Customer service: An alienated concept? [Archives:2007/1083/Business & Economy]

September 6 2007

Although customer service, in principle, is an integral part of any successful sales and marketing strategy, it is a neglected issue which takes a far much lower priority according to a customer services survey, undertaken by Yemen Times.

A Consumer perspective:

According to the survey, consumers equally undervalue the importance of customer care and after sale service. Unless the product purchased falls within the durable sector, such as a vehicle, a mobile phone or an electronic item, then the issue of customer service is negligible. According to Mohammed Al-Anisi: “I bought four mobile phones during the last three years, all of these were from the same brand, because I know if something goes wrong with it, I can take it to the dealer to fix it under warranty.”

Similarly, Aydarous A. says: “When buying a computer, a printer, or any technological item you must think about the after sale service. For example, you don't want to buy a printer whose ink is not readily available, or a computer which you will not be able to upgrade easily. These sorts of issues things fall within the realm of customer service and have a strong impact on the decision of whether a purchase is made at company A or company B.”

On the other hand, others see the whole notion of customer service as a scam. says Su'ad: “I bought a Stereo from a very reputable Japanese company. However, after a couple of months, it broke down and began to make weird noises. When I took it to the dealer, he told me it was a dust problem and couldn't help me. Additionally, every time he touched it, he wanted to charge me 5000 Riyal.”

“There is no such thing as customer service in Yemen” says Reyadh, “even though it is in the terms and conditions of the sale agreement and is, in many cases, documented in the invoice or warranty. When you start facing problems, they either tell you we don't have the spare parts, and sometimes they tell you they fixed the problem only to find out a couple of days later that they did not fix it, only patched it up Reyadh also added: “I bought an air conditioner which did not cool since day one. After installation, the retailer said he thought that there was no Frion. After that, he said it was a problem of wiring. Then they replaced it with another air conditioner, which was an older model, saying that my model was out of stock, charging me installation costs twice, and that was after three weeks of unpleasant discussions and negotiations with them.”

A Business perspective:

“Customer service is a competitive advantage of great importance to us…” says Tareq AbdulWase'e, General Manager of United Insurance, “in the insurance business it is of great importance that you provide the best service and keep your clients very satisfied about the service you provide. Lousy customer service would eventually drive you out of business”.

Sami Sabha, a cargo and shipping agent, added to AbdulWase'e's claims: “I am astonished how the concept of customer service is severely under appreciated; it can make or break your business. I see many companies that do not care about their clients' complaints and end up losing them

Apparently, although several companies seem to highly value customer service, there are others who admit that they are lousy at it. For example, a manager at an electronics retailer in Sana'a stated that “customer service is expensive too many people end up damaging their products because they do not even read the operating manual. When my profit margin is 5-10 percent of the item's sale price, why should I end up paying for a whole crew of maintenance specialists and customer care agents and also lock up large amounts of my capital in spare parts. I think that the customers should pay for all this”.

Another such executive added: “we usually have sale seasons twice a year where we give marginal discounts, however all products sold during this period are not returnable and non-exchangeable. Furthermore, when they are sold they are sold without a warranty, just a promise to provide spare parts.

He also added: “in many cases customers are extremely price sensitive. If your price is a 1000 Riyals lower than your competition, then they buy from you. That's why we are under a lot of pressure to cut back on prices and customer service expenses.

A Third perspective:

A source at the Customer Protection Agency stated that there should be a role played by the government in order to protect customers, since any sale transaction is a legal contract which should be governed by terms and conditions to protect the rights of the consumer as well as the businessman.

Assisting Secretary-General of the Yemen Association to Protect Consumer, Yassin Al-Tamimi, stated that the responsibility to protect consumers is a germane one and that all stakeholders should play important roles to protect consumer rights.

At current stages and with the consideration of market realities that exist in Yemen, customer service is still an alienated concept; many consumers are unaware of their rights. In addition to this, a legal framework does not provide the details to govern it. Furthermore, business feel constrained and may entertain bankruptcy because of the costs of maintaining good service.