After learning about the pillars to build a stronger service culture and the must-have qualities of a good leader, the second part of our exclusive interview with Ron Kaufman, Founder and Chairman, UP! Your Service highlights the work environment and leadership skills in the Middle East.


What do you see as an imbalance between leaders and employees in the Middle East?


The biggest imbalance that I see is the inappropriate position that both sides take with regards to either each other or to the company. I can’t tell you the number of times that I have heard from employees: ‘Why should I work so hard when I’m only getting paid so much?’ Or ‘Why should I work so hard when I’m probably not going to stay in this company very long?’ Or ‘I only came to this part of the world to make some money to send home.’


But all that way of thinking is incredibly short sighted for two reasons: First, your own personal job satisfaction is at stake. If you go to work and you commit yourself to taking action to create value for someone else, if you dedicate yourself to a mood that is uplifting and constructive for the organization and your colleagues as well as for your customers, the other person who gets the benefit of that is not the customer or colleague, it is also you because what goes around comes back around. What you send out does definitely come back. Thus, the more optimism, positivity as well as strong and good attitude you bring to a working situation, the better it is going to be for you as well.


The second area that is inappropriate, is thinking or expecting that it is the employer’s job to do everything necessary to make you feel that you have a good job and again the responsibility is not outside with somebody else. Certainly, they have a role to play, but every single employee working inside of an organization can also play a significant role in making the entire working environment, the working relationship, the collaboration between the different departments, the mood and the tone of communication between one shift and the other or between the head office and the branch, or between one level and another. We can take responsibility for that and for uplifting that, rather than pointing the finger and saying that it is the leader’s job or the employer’s job, they have a job to play but it does not absolve the employees from their essential role in building an uplifting service culture.


Now when we take a look at the leaders and what I see is imbalance or not appropriate from a leader’s perspective in the Middle East is the fact that they don’t consider the importance of creating a work environment that is supportive, encouraging and uplifting for the employees.


Let us face it, there are many businesses in the economy that will never be able to pay high wages. It is just not in the nature of the economics of that business or that industry. But that doesn’t mean that what it feels like to work in that organization should be low grade, just because the pay maybe lower on that scale. In fact, especially if the pay is going to be lower on that scale for certain front line workers or positions that don’t require a lot of education, or for whatever reasons the pay grade is low, that is where employers should lean in and do more to create a better working environment. That could be by having a better working place for people to relax, or providing them with tools to get the job done, or simply doing some of the low cost or no cost things in the area of recognition: acknowledging people, giving them public praise, providing someone with a pat on the back, reading out a compliment letter, giving a compliment to employees.


This kind of action on the part of leadership is absolutely vital. It can be done, should be done and must be done by competent leaders in the Middle East.


Which of the industries require strong leadership skills the most in the Middle East?


The answer is EVERY industry does. Whether it is business to consumer industry like tourism, hospitality, banking, transportation, or business to business like certain business services, or logistics or supply chains or IT or backend services. Every single person who is in a relationship with somebody else that is about taking action, where the purpose of the action is to do something where someone else will appreciate or value that, is an industry where leadership skills must be demonstrated. This also applies to government. For instance, we can see this in Dubai by the powerful vision of HH Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and the leadership skills he constantly promotes and demonstrates. This is also clear, by being a role model in his commitment to uplift the entire city and nation and ultimately being a role model for the region.


Which industry requires improved customer service in the Middle East?


Well again, the answer is everybody must continue to keep stepping up. You can’t take a pass, you can’t say it doesn’t apply to me, you can’t say we are good enough and therefore we don’t have to focus on improving. There are two huge reasons for this: First, some companies are definitely stepping up and improving the quality of services they provide in the Middle East. Thus, if another company steps up and improves their service, and you don’t, even if you are not in the same industry, the customer would have experienced better customer service in another organization. Then they come to you with very high expectations, not because of anything you did, but because of what other companies and even people in other industries have done in the Middle East.

The Middle East is not sitting still; it is constantly stepping up and improving.

The second reason why all businesses in the Middle East must continue to improve their service, is because service is becoming a competitive advantage of cities, countries and regions all over the world. Capital has legs, people have options and talent has choices. People can decide where to go, where to shop, where to go on vacation, where to do their business, where to work, where to develop their careers, where to go to school. Service, is the thing that creates value for people that makes people say: “It’s not just same, same: same product, same price.”

It might be the same product and it might be the same price. However, the sustainable differentiator, the competitive advantage comes from delivering a better service experience.


From your experience, can you provide a fascinating perspective on a Middle Eastern corporate experience?


Xerox Emirates, is a company in the Middle East that created a culture where service recovery became their competitive advantage. In other words, what the company would do consistently, and exceptionally, is to recover anytime something went wrong. However, in order to do that, they had to actually transform the culture of the company from one where people are afraid of mistakes, where people don’t want to be blamed, where people are hiding when something goes wrong or pointing the finger at somebody else, the kind of ‘it wasn’t me’, changing that to I’m here, what can I do, how can I help, what action can be taken, what can we do not to point the finger at somebody else, but to point out what can be done for the customer. Not to try, if you will, to cover your rear ends so that you don’t get blamed, but instead what action we can take to cover the customer, to make sure the experience that they have or they get is really something special.

Anytime something goes wrong, a customer’s expectations will automatically drop. That is a great opportunity for an organization to then actually exceed the customer’s expectations, simply by fixing the problem, showing your concern and then doing something extra.


Now the culture of an organization that is committed to doing something extra, needs management that is willing to back that. It also needs management and leadership that understand that extra efforts above and beyond the call of duty are appropriate when things go wrong, rather than only fixing the problem.


But then, it also requires staff who are innovative, who are thinking, and asking themselves ‘what else can we do for that customer to delight them after there has been a problem, we fixed the problem now we want to bounce them to a higher level of loyalty.’ This culture created at Xerox Emirates gives the company a drop competitive advantage in a very challenging market every day.


What would be your five top tips for Middle Eastern businesses to improve employer and employee’s dynamics from a customer service perspective?


1- Hire for attitude and then train for skills.


In other words, don’t settle for someone who is technically strong but does not bring the good mood that your organization needs because your customer will experience it. They will hear it in the tone of voice, they will read it in between the lines in terms of the messages, and they will notice it from the body language. Therefore, hire people with good attitudes and interview for that, recruit for that. Let people know that this is the kind of attitude which fits in at the culture of where you work, so that people who are uplifting make your uplifting service even stronger.


2- Recognize people, give them a pat on the back for their effort as well as for the result.


Remember when you were learning to walk, you fell down many times before you actually figured it out. So each time you fell down, if somebody just ignored you until you finally walked you wouldn’t have a lot motivation to figure it out. But if instead, as you were trying to take a step and you fell, there was somebody going, ‘good… try it again… come on stand up… let me help you,’ that same kind of thing is true when you want outstanding service from your employees. You want to encourage their effort, you want to acknowledge their intention. So even if they make a mistake, especially if they make a mistake, it is not the time to point out everything that they did wrong, but instead start by praising the fact that took action, they made an effort, they were trying to do the right thing, and then you can coach them.


3- Provide support.


Whether it is education, service and training principals or whether it is providing mentoring or coaching or working side by side in buddy teams or doing reviews and evaluations, provide the support that your people need if you want them to deliver great service.


4- Be a great service role model yourself as an employer.


In other words, give your employees a good experience so they would in turn want to give customers a good experience. Otherwise, when a customer has a problem, be eager to step in and set it right, be able to give support to your employees during hectic times or when something in particular is challenging or difficult.


Roll up your sleeves, get in there and be a good service role model.


5- Keep on learning.


Learn about service, improving service, service culture and about building a service culture. Look at bench marks in other organizations, other industries in other parts of the world that are winning because the culture they have created is consistently delivering uplifting service.


Companies that are distinguished by delivering uplifting service are following a fundamental methodology. It is the architecture for engineering a culture that I emphasize on in the book called ‘Uplifting Service’. You can study it in our book, you can study it on our website you can find it on YouTube, or even locate our blog. You need to be passionate about learning, learning about service improvement and learning about service culture. That is the final tip to improve the employer and employee’s dynamics from a customer service perspective.


About Ron Kaufman:

Ron Kaufman is Founder and Chairman of UP! Your Service and author of the New York Times best-selling book ‘Uplifting Service,’ the proven path to delighting your customers, colleagues and everyone else you meet. He has helped companies on every continent build a culture of uplifting service that delivers real business results year after year. Making transformation his mission, Ron is one of the world’s most sought-after educators, consultants, thought-leaders and customer service speakers on the topic of achieving superior service. Ron works with a successful clientele of government agencies and multinational corporations. He delivers powerful insights and global best practices enabling organizations to gain a sustainable advantage through service.


*Interview conducted by Neity Maddock


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