Over the last five years, I have had the great pleasure of visiting the Gulf Region on several occasions. Even though I have never quite managed to turn my visits into vacations, I have always found the people I have met and the places I have seen, to be immensely welcoming, accommodating and interesting. From the first time I arrived in Abu Dhabi in 2012, to the my most recent trip to Dubai last week, it has always been clear that the region has a strong desire to satisfy – and often wow – the customer.
As a customer, there is so much to be impressed by – whether you be in the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar or Saudi Arabia. The volume of investment that has been made in transport and infrastructure is mind blowing – as a visitor, you are looked after in grand and luxurious surroundings. It has also been evident for many years that the region has been increasingly focused on delivering great customer service – not just a great product. Thus, the term ‘customer service’ is not new. Up until January 2016, when I had the honour of being a judge at the inaugural Gulf Customer Experience Awards, the volume of discussion about ‘service’ has been significant. Yet despite this, a demonstrable understanding and application of Customer Experience has not been as obvious.
As someone who is remarkably fortunate to travel around the globe teaching and talking about Customer Experience, I can confidently state that the evolution of its deployment does radically vary from continent to continent; country to country. Whilst the Gulf Region is by no means lagging in its adoption of Customer Experience tools, techniques and methodologies compared to many parts of the world, the overt demonstration of understanding the significance of the ‘end to end customer journey’, not just customer service, has been lacking.
However, (there is usually one of those in my posts), in January 2017 at the 2016 Gulf Customer, Employee and Digital Experience Awards, for the first time, I observed a radical shift in conversation. Not only was I completely blown away by the professionalism and expertise of the companies I had the benefitting of judging, every company involved seemed to have recognised and understood the need to evolve from simply a desire to deliver great customer service, to a need to continuously improve the Customer Experience.
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I cannot overstate just how impressed I was. Time after time, representatives of organisations stood in front of me and my fellow judges and brilliantly described how the customer was core/central to the strategy of the business. These brilliant Customer Experience professionals would then go on to paint a beautiful picture of not just how their organisations understand what customers want and how they feel – but what they are doing to CONTINUOUSLY IMPROVE the priorities in their customer journeys – with demonstrable results. The things I saw would have been worthy of winning awards anywhere in the world.
The ability to drive genuine, demonstrable and sustainable improvement to the Customer Experience is where organisations in other parts of the world are regularly failing. Either caused by lack of commitment, resources or focus (or all three), too often consumers are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of real change – despite being asked continuously to provide feedback. What is interesting about the Gulf Region is that increasing competition appears to be influencing the advancing continuous improvement culture. In the United Arab Emirates alone, there are 46 banks – 46!!! All of them provide similar products and services. It is the growing recognition that Customer Experience is now appearing as the major differentiator – the bank that is quickest to embed a never ending continuously improving Customer Experience culture – is the one that will likely be winning awards in the years to come.
Customer Experience continues to gain momentum across the globe – yet talk and rhetoric means nothing to customers, employees and shareholders. That is why programmes recognising the real, tangible achievements of organisations who are putting customers and employees at the centre of their business strategies, are so very important. In only two years, the Gulf Customer, Employee and Digital Experience Awards has encouraged competencies and skills to shift hugely. Gaining recognition and earning authority for the application of these competencies and skills is vital for the Customer Experience profession – in the same way it is vital for the sustainability of customer focused businesses.
The big winner of the awards I had the privilege of being part of last week was the customer – consumers and businesses alike. The Gulf Region ‘gets Customer Experience’ – therefore, customers should increasingly expect to receive consistently good experiences. The key to real success though is for the momentum to be maintained (there is still much to do!) – for the Customer Experience to keep continuously improving. I cannot wait to see how far things will have got to by January 2018!
Please join me in congratulating all of this years finalists. You can celebrate the success of this year’s awards winners here…