Even hell has no plague like the one brought about by complaining customers. The fiery rhetoric may seem like an overstatement at first, however, facts do prove otherwise. Redressing customers’ grievances has not always been easy for the companies. No matter how hard they try to be perfect, a small segment of customer base is always judging them for service failures, and many-a-times they are right too. Not only escaping customers’ judging eye but the quest for forgiveness too becomes impossible sometimes, and this is exactly what makes complaint management and service recovery extremely important. So, from the way a problem is tackled to the way willingness is shown to keep glitches from happening, there’s a lot for companies to do in order to prove themselves. In this context, the UAE has a long way to go since Emiratis have proved to be very hard to please. There has been an enormous rise in the number of customer complaints recently, while Government’s regulating organization attributes this surge to the increase in awareness of rights among consumers.

According to the Department of Economic Development (DED), the number of consumer complaints across Dubai went up by 38% in the first half of 2013. When compared to the first six months of last year, the number of complaints has arisen from 3,936 to 5,438 during the first half of this year. In 2013 alone, consumer complaints upped 27% from 2,390 to 3,046 between the first two quarters. However, consumer feedback during the second quarter of the year showed 88% were satisfied with their retail experience, with 85% in the first quarter, said DED’s Director of Development and Follow-up Omar Al Mehairi.

More Data on the Number of Complaints:

Customer Complaint BoxDelving further into the research, the report reveals that the services sector in Dubai accounted for more than half of the increase in the number of consumer complaints, not to mention it’s also one of the fastest growing business segments in the market. The service sector was followed closely by electronics industry in which the number of complaints had increased by 26.6%. The automobiles sector was reported at 12.8% while textiles & cosmetics were at 10.8% in terms of customer feedback and complaints. Furniture sector had the least rise in complaints at 3.5%.

The highest number of complaints comprised of the disagreements between the retailer and the consumer on the terms and conditions of sale i.e. 1,837. 1,161 complaints were about damage and 375 about fraudulent practices. Other complaints mostly included gripes about fees, exchanges and charging more than the advertised price.

More Complaints Also Means Customers Are Becoming More Educated About Their Rights:

Customer Rights and ProtectionOn one hand, the high number of complaints makes us skeptic about the management in the UAE, yet on the brighter side, these statistics indicate that awareness of rights and protection systems is rapidly improving among consumers. Omar Bu Shahab, Executive Director of Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection (CCCP) at the Dubai Department of Economic Development, told Gulf News that this increase indicates the effectiveness of the campaign and shows that consumers know their rights better. “These figures indicate an improved awareness of consumer rights and consumer protection systems among the public and retailers,” he said.

A UAE-based businessman Mohammad Al Madani said that DED’s awareness campaigns have simplified rights as well as responsibilities for both consumers and the retailers. “If consumers get more aware about their rights and duties, our business will be easier and more credible in the market.” “This awareness channel between consumers and retailers by DED is seeking to upgrade our business as well as build a mutual and confident relation with consumers,” Al Madani added.

Furthermore, DED has dispersed brochures at every shopping centre and area in Dubai in order to inform people about the consumer protection law. Bu Shahab said, “We asked every retailer in Dubai to have over their counter the free number of the Commerce and Consumer Protection Department — 600545555 — to help consumers communicate directly with the department if they need help or have an inquiry.”

Abdul Aziz Bin Hathboor, Director of Consumer Protection at CCCP in DED, said, “Consumer awareness in Dubai is definitely on the rise and the workshops and campaigns being regularly conducted by the Department of Economic Development have contributed substantially to encouraging consumers to raise issues and seek solutions.” Moreover, DED had also opened sufficient channels for consumers to voice their thoughts. “The Commercial Compliance and Consumer Protection sector reaches out to consumers across all available platforms including social media. Recently we have also launched Sallety.ae, a web and App interface where consumers can search for products and compare prices in real time and also make online complaints.” Customers can also register their complaints on ConsumerRights.ae, call Ahlan Dubai on 600 54 5555 or reach CCCP on the Twitter handle @dubai_consumers and DED says that they try to resolve any complaints within four days. “Subsequent to launching Sallety.ae we expect to receive a stronger feedback from traders and consumers and from our side we will conduct more awareness programmes not only in the malls and leading outlets but also in the traditional markets.”

The Iceberg Principle:

According to the statistics gathered by Technical Assistance Research Programmes (TARP Worldwide), for every single complaint, there is an average of 24 other people who had a similar problem but did not complain, therefore making that single gripe a mere tip of the iceberg in the whole scenario. Those are also the very 24 people who would probably not return and would also tell 9 other people about that negative experience, thus delivering that negative message to 216 other people on an average and those people would tell even more people.

However, on the other hand, TARP also puts forward the benefits of properly handled complaints which could result in customer being satisfied and loyal even more than the time when they had no complaints in the first place.

Benefits of Complaint Management:

Looking at any servicescape, there are usually three stakeholders involved in it i.e. the Customer, the Manager and the Frontline employee. Tension may arise among all of them if the customer is distressed. Hence the phrase “customer is always right” pops into mind. However, the latent meaning in this phrase is that customer should always think that he is right even if he has been clearly wrong. So, besides pondering on the reasons that led the customer to think unfavorably about services, good complaint management and service recovery is also very important. Resolving complaints right away can help:

  • Rectify the wrongs in processes and systems
  • Attain loyal customers


A Valuable Opportunity to Understand Customers and Create Better Customer Service:

Providing Better Customer Services“There is a complaint at the desk”, nothing can leave even the best of service people feeling anxious and flabbergasted like these words. However, every single gripe presents with an opportunity to gain an insight into customer’s mind and to correct the existing processes. Complaints are very subjective in nature and thus can be effectively used to gain a profound discernment of customers’ way of thinking and then reorienting services in accordance with that. However, a few factors can still be generalized in what customers actually prefer. In this context, time and resolution are two extremely important factors for the customers i.e. customers want to know when and how their problem would be solved. If handled correctly, both of these factors can help restore their faith even after the worst of glitches. Therefore, a good administration should regularly review the complaints and take it as a means of improving company and its responsiveness to the customers.

However, the main reasons why customers usually hold back from complaining could be because:

  • They don’t know where to complain
  • They are afraid that the company might become counteroffensive
  • They think that it would be of no use
  • They think that the issue is not worth the trouble
  • According to TARP research, the general pattern which customers exhibit while registering a complaint in B2B environment is that almost 75% go to frontline rep when a serious problem occurs, 1 to 5% complain to management or headquarters and almost 25% encounter a problem but do not complain. However, a growing trend among the customers has also been seen where they simply don’t complain, even for the serious of problems, just because of the futility of it, a condition that has been termed as “learned helplessness” in theory.

In order to satisfy the complainant, companies must be able to:

  • Resolve the problem in the very first attempt
  • Also give a legitimate explanation to the customer as to why the problem occurred


The Service Recovery Paradox: How Good Complaint Management Increases Customer Satisfaction and Loyalty:

The service recovery paradox means that “with a highly effective service recovery, a service or product failure offers a chance to achieve higher satisfaction ratings from customers than if the failure had never happened.” So, this means that a customer having a bad experience might become more loyal after service recovery than the one who had no such unpleasant experience at all. However, poor service recovery after a poor service can aggravate and even annoy the customer even more and there is a greater possibility that he would be lost for good.

According to a research by TARP, customers who complain and are satisfied are 30% more loyal than the non-complainant and 50% more loyal than unsatisfied complainant. It was in the ’70s that TARP’s first study for the White House Office of Consumer Affairs revealed that customers who had problems and complained and got their issues resolved were much more loyal than the ones who had issues and did not complain at all. Since that time, various studies have borne out TARP’s initial findings according to which each grievance is an opportunity for businesses to enhance loyalty.


Recommendation: Preventing the Pandemic:

The importance of complaint handling has been widely accepted as an essential part of customer service. Whether it’s because of company’s error or simply a misunderstanding, there is no telling what might set the customers off. However, complaint handling is one thing that can keep the problems from getting worse.


The Interactional Aspect of Complaint Handling:

Following three rules always apply when it comes to dealing with angry customers and their problem.

  • Listen
  • Apologize
  • Fix it

Other important aspects include:

    • A Proper Location for Customers to Register Complaints:

Customers should know where to make enquiries or file their complaints and the place should be clearly visible, easily accessible and also publicized so that customers feel encouraged to vent.

    • Acknowledgment of Complaint:

When registering a complaint, there is always a part of customers that is emotionally involved. Therefore, in order to calm their strong feelings down, acknowledge the complaint so that they know that it’s been noticed and personalize the response.

    • Follow Up:

Once the resolution has been found, find out if the customer was happy and satisfied with it. Better yet, ensure closure. Contact the customer and ask him his opinion on the way you resolved their issue.

    • Empower Staff:

Empower employees to solve the customer issues in the best way possible so that there is no need for the customer to go scrambling for other officers or supervisors to get the issue resolved.


The Organizational Aspect of Complaint Handling:

Moreover, in order to keep the complaints from happening in the future and strengthening the grievance re-dressal system. A company must have:

  • Principles that a complaint would be invariably dealt with fairly and the resolution would include responsiveness and efficiency.
  • Culture of using complaints as a means of reinforcing systems.
  • Skilled and properly trained staff.
  • Clearly outlined processes for complaint handling i.e. acknowledgment, assessment, investigation, response, and reflection on issues.
  • The complaints should always be analyzed for continuous organizational improvement.
  • Proactive involvement of top-level employees shows how seriously a complaint is taken and how keen the senior officers are on learning why the company failed to satisfy the customer.