You know what they say: ‘a happy customer might tell a friend, but an unhappy one will tell the world.’
Well, guess what?
I don’t pretend that this blog has global reach, but I can’t resist the opportunity afforded by this latest of ‘365 Days of Writing Prompts’:
“Are you being served? What’s the most dreadful…experience you’ve ever had as a customer?”
If you spend any time at all as a resident of the United Arab Emirates, then you will inevitably have to deal with Etisalat, the state-owned (clue) telecoms and media provider. There is a second mobile phone company, but that’s state-owned too, and I never had anything to do with them. Dealing with Etisalat was a full-time job.
Etisalat can boast the world’s most pointless call centre. When you finally get through and manage to speak to one of their agents, they will listen carefully – even sympathetically – to your complaint or request and then tell you, politely but implacably, that if you actually want to get anything done you will have to go in person to one of their offices and start all over again, face-to-face, with somebody else.
Anyway, the time came for us to leave the country. With cancelling visas and a whole array of other bureaucratic procedures to go through, this is something of an ordeal in itself, even with the able assistance of the HR Department.
But when it comes to Etisalat, you’re on your own.
The last thing to be done was to cancel our mobile phone accounts. Since there was a refund involved (you need to provide a quite substantial deposit for international roaming) there was no way of avoiding a trip to the big golfball on Airport Road.
As always, the first thing was to take a number. Then I waited. Then I waited some more. I passed some of the time by marvelling at how few of the ‘positions’ happened to be manned at any given time, and the even smaller proportion where customers were being dealt with.
It’s best to take a book. A long one.
Eventually it came to my turn. I explained what I needed to do and inevitably was given a form to fill out. Sensibly enough, this offered the choice of receiving the refund either in cash or by a bank credit. Not particularly wanting a large amount of cash so close to leaving the country, I went for the bank option.
I handed back the completed form. My interlocutor looked at it and his brow furrowed.
“Sir, you have ticked the box for a refund to your bank account.”
“Sir, this is not a good idea. It will take many weeks. Maybe six. And it might not work.”
After ten years of Etisalat, I knew it was was pointless to argue, so I amended the form and handed it back. Much happier, my man calculated the amount owing and gave me a voucher.
“Sir, you must go to the cashier and she will give you your money.”
“Can’t you give it to me?”
“No sir, you must take a number and go to a cashier.”
A few chapters later, my number came up again. On the other side of the counter this time was a young local lady, a trainee to judge by the fact that an older local woman was sitting with her. In the foolish belief that the end was in sight, I smiled and handed over my voucher.
She perused it and started to look worried. Together with her mentor, she stood up and wordlessly walked away. These unexpained and unapologetic absences are part of the prevailing customer service culture in the UAE and in my delirium of anticipation I simply assumed they had gone to get the cash.
After a few minutes they came back with grave countenances. I arched a hopeful eyebrow.
“Sir, I am sorry but you will have to come back another day. We have no cash.”
“There is no cash today.”
“Are you telling me that Etisalat has no money? People are here paying their bills in cash all the time. I’ve seen them, even today. You must have money. That’s ridiculous.”
At this point, the senior lady clearly decided that it was time to show her pupil the proper Etisalat way of covering up their own incompetence and intervened:
“Sir, the manager, he forgot to go to the bank this morning.”
Sometimes a lie is of such breathtaking blatancy that you can’t help but admire it. Especially when your agitation is beginning to attract the attention of a bored security guard.
I sat back and raised my arms in surrender.
“So when can I get my money?”
“it will be a few days. We will send you a text and then you can come back.”
“A text? You mean on the mobile that I’ve just cancelled? How exactly does that work?”
I did get my money eventually. I went straight down the road to the bank.
And took a number.