HSBC gets helping hand in customer service standards in UAE

I love the Café Belge in the Ritz-Carlton at DIFC. Good food, great service and excellent ambience. Its terrace – which becomes a shisha cafe in the evening – has its own little microclimate by which the temperature stays pretty perfect all year round: warm in winter, cool in summer.

They normally do a great business lunch menu too. I was there a while ago with a contact and we ordered from the set menu, a chicken dish that sounded delicious.

It wasn’t. The meat was rubbery, the taste didn’t go with the veloute sauce, and we both took a couple of bites before we decided not to proceed further.

When the waiter came to clear the plates, he saw we had hardly touched the chicken and asked why. We explained, it was no big thing, just let the chef know he should try a different recipe in future. Fine.

We had coffees and a chat, and the bill came, brought by the restaurant assistant manager Giuseppe Tuttoilmondo [sic], who told us that there would be no charge at all for lunch. It was all on the house, in view of our experience.

Now that, we agreed, was service above and beyond the call of duty, so we left a hefty tip and took our leave.

That afternoon, I had an appointment at HSBC.

My notebook of a few weeks back, which had a go at standards of customer service at HSBC, my bank in the UAE, had drawn an impressive reaction.

Many people out there felt like I did, that standards at the bank fell short of what they should be. There was a general feeling that “something has to be done” about low levels of customer service.

I’m pleased to report that something is being done, and that the issue is being taken very seriously by HSBC.

One of the people who had responded to my notebook item (concerning the bad experience I’d had with a cheque that was bounced for no good reason) was a very senior executive in the bank’s UAE retail division, who apologised for my problem and asked me in for a personal chat about the issues it raised.

That in itself was very good service, and I was happy to accept both his apology and the invitation for a chat. (I am loath to reveal his name because he asked me not to, at least until the bank had some quantifiable good news on the matter.)

He was kindness itself, and patiently explained how some customer service issues arose and what was being done to prevent them happening again in future.

For example, in my case – where a date on a cheque was misread by an HSBC employee – it was all about how you “operationalise common sense”, that is, how you get backroom staff at the bank to react sensibly, and proportionately, to a misunderstanding.

Bouncing a cheque – with all the implications that stem from that in the UAE – should be used only as a last resort on these occasions, my HSBC executive said.

He spoke a lot of good sense in other areas too, but the most interesting was that the bank has called in a real expert in customer service to help educate its senior staff on techniques of good customer relations.

Lothar Quarz, general manager of the Ritz Carlton DIFC and an award-winner in the field of excellent customer service, was advising the bank on this very issue, I was told.

Watch out, but I think standards at HSBC are in for a very steep improvement.

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