I talk a lot about the need for brands to deliver the promises they make, but an encounter this week with the Emirates’ two leading mobile operators provided a vivid illustration of just how far from doing this even some big firms are.

I set out to make what you would imagine to be a simple purchase – to buy a mobile internet connection. My first stop, because I already have a mobile voice connection with them, was Etisalat. That was a short relationship because having queued for thirty minutes I was told by the agent that they were out of stock of dongles. In this part of the world something like this is hardly noteworthy. As they say (and it is a phrase used to explain everything) “This is Dubai!”.

I moved on to the Du store where the queuing experience was similar. The Emirati agent also told me initially they didn’t have a dongle, but when I asked him to check he discovered they had (They probably had hundreds, but maybe it was close to the end of his shift or something!). I bought a dongle and a SIM but when I wanted to pay for a data package I was told that it wasn’t possible to buy credit in the store (which I later discovered was untrue because I could have purchased voucher to redeem on-line). Instead I was told to plug in the dongle to generate a webpage that would enable me to register a credit card and buy a data bundle. So, I paid up and went home to complete the process.

Plugging in the dongle did indeed generate a webpage, which required me to follow a three-part process to create an ID, register my card and then buy a data package.

Both Du and Etisalat offer data bundles at a fixed price, however when you read the small-print this is a blatant miss-sell by both of them. In fact whatever option you choose the credit you buy expires after 30-days regardless of whether you have used up all the data, so you aren’t buying data at all, but thirty-day access with a data limit. This means that you might pay many times the already (massively inflated by international standards) quoted rate per unit of data. Yes, I find this hard to believe too, but as a Du sales guy told me with typical arrogance “That’s the deal. Take it or leave it” and people just seem to roll over and get abused by these providers.

My problems didn’t end there though because when you create a profile the confirmation is sent to you by SMS and email. I need hardly point out how useless an email is to someone without an Internet connection, but the irony of this seems to have escaped the person who designed the process. Things became eve more surreal when I entered my mobile number. As I mentioned previously, by mobile connection is with Du’s competitor Etisalat, so when I entered it, it was immediately rejected as invalid. What Du want is a Du number and the only Du number I have is the data one, so I had to take the Du SIM from the dongle, find a handset that would take Du’s large SIM (I’m an iPhone user myself) and put it in that to receive the SMS.

I did this and turned to step two – register a card. I don’t have any credit cards, only debit cards – two for UK banks and one for a Bahrain bank which doesn’t have a security code (for some reason, but this is the Gulf). By this time I had realised that either nobody at Du thinks things through or it’s part of their mission statement to make their customer’s lives as unfulfilling and painful as possible, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that Du can register neither a foreign credit card nor any debit card (even though you can pay with both on their stores) – can’t register a card, can’t buy credit, dongle utterly useless.

Throughout this lengthy and painful process I was in touch with Du’s social media people. I had tried to reach their customer service people but I received notification from them that they would endeavour to get back to me within 48 hours (!) so I resorted to being loud in FaceBook to try and get some attention and the social media team responded. However, just like a third world operator Du don’t seem to have integrated customer service and social care (“social care”) and their social media guy couldn’t access any of the information I had provided in my original complaint to customer services, so, initially all I received from him were repeated messages asking for contact information that I had already provided.

The social media guys were however very reassuring, but totally ineffectual because they are reliant on other people taking action, which by this time I knew was never going to happen. So, a whole week after purchasing my Du dongle I still wasn’t able to buy credit without travelling across town to buy a voucher from their store, and even if I did make the trip I would have to do the same thing every time I needed credit (every month it seems because Du steal the credit that remains in my account at the end of each month). That’s clearly not even close to providing a service. Furthermore, when you go to the website to enter the code of your credit voucher you get a message saying that they will update your account WITHIN 24 HOURS! What bloody use is that?

The social media guy checked my original complaint to customer services and found it had been marked “resolved”. If you are customer service agent, this is a great way to keep your KPI’s looking healthy, just tick them off as they come in! The social media guy became as defeated as I was, but after a week I received a call from Customer services just to advise me that there was no way I could register a card and I couldn’t get my money back. The two conversations I have had with customer service agents introduced a host of other problems ranging from just plain unfamiliarity with the products and processes, simple inability of agents to coherently explain items and processes and inconsistencies in nomenclature that are extremely confusing. I also posted a complain on the twitter page of one of Du’s directors, but even this didn’t get a response, which explains a lot. If the directors don’t care, why should the employees?

The lessons of this experience are far too numerous to summarise here. Suffice is to say that Du are failing on pretty well every level to provide anything close to an acceptable experience, but then, there’s no incentive for them to do better because their competitors are just as bad. Du and probably Etisalat, have made the classic mistake of designing a platform and processes that work for them rather than for their customers. In this case the situation is exacerbated by lack of process, appallingly bad marketing (package design and explanation), low-grade employees and ineffectual training.

The absence of integrated social care is a bit of a give away too. Don’t Du know that 85% of customer complaints are now handled on social media? They clearly haven’t heard about the new generation of social care solutions like Brand Embassy

Which all brings me back to my initial point. Typically for this part of the world, Du seem to have invested all their time and effort in marketing communications that make a very attractive promise with no sign at all that they have done anything to try to deliver it. Of course, this isn’t branding at all, it’s a recipe for failure, but the complacency and cartel-like way in which the UAE telcos operate suggest that things aren’t going to change any day soon. I remember blowing a similar arrangement apart in the Czech Market when as part of a team working with a new third operator we took the market by storm simply by delivering what the market wanted. The two established operators were so cosy that it took them years to re-form and start to compete again, by which time we were nominated the World’s Best Mobile operator at the World Communications Awards and became the world’s fastest-growing third operator. Watch out Du and Etisalat, I’m looking for new challenge and if I don’t end up helping a telco shake up the UAE market, someone else certainly will!

Phil Darby
October 26, 2014

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