What Customer Service? Etisalat and its inability to put customers first…

Etisalat never ceases to transform me into a mass of seething rage and frustration thanks to its inability to do anything right for its consumers

Etisalat never ceases to transform me into a mass of seething rage and frustration thanks to its inability to do anything right for its consumers

I’m a patient man. Really, I am (I can imagine my wife shaking her head right now, but it’s true). I can put up with anything. It’s just that I don’t want to give up the good fight when it comes to telling companies that we customers in the Gulf (and especially in the UAE) deserve more. Here’s one story of a company that could do a whole lot more to be customer-friendly, my favorite Etisalat.

At the beginning of the year, I was jumping up and down with excitement. For the first time I could change my home internet provider at my home in Abu Dhabi. For years, I’d been stuck with Etisalat and its atrociously poor customer service. Now, I could move to Du. I took up the opportunity, and moved. Unfortunately, no matter how much I wanted it to work, it was a doomed romance. I couldn’t get television services as part of my internet and telephone services (I still can’t explain this one), and, most importantly, Du’s internet connection was poor and often dropped. With a tear in my eye, I had to go back to Etisalat.

I head on down to one of Etisalat’s outlets and make the request for internet at home. The request was simple enough, until we got to the nitty gritty of the agreement which included a router and phone. There was no need for either, I explained, as I’d already spent on both. No worries, I was told by the sales person, I could use my routers but I’d still have to take the router and phone as part of the package (in other words, the package was fixed).

First step done, I waited for the engineer to come around. He did and he had a look at my internet setup. He then asked if could set up the network, including the Etisalat router, a D-Link AC1750 router. I said I’d like my router set up, a Linksys WRT1900ac which I’d already spent a significant chunk of money on and which I’d already set up for my home.

After an hour of ‘discussion’, including lines such as ‘the Etisalat connection will only work with the D-Link router from Etisalat’, and that ‘the Linksys wouldn’t work as it couldn’t be configured’ (both of which were utter nonsense), I spoke to a supervisor who told me that it was a sales decision and that I’d need to go back to the store to sort it out. I even offered to take the router but not to use it. My request was turned down. In essence, no Etisalat router installed = no internet.

Two days later, I received an SMS saying that my original request for internet had been declined and that I’d have to make a new request. Which of course I did, and during which I asked the same things, to be told the same excuses. Essentially, someone in head office had decided that he knew best, better than his customers, and that without a router from Etisalat, which we pay for, we can’t get internet from Etisalat.

What pains me throughout this is that I’m not alone in my point of view (and my suffering). The first engineer explained that every day new seven or eight customers would tell him the same thing, and yet he couldn’t do anything. All that we customers can do is dump our expensive kit so that someone in Etisalat can make more money. Forget listening to the customer, forget keeping them happy and increasing their average spend through giving them what they want. Let’s ram products down their throat as there’s nowhere they can go and no one they can complain to. It’s naturally disappointing, especially when you consider the leaps and bounds that are being made by other operators across the globe, even here in the Gulf.

The experience was topped off by my wife paying the second engineer to reconfigure all of our wireless extenders at home to work with the new router.

Customer service and Etisalat? It seems I, like many others, have no choice but to suffer as we wait for a customer-centric epiphany among Etisalat’s executive management.

The Fire, the Selfie and Prison – why you should care about what your friends say online

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

Was this inappropriate? Most certainly. But what could get you jailed is not just a picture that is in poor taste, but rather the comments your friends make on that post.

We all do stupid things, and we unfortunately then post these acts of idiocy online. Combine that with a situation like we had during New Year’s Eve, and you’ve got a situation that could at best be described as combustible.

As the flames ravaged Dubai’s The Address Hotel on New Year’s Eve, some people decided to take selfies. A few posted these selfies online, to Instagram and Facebook. At least two people, two young men, were arrested for their selfie (pictured above) while the Emirate’s Public Prosecution investigated their case.

There’s been much speculation online as to why the men were arrested, with many commentators arguing that the action defamed the country and its image – let’s remember that defamation is a criminal offense in the Gulf, with a minimum fine of 500,000 Dirhams and jail time in the UAE (as well as deportation for expatriates). Many have posted selfies at the same location, with smiles, grins and laughs, and such expressions of emotion may have been considered a case of schadenfreude by the authorities.

However, according to the English-language newspaper 7Days which spoke to the lawyer of the two accused, they were investigated not for the image per se, but rather for the comments made about the image. The argument goes that the person who posts content is also responsible for the comments on that post, even if those comments are not written by the same person but his or her friends, family (or anyone who wants to get you jailed).

Luckily for them, the two were released from prison after a couple of days with no charge after investigators found that there was “no evidence of criminal intent”. However, remember that in future it’s not just your stupidity that could land you in jail, but that of your online contacts as well. Their comments could cross the legal line of what is defined as defamation, so don’t post images or any other type of post that could get you into trouble. Just don’t…

Innovation, Data and Control – Squaring the Circle in Dubai

Can governments in the Middle East find a way to balance control with innovation and access to data?

Can governments in the Middle East find a way to balance control with innovation and access to data?

Someone re-found their mojo this month. The English-language newspaper The National published a number of eye-opening pieces on two issues that are often discussed, but little understood.

The first was an investigative piece (yes, I know!) on the challenges that Dubai’s Road and Transport Authority (RTA) has faced with the disruption caused by app-based taxi providers such as Uber and its local rival Careem. To put the story into context, the RTA does not only regulate taxis in the Emirate of Dubai, but it also manages its own fleet of taxis.

The piece, which is a fascinating insight into how the Emirate is not only run but also how it is looking to balance control with innovation, poses the question of how a government which controls much of the business in the country promotes innovation whilst protecting its revenues. For me, the key paragraphs in the article, written by the newspaper’s business editor Mustafa Alrawi, are below.

In Dubai, The National understands, Uber and Careem have narrowly escaped a clampdown by the regulator that would have significantly curtailed their abilities to operate. The biggest issue has been the alleged failure to maintain prices above taxi fares. On its website Uber states that “ … in Dubai, regulations require our fares be 30 per cent higher than taxi fares”.

It is understood, however, that the regulator had been planning a far stronger response to the practices of private hire companies booked by smartphone app, ahead of new regulations to address the emergence of technology-led companies in the transport sector. These regulations are expected next year, according to previously reported comments from the RTA.

It is understood that the Dubai government stepped in before the row escalated to ensure that innovative companies such as Uber and Careem would not be hamstrung by any action by the RTA. The circular is understood to represent a kind of temporary truce between the regulator and the technology firms maintaining the status quo for now.

A second article the following day in The National touched on another important issue for the country – that of statistics and control over information. Here’s the introduction:

A new law that demands companies seek government approval before carrying out surveys in Dubai could damage the property sector and discourage research in the emirate, experts have warned.

The Dubai government announced a law late last month intended to help enable the Dubai Statistics Center “to establish an advanced statistics system”, according to a statement. But experts zoomed in on a provision in the new law that forbids private companies from “conducting any survey[s] without obtaining authorisation from the Dubai Statistics Center”.

As pointed out by one of those interviewed, there’s no such thing as a data vacuum. The lack of any official data will be filled by rumours, which can prove to be much more damaging.

Professor Joseph Kadane, chair of the American Statistical Association’s committee on scientific freedom, which produces reports for the United Nations on best practice in government statistics, warned that the new law would likely lead to the spread of “uninformed rumours and uncertainty about the extent of the downturn” in Dubai’s property market.

“This will do far more harm to Dubai’s economy than allowing private surveys to be conducted and published,” Mr Kadane said. “International investors, in particular, are sensitive to the quality of the information available to them in deciding where to invest.”

Both articles touch on fundamental issues relating to innovation and data. The underlying theme is control. Governments in the Middle East have long controlled everything around them, including their economies. In today’s digital world, where innovation can come out of nowhere and where data can be created and spread in an instant, governments need to understand that the control of yesterday is no longer possible and instead look to collaborate.

And, on a final note it’s great to see good local reporting. I hope The National keeps it up.

How did Facebook fail with its Safety Check in emerging markets?

  
There are some times you really shouldn’t be making a distinction. Last week two tragedies took place, the first in Beirut and the second in Paris.

Others have written, much more eloquently than myself, on the raw emotion they felt after the two acts of terrorism – Beiruti blogger Elie Fares was one of the first to write about his anguish at Lebanons’s suffering being ignored by the West.

What is telling with the decision to activate the Facebook Safety Check was a comment by Alex Schultz, Facebook’s VP for Growth, who said:

In the middle of a complex, uncertain situation affecting many people, Facebook became a place where people were sharing information and looking to understand the condition of their loved ones. We talked with our employees on the ground, who felt that there was a need to fill. So we made the decision to try something that we’ve never done before: activating Safety Check for something other than a natural disaster. There has to be a first time for trying something new, even in complex and sensitive times, and for us that was Paris.

While Facebook’s intentions were to help those in need, the appearance to many in emerging markets such as Africa and the Middle East was that of bias. In effect, it was as if a life in Paris was worth more than a life in Beirut, or in Kenya or in Nigeria. This was compounded by Facebook’s decision to provide users with the option to upload the French flag over their profile picture.

Schultz’s comments that it was a human decision to activate Safety Check for Paris lead me to lose this question. Who at Facebook should have put forward the idea to use this service anywhere or everywhere where there is a crisis? My answer would be the communications and policy teams.

Communications in particular is the function that should act as the bridge between the outside world and the corporation, the part of the business that brings the outside in. That’s why, for example, Comms leads on issues and crisis management. Comms should have a robust understanding of the different stakeholder groups and how they impact the organization.

However, my take on Comms goes further. Comms should act as the conscience of the organization, and the Comms team should be able to advise when something is not right ethically. Unfortunately, Facebook’s team missed this opportunity here and instead turned what should have been an opportunity to play a vital role in helping inform families and friends re the safety oftheir loved ones into an example of unintended double standards (this was compounded by the Safety Check being used for residents of a Western capital rather than an Arab or African one, which in the context of colonialism also doesn’t look good).

Mark has said that Facebook’s policies will change and rightly so. Facebook is considered by many in emerging markets to be a tool for good, which is helping to promote positive change. It’d be a shame to see that opinion shift due to a lack of cultural awareness.

My first test drive – getting to grips with the family-oriented Chevrolet Traverse

As a new daddy, I’ve had to change my way of thinking. Now that I am responsible for a little one, I’ve been asked to rethink my ride. My workhorse car, a British-brand SUV, has served me well for over seven years. While it has traveled almost 280,000 kilometers (don’t ask) and has been dealer-serviced, my wife’s concern when it comes to my car (which I’ve worked hard over all of these years), boils down to the ‘what ifs’: what if the car breaks down with the little one in the back seat? What if the air conditioning stops working? What if a tire blows out?

With these things in mind, I started looking at cars in the market to get a better idea of what I should be buying. I wanted a car that would be safe for my daughter but still have lots of gadgets for me to play with. A good friend pointed me in the direction of General Motors and their Chevrolet brand. He also urged me to check out the Traverse and take it for a test drive. So I did just that.

No, this isn't me parking in Jebel Ali. But the Traverse handled itself well when I had to go off the tarmac

No, this isn’t me parking in Jebel Ali. But the Traverse handled itself well when I had to go off the tarmac

Right, let’s start with first impressions. I have a small yet sturdy SUV, but the Traverse’s roomy, spacious interior immediately blew me away. We had no issues fitting in the pram along with what felt like an endless array of grocery bags. In addition, we still had space left over for even more shopping bags, which is no mean feat if you know my wife. The space in the back was comfortable for both my daughter and wife, and because of all of the extra legroom they had –compared to my current car – I didn’t need to push my chair forward. When you’re six feet tall and you drive quite often, it’s good to not have to be cramped.

The Traverse has oodles of room in the back. The pram fitted in easily alongside all of the weekly shopping

The Traverse has oodles of room in the back. The pram fitted in easily alongside all of the weekly shopping

There were also many options at the back for anyone who sat there to play with, including rear seat entertainment systems, USB ports to charge smartphones, AUV jacks, and air conditioning controls (the air conditioning circulated well throughout the car, including at the back). My current car is so old that many of these functions are only available to me, so it’s nice to not be asked to change the A/C settings every couple of minutes. Instead, I could actually focus on the road (sorry darling). Our ISOfix car seat was also super easy to fit into the backseat, and the hooks for the ISOfix were simple to locate underneath the seat covers.

Now, let’s talk about daddy’s personal experience. As a ride, the Traverse was easy to handle; the car didn’t feel heavy or weighed down, especially when going into corners. I’d have liked a bit more oomph from the engine, but as a new daddy, I have to accept the fact that driving fast is no longer for me. There were also many additional features designed to offer driving support, some of which I loved. The alerts, including side blind zone and forward collision alerts were very helpful when trying to avoid unnecessary bumps while out and about (and parking, I will admit). What I loved even more was the lane departure warning system. I live in Abu Dhabi and I work in Dubai, so I have two long drives every day. That lane departure warning system helped me focus whilst on the road, making me a safer driver both for myself as well as others around me.

The Traverse's panel display was crisp and easy to use. The GPS handled Dubai's road network with ease.

The Traverse’s panel display was crisp and easy to use. The GPS handled Dubai’s road network with ease

And now for the gadgets! There’s so much to talk about here, including the obvious USB docking stations for my smartphone (the car is also Bluetooth-enabled) as well as a fully equipped central panel which included everything from a comprehensive GPS navigation system map – to help me get from point A to point B using the shortest and quietest route – to a host of radio and video options for both me and the passengers in the back.

Another great feature was the central panel, which is built into the wheel itself. I could control pretty much all of the tech stuff from the steering wheel, including the usual suspects such as the radio and audio functions as well as my actual phone (using voice commands, which I found to be very handy). This is a system called Chevrolet MyLink and is basically a touch-screen display that gives you easy access to all sorts of things (navigation, entertainment, phone apps, and even your contact list). I had everything at my fingertips, literally.

I enjoyed all of the tech in the Traverse and how its layout was convenient for me as a driver

I enjoyed all of the tech in the Traverse and how its layout was convenient for me as a driver

When I was driving to work by myself, I got to listen to some music via the Bose surround sound system. Let me tell you, the sound was crisp, loud, and very clear. This also made phone calls a joy (hands-free of course).

To round it off, I’ll admit that, prior to this experience, I had never thought of the Chevrolet Traverse as a viable option. Having stepped into the car and sat behind the wheel on my own as well as with the family, I have to say, I’m impressed. The car comes with a host of options to keep everyone in the family happy all the while offering a safe and smooth ride (thanks to side airbags and the industry’s first front center side air bag). And that to me is the most important factor to consider when choosing my next car.

As for the price? The car I was driving, a Traverse LT AWD, starts from 125,764 AED. Needless to say, it’s well worth your while.

The Real #EtisalatChallenge – Where are the eGlobe Cards?

Do you know about the eGlobe card and where to find it? Is this the real #EtisalatChallenge?

Do you know about the eGlobe card and where to find it? Is this the real #EtisalatChallenge?

It’s Gitex week, and its technology time. For those of you who don’t know Gitex, imagine tens of thousands of people talking about hardware, software and all things geeky. But I digress.

We’ve had our little bundle of joy and we’ve been lucky enough to have another addition to the family this month. To help her feel at home, we wanted to buy phone cards so that she could use the landline and she’d know how much she’d spend each time she’d call home (why not a mobile you ask? Well, landlines offer better voice quality, more stable connections and are usually cheaper).

After a little bit of research and a lot of shop visits, we realized that the VoIP calling cards which were being advertised at the start of the year by the two phone companies Etisalat and Du, Five and Hello! respectively, were no longer on sale (though you’d be hard pressed to find an announcement in the media).

Instead, Etisalat, the UAE’s largest phone company, was offering on its website a solution called eGlobe. To quote:

Use your prepaid, disposable Calling Cards for services such as recharging and renewing your Landline Prepaid (Maysour) account, Home Country Direct calls, Prepaid Internet, eVision pay-per-view, Hotspots, and more, in addition to national and international calls from any phone.

All well and good. But where can one buy them?

Buy Prepaid Calling Cards at
• Your nearest Etisalat Business / Service Centres
• Supermarkets, grocery and convenience stores, other outlets

So off I went. To the first store, where the response was, “What?” Ok, it’s a small store. Maybe they’ll have the cards at the local Co-op here in Abu Dhabi. “No, sir. We only have mobile recharge cards.” And then, after calling up the help line and getting no where, I marched off to the Etisalat shop, where, after ten minutes, I finally spoke to someone who knew about the eGlobe cards. “We have them with a chain called Fatima Stores…” So, off I went to the Fatima Store behind Dana hotel in downtown Abu Dhabi.

After walking around for a while, I finally found the shop. And what happened? “No, I’ve never heard of eGlobe cards.”

As the Thursday afternoon and evening passed me by and having driven, walked and talked in circles all of the afternoon and the evening, it dawned on me. What I had written about a couple of months back was a hoax. You launch a product on your website, and yet you tell none of your staff about it or sell it through your traditional distribution channels. It’s almost like one of those impossible game shows where the odds are rigged forever against you. The eGlobe card is the original, the true Etisalat Challenge.

Are you up to the task of finding the eGlobe card?

Periscope, Meerkat and why communicators should be live-streaming events

Are you going to make the most of live-streaming services such as Meerkat (left) or Periscope to better communicate your story?

Are you going to make the most of live-streaming services such as Meerkat (left) or Periscope to better communicate your story?

We all love video delivered via the internet, and now there’s several more reasons to love video on the internet. The online community has been raving about the launch of live streaming video apps such as the Twitter-owned Periscope and Meerkat. I’m also excited, but for a different reason. Both Periscope and Meerkat open up a whole world of possibilities for public relations and communication professionals. These live streaming services, both of which were launched this year, will push us further down the line, towards visual communication and away from the old mantra of press releases and traditional media.

Apps such as Periscope and Meerkat enable any and everyone with an iPhone or Android-based smartphone to live stream, at no additional cost and with high-quality streaming. As a communicator, we can now capture and share our stories worldwide or to a select group through Twitter or directly via the apps as the story happens. Live streaming applications are already being used by journalists and commentators in the UAE. Dr James Piecowye of Dubai Eye (@jamesEd_me) and Khaled AlAmeri of The National (@KhaledAlAmeri) are both using Periscope – James to actually stream his radio show live every night as well as events such as Creative Mornings Dubai, Khaled to live stream his views on current affairs. With Periscope, users can comment during the live-stream which in turn fuels the conversation and promotes engagement.

On the PR News website Mark Renfree sums up eloquently why live streaming apps such as Periscope and Meerkat should matter to PR pros.

1) Capture and share the moment as it happens. Live streaming is here and people are using it. Politicians are giving speeches, celebrities are providing fans with virtual backstage access and people are watching their friends make sandwiches using live streaming apps. During a catastrophic fire in New York’s East Village on Thursday, journalists and citizens used live streaming apps to document and share the tragedy as it developed.

2) PR pros can provide a whole new type of content. Streaming apps offer communicators a whole new way to engage their audiences—whether they’re consumers, employees or the general public. Everything from shareholder meetings to PR stunts can now be broadcast and, specifically with Periscope, saved and posted on other channels.

3) Live streaming can give communicators increased control over messages. Streaming apps allow communicators to broadcast content themselves, a task that was usually left to journalists and the news media. Periscope and Meerkat eliminate the middle man between communicators and their audiences.

4) This opens up a new chapter for the hot-mic problem. Nearly everyone, everywhere is now carrying a live streaming video camera. For individuals and brands in the spotlight, these apps are adding to an environment in which there is already little reprieve from the ever-watchful eye of the public.