Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Customer Services Woes

I like to think of myself as the ideal customer. I'm easygoing and I always make sure to thank all customer service representatives with a smile. When they're being rude or seem irritated, I assume they're probably having a bad day and I go out of my way to be even nicer. In supermarkets I smile at the employees who stock the shelves, I package my own bags, I thank the cashier, I wheel my groceries to the car, and I return the basket to the basket rack.
If a helpful employee insists on carrying my bags to the car, I tip them generously and make sure to thank them at least three times. If someone puts me on hold or keeps me waiting for a long time, I do not tap my fingers on the counter or complain loudly. I look outside and admire the clouds. I believe in the Golden Rule.
Every once in a while I come across a customer service representative or a cashier in Salalah who actually takes a second out of their time to smile back or say 'you're welcome' when I thank them. When such an incident occurs, quite often I'm so surprised it takes me a few seconds to react. Remember, this isn't Europe or North America where clerks usually want to chat about the weather.
I go out of my way to be extra polite to people every single time I walk into a store in Salalah. However, 99 per cent of the time I never get a response. I'm fine with that. I just continue doing what I'm doing hoping perhaps that one day, someone will smile back. Last week, however, I reached the end of my tether for a few moments. I debated whether to write about this, but the situation was so ridiculous that I decided I had to.
I walked into one of Salalah's major supermarkets after work last Monday, grabbed a basket at the door and proceeded to tick items off my shopping list. During my 8.5 minutes of shopping, an employee who was stocking shelves dropped a tin of hummus on my foot without apologising. I bit my tongue, picked it up, smiled at him, and placed it back on the shelf. At the vegetable counter, I thanked the person who priced my vegetables. No response. At the cashier, I let an irritated older man go first because I could see he was in a bad mood. The female cashier literally tossed my items at me as I packed my bags then she threw my receipt and change at me without looking. I thanked her but she ignored me. There was no one else in line, so she could have tilted her head just a little bit and responded, right? Wrong. She just had to go back to gossiping with her colleagues.
I placed my bags neatly in my basket and began wheeling it towards the door when I heard someone shouting loudly ‘Stop! Where are you going with the basket?' Along with several other people nearby, I stopped dead in my tracks and turned around. An Omani male employee wearing the store's uniform was marching towards me shouting that I am not allowed to take the basket one step further. I asked him patiently how he expected me to get my groceries to the car. He said 'this is the store's property. You are not allowed to take it out'.
I began to feel my blood pressure rising, so I informed him politely that I would wheel my groceries to my car, and then return the basket to the place I picked it up from. Seeing how irritated I had become, he tried to convince me that he was joking. By then a crowd had gathered to watch the argument, so I just wanted to get out of there. He tried to take the bags out of the basket and help me carry them but I just grabbed them and left. I haven't felt that angry in ages. What on earth was he thinking? Every single major supermarket on the planet lets you wheel your shopping basket out to the car, right? I don't care if he was serious or joking. All that matters is that he shouted at me in front of at least fifty people and accused me of doing something illegal.
I can handle crappy customer service most of the time, but as a human I'm allowed to complain every once in a while. Everyone knows that Oman is lagging far behind in the field of customer service. I know it’s not part of the culture to be friendly and nice to random people, but that has got to change. Banks, post offices and other service providers in Oman deserve an entire column of their own.
To be fair, not all of them are as bad as the guy at the supermarket. If I were a typical customer, I'd probably report him to his managers, tell my male relatives, and use all the wasta I can sum up to make sure he loses his job. Lucky for him, I’m not that difficult. I'll just stick to this column! If you deal with customers regularly, please go out of your way to be nice to them, and if you're a customer, please go out of your way to do the same to the cashier at your local supermarket. We're all human beings who need to be appreciated.
Note: my shopping cart story took place at Lulu Hypermarket Salalah, but I did not add that detail to my newspaper column. 
Published - Muscat Daily - September 13, 2011


  1. I went to LuLu in Salalah twice last week - and I have to say the cashiers were miserable - though the store itself is far nicer than in Muscat

  2. Totally agree with your column today. Exactly why I stopped shopping at Lulu in Salalah. Came to Muscat and it was even worse.

    Though small I always used the :"Spinneys" by the RAFO base....they
    tried harder.

    All the best, John Harries

  3. I am going out of my mind with the lack of customer service in Oman—and in particular, the new Salalah Lulu’s!! But really it’s not customer service—its basic manners!!

    In a nutshell, I am a western woman—married to a Gulf Arab. I wear abiaya and possess a fairly decent level of Arabic language skills. Until recently, every single time that I have gone into Lulu’s(which could be 3 or 4 times a week) has been devoid of basic human manners from the employees. When checking out, I always address the cashier—typically, first in Arabic—and never getting a response—I would then try in English. NEVER had a cashier responded to me. NEVER any type of acknowledgement—NEVER one word- not even telling me the total of my purchase. And then, of course, NEVER a thank you.
    After enduring these lack of manners a few dozen times, I complained to the management…which seems to be 100% Indian. After the first time I complained, I complained each subsequent visit. The management team knows me by sight and I know them by name. Of course, promises were made but there was never an improvement in my shopping experience, until the last week. Last week, you could say, “opened my eyes”.
    Last week, during one of my shopping visits, the young female cashier actually responded to my greeting!! I was so happy! She continued to make pleasant small conversation as she scanned my large purchase. She moving in the typical torturous slow manner that is common throughout Oman, but I didn’t mind because she was actually being quite pleasant.
    There were a total of two other people waiting in line after me—a middle age Omani man directly behind me, followed by a middle aged Indian man. Anyways, when the cashier was about halfway through my purchases, the Indian customer waiting in line, very rudely told the cashier, in Arabic, to stop her talking and hurry up!!! I was shell shocked!! I immediately addressed this guy –told him he was rude and a few other choice words (in Arabic). He immediately left the line and the Omani man behind me clapped for me.
    Interestingly, the Oman man standing next me did not say anything to this rude Indian man, nor did the young Omani girl who was the cashier and the object of his rudeness. There is a line between being polite and passive –and being a doormat.
    Needless to say, in my visits to Lulu’s since this incident---my greetings are back to being ignored.

  4. Let's accept it, employees are dehumanized by savage conditions. Nowhere in the civilized world, a dozen of young Filipino women share the same 2 bedroom apartment and work for 18 hours a day, don't have health insurance or a retirement plan, separated from their families and so on... I don't call it employment, it is slavery.
    You are obviously an exception and I commend you for that but most people treat them very rudely. I lived in the UAE for some time and even though I always thanked them and tried my best with them, I still feel like I am also guilty of abusing their labor.

  5. In a strange way I'm actually heartened to read this as I thought it was only me - a Westerner - who was treated that way. It's kind of nice to know it's at least not discrimination! ;-) I couldn't agree more though. It costs nothing to be polite. My Arabic is basic to say the least but I always make the effort to greet people and thank them. It knocks your confidence in practising a new language when people ignore you. Employees need to at least be civil even if they can't bring themselves to be friendly. Unfortunately Lulu probably doesn't feel it needs to make the effort as there isn't exactly anywhere else that directly competes, so people will shop there anyway and put up with it.
    As for the shopping basket incident - that is ludicrous! I always wheel my trolley out and so does everyone else. Why would there be bays to 'park' the trolleys in the car park if they weren't supposed to leave the store?!

  6. Dear Susan,

    I started to write a reply to this and then got so carried away with being annoyed that I have moved my rant to my own blog. Feel free to read there at your leisure!

    TLS :)

  7. LULU is a total disaster in employee training and Management. One only needs to contrast it to the helpful, attentive, and hardworking staff at Sultan center. If they can do it, while presumably drawing from the same pool of talent, then Why Can't Lulu?

    Whenever I feel homesick for Oman, I think about Lulu, and feel much better about out decision to leave for a while.

  8. I always face the same thing in supermarkets but don't expect a reply when you thank someone or greet them, frankly I don't care if they don't reply as it depends on their mood.

    they are very poor and face angry customers all the time. It is a none stop job imagine working for 6 to 8 hours continuously grabbing each item and counting them. An irritating job indeed compared to the salary they are getting.

    Regarding LULU it is the best shopping center in Salalah as it has introduced new and innovative ideas, I called the owner of Lulu just yesterday regarding the basket thing he said from experience we noticed that baskets get damaged easily and become difficult to wheel when they are wheeled on rugged surface, that's why we created a space for car parking in front of the entrance so customers can get their cars to the entrance and take their bags out of the basket.

    in addition to that he mentioned that damaged baskets prevented them from more than 10% profit in each Lulu branch as it costs more than 70 riyals for a new one which does not last for more than a month.

    I think he is right but they should have trained their employees to pass this info to the customers in a convincing way.

    I have a habit not to complain for any act or decision that seems ridiculous, I approach them to know what made them take that decision.After that either I'm convinced or else I give them better suggestion.