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Fri 12 Mar 2010 04:00 AM

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Service is not optional

Consistency essential to keeping clients loyal

In today's fiercely competitive marketplace there is no room for any business or individual to be complacent.

With consumers demanding high standards, firms have no choice but to meet their expectations or face being sidelined for a more proficient option.

Moreover, offering a consistent product and service is absolutely essential.

Let the customer down just once and they'll be off to your competitor in a shot.

The need to provide a consistent service is highlighted in this month's mystery shopping exercise where Ethos Consultancy tested out the customer service credentials of seven major airlines operating out of Dubai and Abu Dhabi to London.

It was interesting to note that both Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways put their money where their mouth is and took first and second place respectively as a result of the service standards they profess to uphold across all areas of the customer experience - from booking to baggage collection.

However, the study, which concentrated on the economy-class products and services, still revealed gaps in consistency and quality.

Emirates scored top marks (100%) in all but four of the nine categories tested.

But the airline fell down on baggage pick-up service, even though the carrier is now operating from a brand new terminal (Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport), as well as check-in, boarding and plane conditions.

Interestingly, Etihad also lost points for boarding and plane conditions, but check-in and baggage pick-up scored highly.

Where this carrier let itself down was on food and beverage and in-flight service.

This is disappointing given that Etihad has recently overhauled these two areas, which could lead you to conclude that there has been a greater emphasis on improving services in first (Diamond) and business (Pearl), rather than in Coral (economy) where the mystery shopping exercise was conducted.

If this is the case then a re-think is in order. The majority of any airline's clients are buying their ticket in the ‘back of the bus' and it is these customers who will bad mouth you and shop around. There is no room for inconsistency and complacently and moreover, snobbery.

A customer is a customer whether they are spending AED 500 or AED 50,000 and standards offered should be consistent, regardless of outlay.

But Etihad should be proud of its mystery shopping score compared to Qatar Airways, which despite brandishing the slogan ‘five-star airline', scored the lowest points in this benchmarking study.

The only two areas where the Doha-based carrier scored top marks were for in-flight shopping services and the cabin crew farewell - hardly what you would call a well-rounded performance.

The moral of this particular story is that consumers will no longer be fooled by big budget marketing campaigns - the proof is in the pudding.

There is no point in promising a five-star airline when the service provided is decidedly two star.

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