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Sun 1 Oct 2006 12:00 AM

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Consumer champion

Ahmed Refky, managing director of Xceed Professional Services, is worried about faltering standards of customer service in the Middle East. He says his new company can help regional organisations do something about it

“In the Middle East, we’re in decline,” says Ahmed Refky, with a shrug.

“Everything else is growing, but that growth has meant that customer service has been left behind.”

Whilst it might seem strange that a part of the world obsessed with seven-star luxury might be failing to meet the expectations of its customers, Refky has a point.

Consumers in the Middle East are indeed facing a crisis of customer service.

“If you look at the banks, one used to have 10,000 customers, now it has 600,000,” continues Refky, managing director of Xceed Professional Services (Xceed).

“That speedy growth, the organisations have not really coped with.”

Times, though, are about to change.

Xceed, which launched last month, aims to help companies boost their customer service credentials, and is the first such consultant in the Middle East to partner with COPC-2000 – a global customer service industry standard.

“The concept is still based around customer service, and the idea is to have someone who is providing these kind of services as a core business – we’re not into financial services or anything like that, it’s all around customer care and customer services,” says Refky.

“We chose Dubai, of course, as it is the new hub of the whole Middle East, and we chose COPC as it really is the international standard for customer service and customer care,” he continues.

“We approached COPC, and COPC were very willing to come here to the Middle East region, as there’s huge opportunity here in the Middle East.”

“There is a huge opportunity because companies here have the chance to adopt standards that are not only for the region, but global standards.

This is a standard set for customer service on a global level,” he adds.

Global consultancy and certification body COPC – Global Contact Centre Excellence, to give its full title – was formed in 1995 by a group of buyers of call centre services that were dissatisfied with the level of service they were getting from their providers.

These firms included Microsoft, Dell, and American Express.

“Ours is the only standard in the world that really focuses exclusively on customer service, and since its founding COPC’s grown to be used by over 200 companies in 300 different locations,” explains Clifford D Moore III, chairman and co-founder of the group.

“We cover all continents, with the exception of Antarctica, and have a global footprint.

We’re in every major market, both from a sourcing point of view, and a delivery point of view.”

COPC has its own offices in the US, Singapore and the UK, as well as partnerships with firms in China, India, Japan and Latin America.

Their arrival in the Middle East, Moore explains, comes as a result of the region’s increasing activity on the COPC website.

The standard, he insists, sets COPC firms apart from the rest. “Ours is a family of standards that firms can get certified to.

It defines a set of metrics that a company needs to track, and certain levels that a company needs to achieve in order to become certified,” he explains.

“As a global standard, and given the growth you’ve got in this region, it seemed like a natural to put those two together and have the Gulf area achieve the same levels of performance as companies in other regions have.

“We’re managing by metrics, rather than by opinion,” he continues.

“The whole philosophy of COPC is very metric- based: show me a number.

It really forces a discipline into the organisation that many companies don’t have.

It’s not to get it mechanistic at all, but just to make it management by fact rather than by opinion.

“This gives you a lot of benefits: it enables you to compare your performance and gives you great scaleability,” adds Moore.

“This region’s growing so fast that this scaleabilty is crucial.

You may start with five people in a little office, before long you’ve got 50, and that’s a little different.

You get to 500, and things start to implode if you don’t have good, welldesigned processes and a philosophy that you’re managing the place by.

That’s the big challenge firms in this region face, so far as I see it.”

The partnership is a vital one for both organisations, and COPC took its time before selecting Xceed as an entry point into the Middle East.

There was, Moore insists, no point in rushing into such a key market.

“We are approached all the time by firms looking to do something, and we look for firms with business acumen, with a willingness to make the commitment, straightforwardness, and a sufficient understanding of the market and the industry to be successful,” he explains.

“There’s no benefit for anybody getting into a relationship that doesn’t work, and so we have stringent standards ourselves that we apply before we take on a partner.”

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