your products, and be friendly and patient.
“I have experienced discrimination and have been ignored or made to wait by several service providers on many occasions. The role of any customer care assistant or service provider is to be helpful and friendly. Sadly, this is missing in many places,” said Mohamed Lafeer, an expatriate working here for more than eight years.
“Some of them even see us as ignorant and consider themselves superior. It’s shocking to see such behaviour even in international food chains and supermarkets. Some people at the counters behave as if they have a problem with us, and just bang down things on the table or thrust them into bags as if they are throwing them. If not as a king, customers should at least be treated with respect,” Lafeer added.
Some customers say they have had unpleasant experiences and faced discrimination even in hospitals.
“At the health centres, we have faced discrimination. The receptionist ignored us and gave priority to others. We felt that they look at people on the basis of their nationality and skin colour. Everyone who goes to a clinic or hospital is unwell and should be treated equally,” said the father of a two-year-old boy.
Another expatriate said he was told to wait for four hours at the emergency unit of Hamad General Hospital.
“I went to the emergency unit following a referral from the primary health centre for an ear problem. Initially, I was ignored and no one took notice of my situation, but when I enquired about the delay, they asked me to wait for four hours. It is not correct for essential service providers to treat people in such a manner,” he said.
Some say the call centre of Hamad Medical Corporation is mostly helpful, but they face problems at the clinics.
“When we book an appointment, the call centre staff is helpful and friendly. But the situation is very different when we go to the hospital. At the Women’s Hospital, we have faced much difficulty. Sometimes the staff does not even guide us to the correct counter; they expect us to know everything,” said an expatriate living here for more than five years.
Some private clinics, too, are no exception, say others.
“I went to one of the popular private clinics when my six-year-old son had fever. It was around 9 pm and I was informed that a paediatrician was not available. So I asked for a general physician, but the receptionist didn’t understand what I was telling her and she was very rude to me, repeatedly saying there was no paediatrician,” said a mother of three young children.
Some complain about staff at clinics being reluctant to guide patients.
Complaints about poor customer care are not limited to the health sector. Many say that call centres of telecommunication firms and banks take a lot of time to respond and fail to resolve customers’ issues most of the time.
“Once, I called my bank’s call centre for online banking assistance. The customer care assistant who attended my call had zero knowledge about what I asked. I was asked to wait for several minutes after every query,” said the customer of a leading bank here.
Another bank customer said he called the call centre about a suspicious transaction in his account, but the customer care staff made him wait a long time only to give him another number to call and make his complaint.
“I was very disturbed to get a message on my phone about a transaction that I had not made. When I called the call centre, they asked me many questions and kept me waiting for more than five minutes, and then asked me to call another number. I was in a difficult situation; they should have understood it and directed me to the correct place quickly. Instead, I was kept waiting,” he said.
Several others complain that they are kept waiting for unreasonable lengths of time on the phone.
“We call them for assistance and are forced to listen to their recordings and advertisements. It consumes our time. It’s annoying. Sometimes, the wait is as long as several minutes. We are least interested in listening to the advertisements when we need to solve a problem,” said an Indian professional.
Dealing with customer complaints is a fact of life when you sell a product or service. And every person in sales encounters customers who are challenging to deal with. Some customer service situations start as minor difficulties but quickly escalate into drawn-out battles. Unfortunately, many salespeople unknowingly cause customer complaints to escalate.
Some say they have experienced this in retail outlets, beauty saloons, hotels and restaurants.
“Once, we bought bread from a place which has 24-hour service. We later found that it had reached its expiry date. We bought it at midnight and the expiry date was the following morning. When we complained, they simply ignored us and said such stuff is taken out of the shelf only in the morning,” said Nazreena Bongso, a young travel industry professional.
“Their attitude towards the customer is shocking. They didn’t have the courtesy to exchange or apologise,” she added.
An accounting professional said, “Some staff at restaurants, including at big food chains, don’t take orders correctly. They don’t pay attention or are overconfident. If we ask for drinks that are not chilled, they serve them with ice; if we ask them not to add cheese, they serve it with cheese. These can be small errors for them but not for the customer. We can’t give a chilled drink to a child who has a cold.
“Many times we have had to make them change the item, and they got annoyed, although it was their mistake. This is simply bad customer service,” he added.
An Indian journalist working here for several years said some hotel staff had an attitude problem.
“When we go as a guest to the hotel they treat us well, but when we go for conferences and seek assistance from the reception, they take a long time to respond, or are unfriendly. I have experienced this on several occasions,” she said.
However, customer care providers and those who deal directly with customers argue that most customers are unreasonable.
“Customers expect us to have everything on our fingertips, which is impossible. But we always do our best to serve them. They shout at us, but we can’t say a word against them. If a complaint is made against us, the company always takes the customer’s side,” said an employee at a leading bank’s call centre.
A retail shop employee with eight years of experience said, “There have been incidents in which the customer slapped or scolded our staff, but we have to bear it. A small mistake in communication can ruin our job. For the sake of our job we bear everything, and I don’t know of a single instance in which the company took the employee’s side.”