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Customer Service in UAE: How to Handle Your UAE Customer

Customer Service in UAE

The UAE is not a big place.

Its geographical area fits neatly between Austria and Ireland on a list of countries.

And yet, it has some staggering numbers attached to it. One of the most interesting is that expats vastly outnumber locals—in some places, by a factor of nine to one.

That means that any customer-facing business venture in the UAE has to take into account not just the local culture, but a mix of cultures from all around the world.

As someone in charge of that customer service, you’ll be faced with an unenviable task.

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How is it that some businesses thrive in such an environment, while others fade away into the dust?

It’s simple, really, and it’s a lesson that can be applied to all aspects of expat life:

The flexible survive. The stubborn fail.

In today’s article, you’ll learn how you can best apply that flexibility to your advantage—in other words, how you can master customer service culture in the UAE.

First, you’ve got to learn about the people. Who is your consumer?

Expat Environment

1. Understanding the Expat Environment

It can be incredibly difficult to comprehend the kind of growth and population explosion that the UAE has seen in the last twenty years.

If you go back to your hometown after being away for five years, it’s likely to look about the same.

But just try and imagine that every single year for the last twenty years, your hometown has boomed in popularity. People have started moving in from every corner of the globe.

The familiar streets and familiar environment have all changed before your eyes, as businesses opened and closed, new houses and apartments went up, and whole new roads were built where before there was just empty space.

In 2005, the ratio of expats to locals in the UAE was already more than 3 to 1.

By 2015, the local population stayed almost the same—but the expat population nearly tripled.

According to the latest statistics, native-born Emiratis make up just 20% of the national population. They mainly live in rural areas, while the proportion of expats in the largest cities can reach almost 90 percent.

Who are these expats and what do they want?

Well, if you’re reading this article, you might be one of them. And what about the others?

Virtually every nationality has some expats living in the UAE.

The largest population group is from India, making up 25% of the expat population, and that group is closely followed by Pakistanis with 12%. Sri Lankans and Afghans together number more than 800,000.

People from countries across the Arab world such as Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq form another sizeable expat group with more than a million people coming from these countries alone.

Another six hundred thousand are from just two countries in Southeast Asia, namely Indonesia and the Philippines. As Muslim-majority countries, these countries have close ties to the Middle East.

Comparatively few expats are from East Asia, African countries, Europe, or the Americas. The notable exceptions are China, South Africa, and the United Kingdom, which together contribute roughly five hundred thousand expats to the UAE. Let’s not forget—this number is roughly half of the entire native Emirati population!

Now, why are so many people attracted to living in the UAE?

Very broadly speaking, expats from South and Southeast Asia tend to work in construction, transport, or as domestic helpers. That said, it’s important to remember that some of the largest and most successful national brands in the UAE were founded by Indian entrepreneurs.

That includes supermarket chains, pharmacies, cosmetics, and even healthcare. Indian expats in the UAE enjoy a strong and well-established social network with roots stretching back centuries.

In contrast, although the population of expats from East Asia and countries in Europe and North America is relatively low, it may appear disproportionately high in the business world as most of these expats have high positions in international companies.

Virtually all of the Koreans, for instance, as well as the English-speaking South Africans, have positions in companies registered to their country of origin.

Lastly, finding the culture and language barrier far lower than in other places, many Arabs from neighboring countries choose to study abroad at the well-known universities in the UAE. It may come as no surprise, then, that a majority of them major in business.

2. Understanding the Locals

Something that might strike you about these demographic figures is that the native Emiratis seem like they have no sector left to dominate.

The fact is, most locals aspire to jobs in the government or military, as these are seen as much more respectable than the private sector. Some attitudes are changing, particularly with regard to the food and beverage industry as more local Emiratis want to present an authentic view of their home cuisine to the world.

Now, if you want to sell products in the UAE, you need to understand their culture.

Religion

Religion

One of the first things when looking at an Arab consumer market is religion.

It’s no secret that the United Arab Emirates is a Muslim country. Islam is the state religion, and almost all Emirati citizens follow it—let alone the vast numbers of expats from Muslim countries worldwide.

What does that mean for local consumer culture in particular?

You’ve almost certainly heard before how Muslims avoid certain products because of religious restrictions. You’re not going to make much progress with the locals if you advertise pulled pork and beer on tap.

Less well-known, though, is what Muslims do tend to buy.

Ramadan

What Ramadan Can Mean for Business

A study came out recently showing that in London—a city with a sizeable Muslim minority—most Muslims feel that the holy month of Ramadan is largely ignored by retailers.

Anybody who’s spent time in a Muslim-majority country during Ramadan knows that the streets light up with activity as soon as the sun sets. People can’t wait to treat each other to meals and buy each other gifts.

Cafés, too, become vibrant hubs of conversation late into the night. Some café owners report as much as a one-hundred percent increase in activity during the month of Ramadan—which, keep in mind, prohibits eating and drinking throughout the day!

And all through the year, Muslims are becoming more and more interested in consumer trends such as halal travel packages and modest fashion.

Being informed about and taking advantage of these consumer demands is key to creating a powerful brand that people can rely on.

Trust and Relationship

Culture of Trust and Relationship

Nobody can comment on Arab culture without mentioning how incredibly open, sociable, and hospitable it is.

Governments have even built tourism brands on the strength of Arab hospitality.

Part of that openness means that Arab consumers want trust at all levels.

Sometimes consumers can be apathetic about their purchasing habits at times and shop on impulse. Those traits aren’t absent from Arab cultures, but in general they’re a lot more rare.

Therefore, your UAE customer is likely going to take the advice of people they trust before they make major purchasing decisions.

That might take the form of a family discussion, a chat with a close friend, or a quick group text.

They’ll also want to know a lot about the product or service itself. If you’re in the auto business, for instance, you’re going to have to be prepared for your Arab consumers to ask a lot of questions about the particulars of the car and the financing.

Once you build up that trust, that personal relationship, you’re likely to keep that customer for a long, long time. They’ll recommend you to their own social networks as well—all because you took the time to listen to what they wanted.

Solving Customer Problems

3. Solving Customer Problems on a Global Scale

No matter where you are, your customer is expecting good service.

But what does that mean, exactly? It means that when the customer has any interaction at all with your business, what they expect is strongly related to their culture.

And not only their home culture; if they’re the international sort, they’ve built up an idea of what to expect outside of their home country, as well.

Let’s look at two industries—retail and hospitality—that live and die on customer experience.

Retail

Retail and Hospitality: Arab Culture

Arabs are used to a wide variety of choices when it comes to retail. Even in traditional bazaars, you can see the same types of goods on display from many different people.

For that reason, Arab consumers tend to be less loyal to one particular store if they can get similar goods in other places.

And because of a combination of the punishing desert heat and the Arab penchant for hospitality, the retail spaces themselves have to be welcoming.

The big cities of the UAE are famous for enormous and richly decorated malls already. Inside, you’ll find large open spaces for relaxation and socialization.

Customers from Arab countries are going to expect service that helps them out while they’re browsing and makes them feel welcome to stay as long as they’d like in the store.

Retail and Hospitality: Shoppers from Abroad

International customers from Europe and North America, by contrast, don’t quite have the same needs.

First of all, in some countries, particularly the United States, consumers are becoming more disappointed by retail all the time. It’s common to hear about American malls closing or selling off space.

To appeal to these shoppers, the retail space has to offer something that can’t be found online. Part of that is the welcoming, attractive venue, but another part is the service.

Such shoppers also expect that the service staff at any retail location will be open, friendly, and knowledgeable without being pushy. Attempts to make a sale by promoting another product with anything more than a slight suggestion come off as aggressive.

At the same time, these customers expect that any questions they have about products or promotions can be answered immediately—either by a clerk or a manager.

Now, when it comes to vacations, a lot of tourists love the idea of being in an unknown part of the world.

Even if the place they’re visiting is clearly a developed cosmopolitan city, they’ll be more likely to spend money on things they judge to be “authentic.”

They’ll love it if the hotel staff recommends a “local restaurant” for them to try, and they likely expect to be able to explore the area at their own speed.

Retail and Hospitality: East Asian Culture

Tourists from East Asia, however, tend to enjoy a more curated travel experience. They’re more likely to take package travel deals, and many who don’t speak any foreign languages are happy to remain with a tour group for their entire stay.

What This Means

And back to well-traveled expats—what they’re looking for is something that ticks the boxes of their home culture and fits with the surrounding environment. That means if you can find a way to present a pleasing “slice of home” that’s already integrated to the local environment, you’ve got it made.

Negative customer experiences happen when the customer is expecting a certain level of service and in reality, it just doesn’t live up to what they wanted.

People are different, and everybody makes mistakes. So this happens all around the world—and when it does, how are you going to react?

Language Is Key

4. Language is Key

If you’re not already one, imagine yourself for a moment in the role of an expat manager in the UAE.

Your company has brought you to a new country to make sure that things run smoothly and in line with the owners’ vision.

If there’s some miscommunication or lack of cohesion between the upper management, your workers, and your customers, you might be asked to lead a training session to help solve these problems.

Don’t do it in English.

If you really want to reach the people you’re working with and really understand what’s going on, you’ve got to let them communicate with you in their own language.

When your company is experiencing problems because of cultural miscommunications—and this is almost guaranteed to happen to every company with operations abroad—language and cultural competence is everything.

Whether you’re doing market research, employee training, or simple everyday customer service, knowledge of more languages will help every step of the way.

Even in highly multilingual environments such as the UAE, people still feel more comfortable speaking about complicated or personal matters in their mother tongue.

That could be one of the many varieties of Arabic such as Gulf Arabic, Levantine Arabic, or even Egyptian Arabic. By the way, you won’t find anybody who’d prefer to talk to you in the literary register of Modern Standard Arabic.

It could also mean one of the other widely-spoken languages of the UAE such as Hindi, French, or Tagalog. Remember, the service industry is overwhelmingly comprised of expats, and not just from Arab countries.

Seriously—people on every level of your organization will warm up to you more if you make an effort to speak and understand their native language. If someone has a problem with another worker or even management, they’ll hesitate to cross language and cultural barriers to communicate it.

That knowledge paints you as a savvy, experienced leader who has the brains and the dedication to really listen to what other people say.

And if you don’t personally have this language and cultural competence, find someone who does.

Multilingual facilitators and intercultural communications coaches can help resolve conflicts faster than you ever thought possible.

Open Eyes

5. Open Eyes, Open Ears

Here’s a tip that comes from marketing, but is equally applicable to any consumer-facing part of a business. In fact, it’s applicable to every part of life in general!

And the advice is this: You’ve got to listen to the people around you and be ready to adjust to what they say.

In marketing, this is obvious. Market research is a multimillion-dollar industry focused on just that.

But when was the last time a manager listened to their employees and their customers with equal attention?

Everyone’s got a story about a manager who barely lifted a finger to hear what the employees had to say.

They should know that that inaction is hurting everyone—because the consumer-facing employees often develop an intuitive sense for how to handle different types of customers. It’s a terrible mistake for someone removed from all of the local cultures to be setting the rules for employee-customer interactions.

People who have worked customer service for years on end can usually tell what someone’s complaint is without thinking.

That information is just as valuable to the company as a million-dollar consumer trend study. Making use of it is not only going to have a good impact on your company’s internal affairs, but it’s also going to increase customer satisfaction if you don’t force your employees to adhere to your own notions of customer service.

How can you apply this to your business in the UAE, and to the challenges of a diverse expat consumer group?

Understand that your employees may come from a culture that is similar to that of many of their customers. That gives them an inherent advantage in making those customers happy.

They should know how to quickly and easily handle customer interactions with polite, attentive professionalism—and as a part of that, they should be flexible about what they consider polite or rude behavior from customers. That’s where your cultural training sessions come into play.

If your employees can pass on customer wants and needs to the upper management and take direction from both sides, the company will understand the customers better and everyone will have a better experience.

In other words: If you can manage to instill a habit of cultural sensitivity and flexibility in your business from the top down, you’re guaranteed to do well with customers from the UAE, the Arab world, and beyond.

Author: Yassir Sahnoun is a HubSpot certified content strategist, copywriter and polyglot who works with language learning companies. He helps companies attract sales using content strategy, copywriting, blogging, email marketing & more.

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Egypt - Perfumes

    It’s well-known that perfumes affect the psychological state of the individual, affecting his heart, brain, all his organs, and reflecting his personality. Perfumes can please a person or upset him, so man cared a lot about extracting perfumes from different types of flowers and plants. These perfumes appear in the shape of oils, incense, bukhoor, body-sprays, etc…

Arabs and Perfume

Pharaohs were the first to know about perfumes but they kept the composition of these perfumes secret. Then the industry moved to Arabs, especially Iraqis, who discovered the secrets of making perfumes and extracting them from different plants. Nowadays, we find each Arabian country having its own perfumes for men and women that characterize this country from other countries, reflecting its culture, and we find this care for perfumes especially in the Arabian Gulf, India, and Pakistan.

Perfumes in Syria

Syrians care a lot about perfumes after a period of stagnancy in this industry. They mainly depend on using the Damascus flower, which is planted only in Syria in the manufacture of perfumes, along with the Arabian jasmine, narcissus, and violet. We also export the Damascus flower to Europe. The Syrian perfume merchants make their perfume compositions in front of their customers as they order them, some like emotional perfumes and others like strong perfumes. We characterize the Syrian perfumes as very cheap compared to the international perfumes, with a very near excellence.

Perfumes in Egypt

Egyptians used perfumes since the pharaohs; moreover, perfumes were used in medicine, curing senility illness. We find the French people fond of pharaohs and the perfumes they used, and lately an Egyptian-French fair was opened about the pharaohs and their perfumes, and some research found that the Pharaohs manufactured the most complex and charming perfumes.

Casablanca

Casablanca, ‘ad-daar ‘al-bayDaa’ in Arabic, is located in Western Morocco on the Atlantic coast, and it is the biggest city in Morocco with a population exceeding three million people. Thanks to its strategic location, the port of Casablanca is considered the main port of Morocco, the largest port in North Africa, and the largest artificial port in the world.

The name Casablanca is originally Portuguese and it means “the white house.” The Portuguese influence started when Portugal conquered the city in the fifteenth century to put an end to the pirates that used the port as a base to attack Portuguese ships.

Spain and Portugal eventually abandoned the town after a great earthquake destroyed it along with the capital of Portugal, Lisbon, in 1755. The city was then rebuilt again under the Moroccan ruler Mohamed III who kept its name in Arabic as “the white house.”

A walk around Casablanca will demonstrate that which distinguishes it the most - its contrast between the exotic Old Town and the art deco design of New Town with its elegant, lavish, and ultra modern style.

In fact, Casablanca has an almost entirely art deco town called New Town and it is the largest collection of art deco architecture remaining in Morocco. The main streets of the New Town, its buildings, and architecture were designed by the French architect Henri Prost, and were a model of a new town at that time. In the midst of its hassle and noise, Casablanca has conserved its incredible charm, the combination of oriental Mauresque style and art deco architecture.

The Brides Festival

The Festival of Imilchil has become recognized around the world. The more common name of this festival is the Festival of Brides, it has been to attract huge numbers of tourist from around the world to attend days on tribal wedding ceremonies At the end of each summer. On this day the tribal women of that area will pick their husbands for the rest of their lives. The festival is a huge celebration in both Morocco and Imilchil. The legend behind the festival is that there were two tribes called Ait Yaaza and Ait Ibahim that were always in a constant war. Then a woman from one clan fell in love with a man from the other, but their parents wouldn’t let them get married.  Because they were not allowed to marry they shed many tears, and it is legend that they created the two lakes, Tislit and Islit, in reference to the two people that were in love. Because of this parents gave their children the right to choose who to marry.  This is not the only attraction of the Festival of Brides, however, there are also other ritual events, such as lamb offerings and henna tattooing.

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