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customer experience
Jennie Davis
  • By Jennie Davis
  • May 10 2016

Is it a Service or an Operation?

Thoughts on sub-standard customer experience, KPI's and Dubai Airport

The Dalai Lama once wisely mused that “Sometimes one creates a dynamic impression by saying something, and sometimes one creates as significant an impression by remaining silent.”

“I’m not looking for flowers, champagne and a rendition of the national anthem, but I do believe that a sensible, practical and decent service is always possible; regardless of the environment. ” Jennie Davis

But as I stood in Dubai airport immigration hall, with two teenage daughters and my unwell mother beside me, it was neither the silent nor the conversational staff member that greeted us. I’m not too sure what the Dalai Lama would have made of the situation, but even his holiness might have grown frustrated at what took place.

It’s common knowledge that deciding which queue to join at airport immigration is a lottery. Unlike many UK airports that offer just one line through immigration, this was the old school case of choosing the most efficient staff member and hoping for a speedy queue. Sadly, this was a lottery I got badly wrong.

I worked out that every other queue was moving at least five people quicker than ours. Now for a destination that prides itself on service and luxury, and sets its prices with that in mind, I was pretty disheartened to see what ‘our man’ was doing. Mostly, he was chatting with his colleague next to him, who unlike our guy had mastered the ability to work and talk simultaneously.

But credit where credit is due, he wasn’t only chatting. No, he was yawning, taking calls on his mobile phone, laughing a lot, spinning in his chair and also doing nothing. At times I wondered whether he had somehow landed a work experience placement with the immigration department of Dubai.

At one stage he was acknowledging the size of his queue compared to the others and giggling at his own inability to carry out his job. And in said queue, where we stood for over an hour, he had only managed to process 15 people. In fact, other flights that came through immigration after us and joined other lines got through before us. Work that one out.

I wasn’t surprised to see that our luggage was the only luggage left – spinning on the carousel alone like an unwanted gift on the generation game. I spoke to two staff members to file my complaint, but my experience fell on deaf ears, as expected.

It’s hard to relax into holiday mood when the customer service causes such high levels of stress. My daughter, frustrated and exhausted to the point of tears, summed up what we were all feeling.

After my blood pressure returned to normal, I reflected on the situation with my ‘work hat’ on. I first wondered about how this type of role is trained. Is each staff member told to treat those people coming into their country as customers or numbers? How the staff view the public is a starting point that no company can ignore and get away with in the long run.

There’s no doubting Dubai’s ability to deliver great customer experiences within their booming leisure industry. And considering Dubai’s ever-increasing hotel development, one has to consider the obvious question… If the hotels and the national tourism board are working so hard to attract people to Dubai – doesn’t the moment of welcome play a huge part?

Now I recognise immigration is a serious business, so I’m not looking for flowers, champagne and a rendition of the national anthem, but I do believe that a sensible, practical and decent service is always possible; regardless of the environment.

Airport bosses, and business leaders, have to look at the end-to-end links of service. When investing in a high service experience, four questions need to be addressed:

1) What impact will a badly trained third party have in the final outcome?

2) Has the whole service/profit chain and all elements impacting it been scrutinised and considered?

3) Where does the services actually start and end?

4) If money is not changing hands – is it considered a ‘service’ or an ‘operation’ by managers and floor staff?

It might seem from my experience that Dubai airport hasn’t fully considered the service ethic of their offer or indeed made it clear to their own people how they should behave in sync with the holistic customer experience.

The truth is that their product, which happens to be an airport, should be seen internally as a service even if no direct monetary transaction is taking place. What entices them to bother or care about the strangers they may well only see twice? Well, the answer is in the question, of course. Excellent experiences will always inspire repeat purchase, as well as attracting new custom and in this case, visitors to Dubai.

I’m not sure if any KPI’s have been placed in front of the immigration staff at Dubai Airport. But if they want to echo the excellence seen in so much of their country’s leisure sector, I’d recommend using KPI’s pretty soon.. … or at the very least monitoring service focused behaviours to align with the wider Dubai tourism efforts for luxury and excellence.