Wednesday, April 21, 2010

I love the UAE

My friend D, a very wise and perceptive young lady, BBMd me the other day (have you noticed how people no longer call each other...they BBM?), saying that she was reading my blog, and that she was surprised that the last few posts have had a rather negative tone to them, and she asked me to write something more positive next time.

My friend D is right...I do use this blog as a venting platform whenever I'm unhappy about something...It's almost like an automatic reflex. But I did want to say this, loud and clear: I LOVE THE UAE. This place is definitely home to me, and right now, I do not see myself living anywhere else in the world. I mean yes, we all go through our "OMG I wish I lived in Europe/The States/Australia/South America" moments, but then you quickly realize that you can not live the way we live here anywhere else in the world.

So here's an incomplete list of the things I love about living here. Some are personal, some are more relevant to everyone out there. I urge you to add your own comments if you'd like to:

- I love living close to my parents. I get to see them every couple of weeks, and it beats seeing them 3 weeks out of 52, hands down! Home is where your family is.
- I love my friends. They're the best part of living here. I look forward to my weekends because of them...and this goes for both my groups of friends in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
- I love that I've known some of these friends for almost 2 decades now. OK now I feel old!!
- I love living with my sister (she'll kill me if I don't mention her here)
- I love the weather. I did the whole snow, ice, hail, wind, 4-seasons thing for 10 years. I'd rather 50-degree heat. Trust me.
- I love the beach. Some of the best beaches in the world are here.
- I love my pool. I think I have the awesomest pool in Dubai. Others will vouch for that.
- I love how easy life is. Admit can't get a life this easy anywhere else in the world!
- I love my job and the people I work with.
- I love the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. The best free beach EVER!
- I love the fact that I live in the city that has the tallest building in the world...I know it's stupid...but it's kinda cool.
- I love that as a female, I usually get priority service at most governmental offices.
- I love the concerts in Abu Dhabi...Justin Timberlake, George Michael, Bon Jovi, The Killers, Alicia Keys, Christina Aguilera, name a few!
- I love the restaurants in Dubai...Teatro, Zuma, Okku, Bice...again to name a few...yumm!
- I love that we get great weather almost 7 months a year
- I love the sound of the athan (prayer) when I sometimes wake up at 4AM for no reason whatsoever...It's so soothing.
- I love action-packed weekends...pool/beach, restaurants, clubs and bars (and then trying to catch up on sleep during weekdays)
- I love the shopping...not that I shop a lot but I like it when I do shop...
- I love how familiar Abu Dhabi feels. It's nice and cosy.
- I love camping on the beach.
- I love weekend getaways to Fujairah, Hatta and Musandam
- I love Yas Island and what it's becoming.
- I love what they're doing with Abu Dhabi.
- I love Christmastime in the UAE. I'll always associate that with vacation time and family gatherings.
- I love JBR Walk. Don't take advantage of it nearly enough though.
- I love boat trips.
- I love the sight of Burj al Arab.
- I love our coffee sessions at The ONE in Abu Dhabi. It's our local hangout.
- I love our chilled nights at a friend's place, playing charades.
- I love sunsets at the end of a beautiful weekend.
- I love the look of awe on my tourist friend's faces when they come visit.
- I love Sho Cho's (both Abu Dhabi and Dubai!). Rock shrimp salad? I could live on that stuff! Oh, and salmon sashimi too!
- I love how close we are to Europe, Asia, South Africa, and the rest of the Middle-East of course. Now if only North & South America and Australia would come closer to us...would be great.
- I love that I get 21 days off in a year (plus all the Eids and national holidays!)
- I love the feeling of "coming back home" when I'm away from the UAE for a little while.

There's more...there's definitely more...but let me know what you love about the UAE...

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Customer service is about serving customers

Customer service in the UAE can either be hit or miss...I'd say 90% of the time, it's a miss...but, looking at the bright side, this means that the 10% of the time when it's a hit, one can only be blown away, because the bar is set so low to begin with.

I've been to a few restaurants lately where the service was simply abysmal. Orders were messed up, the food took ages to get there, dishes got served at different times, dishes were cold...(all of the above happened to me recently in one restaurant by the way. Never again, trust me!). Now, I understand that some restaurants can have an "off day" once in a while, but you'd expect that the staff are empowered enough to provide SOME sort of compensation to the customer...But no, usually, all you get is a "I'm sorry Mam, I'm sorry Sir" and that's it. Nothing to actually show us customers that they're even remotely bothered by the fact that we're basically paying money to get treated like crap.

Language barrier is one issue, but training is the bigger issue I believe. When you hire staff for your restaurant, you make sure they've studied the dishes, tried them, been informed about what can be replaced/added to the dishes, been trained when it comes to keeping an eye out on the tables they are serving to make sure their customers do not require anything, take the customer's order in a timely manner, and bring the bill no later than 5 minutes after you've asked for it. I mean, the basics really. I'm not expecting Michelin-star service here!

And it doesn't stop at restaurants. Shopping outlets also need to step up their game. Greet customers when they walk in. Keep an eye out and help them out with sizes if you think they're looking for something specific. Place the clothes in the changing rooms while the customer is browsing. Again, I'm not saying stalk the customer every step of the way (that's a turnoff too!) there for the customer. I can't even begin to remember the number of times I've simply walked out of an outlet because I can't find anyone to help me...

In beauty salons for example, nothing is more annoying than sitting there, patiently, while the technicians are chit chatting amongst themselves. Chit chatting while getting the service done is borderline acceptable (although in all honesty, I would much prefer some peace and quiet), but chit chatting away while the customer is waiting for all 10 fingernails to be painted is just frustrating.

But then, once in a while, you catch that silver lining. The waiter who's on the ball, has answers to all your questions, and even manages to crack a joke or two (without being cheesy)...Or that customer sales rep at Dewa who actually knows what documents you need when you want to move to a new place. Or the shop assistant who suggests to call other branches to find that must-have pair of shoes in a size 38...Once in a while, your expectations are surpassed...Once in a while, service in the UAE is a hit.

Once in a while.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Stung by Sting

So we decided to go to the Sting concert the other day...despite me vowing never to go to another concert ever again after the Shakira fiasco. But I figured, what the hell...Shakira was 3 years ago, Mirage promotions is nowhere close to being involved in this concert, so why not...Plus, I mean, this was Sting!

The venue was Meydan, the new racecourse in Dubai which replaced Nad al Sheba. It was my first time there and it looked like we were driving to the middle of nowhere. We got stuck in a bit of traffic at the Meydan entrance but luckily traffic was moving fast so we got there pretty quickly (the cab driver, on the other hand, was psycho...but that's another story for another time).

Meydan is simply HUMONGOUS for lack of a better word! I mean really...HUGE! Once there, we tried to find our way to the area where we could collect our wristbands. We waited in line to get through security (took 12 minutes), then tried to find out way. We walked for a while trying to find the wristband place...we walked and walked and walked....until we FINALLY found it. Did I mention that the racecourse is HUGE?

OK so now we have the wristbands. We wanted to secure some good spots, so we walk some more, grab some drinks along the way...all the time trying to figure out where the stage was. We eventually get to the area behind the stage and we wait. And wait some more. We ask a security guard what the deal was, he says "well, can't you see that the gate is still closed??" didn't even know there WAS a gate!

The concert was supposed to start at 11:30 and at 11:40 they finally open the gate, which was the definition of a bottleneck. Thousands of people trickling into a tiny space to make it towards the front of the stage. Finally, we make it through! And luckily the concert started around 15 minutes later.

The screen behind the stage was kickass! Really huge and it really made the whole concert. The sound, on the other hand, was times, we could barely hear him.

Sting sang all the classics (or most of them anyway) which is great because I don't know any of his recent stuff. The venue was quite impressive but maybe too impressive...a little more intimacy would have been ideal.

We walked out as he was doing his encore, in an effort to beat the masses. I was worried about finding a cab (again, refer to the Shakira fiasco) but luckily this time, there were plenty available. I'm guessing half of Dubai's taxis were there! There was a long queue but again, it moved pretty quickly and 20 minutes later, we were on our way home.

Overall, an OK experience as far as concerts go. Not as bad as I expected it to be. I guess we are spoiled by Abu Dhabi concerts which are always amazingly well organized. And despite the stunning setting that was provided by Meydan, I still prefer the Emirates Palace as a venue. It's close to the city, it's big enough yet not too big, and it has the gorgeous Palace as a backdrop.

But an OK effort for Dubai as far as big concerts go...Dubai seems to be getting back on the concert map and an Elton John and Santana concert was announced for the end of the month. Let's see how that one goes :)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Hello again

Still here. My blog's been on my mind a lot lately, and I cringe every time I think about how I've neglected it! Poor little blog that I've invested so much time in!

But the reason I haven't shut it down is because I always knew that I'd have a need for a space where I can vent my frustrations, share my thoughts, and get people's opinions. So, this blog's staying, no matter how infrequently I'm going to be updating it.

What's been happening lately? Well, the tail end of 2009 saw quite a bit of traveling, which I tremendously enjoyed...And I got to visit 3 new countries, which is always a plus in my books.

Work-wise, things are pretty stable. 2009 was a pretty stable, almost boring year for me. Not much of a challenge professionally but then again, I didn't really push myself too hard. Need to shake things up a bit this year.

The new year has been much busier, with some interesting challenges coming up. I've also been dealing with some non-serious but definitely painful health the beginning of 2010 has not been a great one so far. We'll see what the rest of it has to offer.

I've been semi-active on Twitter (much more than on this blog!), but I think I'm the kind of person who needs much more than 140 characters to really get my thoughts across... But still, the Twitter phenomenon is fun, and I think I'll be sticking around for a while at least.

Those who do follow me on Twitter will know my frustration at the fact that the Greens bridge is still not opened. What on EARTH are they waiting for really? Traffic has reached nightmarish proportions, even on weekends and during non-rush hours! Ridiculous really.

That was a quick roundup of the past few months. Will be back soon though. Promise.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Nothing is easy. Everything is complicated. And confused.

Don't know about you but it seems like this kind of crap only ever happens to me! (although, deep down, I know that that's not really the case, but still...)

In today's lesson, we will discuss renewing your driver's license, and how to drive a person to ultimate frustration.

First, the facts:
1) I've had a license for 10 years here.
2) It was time for it to be renewed.
3) It was originally issued in Abu Dhabi
4) I now live in Dubai (and my residence visa is issued there too).

Chapter 1: Abu Dhabi

I head to Abu Dhabi Muroor last week. This is where they inform me that they will complete the renewal procedure in Abu Dhabi but that I'll have to pick up my license in Dubai because that's where my visa is. Fair enough.

So I do the eye test (20 dhs), pay for the renewal of my license (110 dhs) and get my picture taken, and they give me a bunch of papers and tell me to head to the last counter.

I go to the last counter and show them my papers and they hand me a driver's license (!!!). Slightly confused but not really thinking much about it, I head out of Muroor and get into the car. As we were about to hit the road, I get a call. From Muroor. Asking me to hand the license back because I need to get my license from Dubai.

OK fine, so I go back up the 100 steps of the Muroor building, hand over my short-lived license, and get a letter confirming the file transfer to Dubai.

Chapter 2: Dubai

Back in Dubai. I call RTA to find out where I can pick my license up. The man on the phone (sounding like he knows what he's talking about) tells me I need to go to Deira to get it. I get annoyed because the last time I went to Deira was probably 3 years ago...or something like that!.

Not satisfied with my answer, I call Tasjeel in Barsha to see if I can pick it up there. They say no but give me the number of the Bur Dubai Police station (which is located in Barsha right next to Tasjeel...go figure!). I call them and some woman says she has no idea but to call the RTA (she gives me another number). I call that number over and over again, but no one answers. I call Bur Dubai station again and the same woman picks up. When I complain that no one's answering, she says "well you know it's Ramadan, and we have Ramadan hours". I ask her what the Ramadan hours were and she says "9AM-2PM" (anyone know how I can get myself a 9-2 job? Please?). Mind you, it was 12PM when I called.

Anyway, I finally reach someone the next day who says that I can get my license at the Bur Dubai police station (in Barsha) which is a relief cause I actually know how to get there.

So I go the next day, and go straight to the information desk. The woman tells me I need a no objection letter, copy of passport, pictures, eye test...

Me: "No no you don't understand, I already did all that and gave the documents to Muroor in Abu Dhabi...I just need to pick up my license"

Her: "No I'm sorry you need to do the whole procedure all over again"

Me: "But this letter here confirms the transfer...I do not have a no objection letter anymore because I gave the only copy I had to Abu Dhabi Muroor"

Her: "No I'm sorry you need to do the whole procedure all over again"

Me: "Can I speak to a supervisor"

So I speak to a supervisor who confirms that "There is a misunderstanding between Abu Dhabi Muroor and Dubai Licensing Department...there is not transfer of files that actually takes place. You need to do the whole procedure all over again"

Me: "But this is ridiculous, I already paid and did the eye test..."


The man was nice enough to try to help me on the spot by saying that if I got someone to email the No Objection letter he would issue the license for me...But I knew that was a long shot because:

a) It was lunchtime and the odds of me finding someone from my HR department were slim to none
b) The letter needs to be issued by Media City, and needs a few days

So now I have to go back in a few day's time, once I have the stupid No Objection letter (what's with this whole no objection crap anyway??? Why would someone object to me having a driver's license? Is there any other country in the world that requires a friggin no objection letter to get a license???)

My father called Abu Dhabi Muroor to ask them to clarify, but of course, no ones there could give him an answer because they were simply clueless.


Oh, and I am sooooooo looking forward to renewing my car registration next month!

Phew...That was a rant and a half!!! I feel much better now. Thank you for reading.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Consistency is key!

I flew on Etihad for the first time last year, on a trip to Paris. The experience was impressive to say the least. I had heard a lot of negative comments about Etihad and their planes from many people, but I was pleasantly surprised by my experience. Planes were new, service was good and so was the food.

I flew Etihad again recently on a trip to Beirut, and it felt like it was a different airline! On the way there, we were on one of those old planes that have the TV in the middle of the individual TVs. Food was OK...airplane food. But on the way back, it was even worse! There was NO TV! I honestly cannot remember the last time I was on a flight where there was not a single screen!

The flight attendants actually had to demonstrate the safety instructions manually...the way they used to do it around 15 years ago!

But then the worst part was the baggage claim. I cleared customs quickly (have I mentioned that I love e-gate?), and waited for my luggage. I saw a family friend waiting for his luggage as well, and he got his around 15 minutes later. I was still waiting...and waiting...and waiting...

A few suitcases would drop down onto the carousel, and then the belt would stop. And then a few more. And then stop again. This went on for about an hour, until I realized that the bags that started dropping down were for the next flight, not mine!

There were still quite a few people waiting for their bags, and a few of us dashed over to the lost baggage counter. I was FUMING!

Luckily, a young man told me to wait again at the carousel, because the Etihad luggage was still I went back, waited a bit longer, and FINALLY, around an hour and 20 minutes after my flight landed, I got my suitcase.

Another case in point is that my friend flew Etihad the day before I did, from Beirut. He got to Beirut airport 2 hours before his flight, only to find out that his flight was delayed 3 hours. Poor guy had to roam around Beirut airport for 5 hours before he finally got on his flight!

All this to say that if an airline is to establish itself as the "country's national airline", then it should do a better job at being consistent with its service. That is the only way a brand will survive in the long run.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Emirates ID

A few months ago, I registered online for an Emirates ID appointment...which is supposedly sometime in August..And I was bracing myself for a disastrous, chaotic experience. Given the experience some people went through to get it, and given the government's complete incompetency in communicating the right information to the population, I was ready to spend a few days running around, trying to get all the papers I needed and waiting long hours for my turn to come up.

Then, a couple of weeks ago, we got an email from our company's HR director telling us that an EIDA office was set up in Media City (Du building) and that there was no need for an appointment or anything of the sort.

So I filled up the online form, printed it out, and headed out the next day to submit my application. It took all of 20 minutes! There were 2 people ahead of me, and when my turn came around, all I had to do was show a passport/residency visa copy, the form I had filled out, a copy of my Media City ID. I paid, and was told to show up the next day for the fingerprinting procedure.

My appointment was at 9AM and I was there at 9 sharp and quickly got ushered into the fingerprinting room. That process took 15 minutes and they asked for my original passport and the receipt and initial application form. I was asked questions (such as what my last degree was and from which school, my mother's name, my religion, my address...), and got all 10 fingers scanned several times (my whole hand, and the side of my hand was scanned too!), and I was on my way back to the office.

My ID is supposed to arrive within the next 10 days.

My sister, on the other hand, had to get hers done in Abu Dhabi because her residence visa is under my father's name, and her ordeal was much more complicated. She managed to do the whole thing in one day, but had to be shuffled around from one office to the other for about 3 hours, and had to deal with some really rude attendants. At one point, she was "forgotten", as it was lunchtime, and all fingerprinting machines were shut down. She caused a small scene and was finally fingerprinted after about 3 and a half hours of waiting.

A few questions must be asked (not sure who will answer them, but still...):
1) Why is the service not consistent across all EIDA outlets?
2) Why can't the Media City system be adopted across the country?
3) Why was a simple process (such as the Media City one) not established from the very beginning, to avoid the drama and chaos that so many people went through?

Anyway...I'm just glad I got this over and done with. Not sure what will happen to my August appointment...I wouldn't even know where to cancel it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Etisalat, Blackberry, and the whole fiasco...

The news over the past 10 days has been about Etisalat's Blackberry patch fiasco that has drained the batteries of many BB users. And to add insult to injury, it turns out that the patch is not really a "sofware update patch", as originally claimed by was, in fact, a spyware patch that gave Etisalat access to BB users' email and messenger information (which should have technically been secure).

Now, the fact that Etisalat is trying to "spy" on its users is disturbing to begin with, but what's even more disturbing is Etisalat's ridiculous response to the whole fiasco. If ever there was a PR case study made out of this, it would be to showcase how NOT to handle a crisis situation.

Newspapers, the blogosphere, Twitter, word of mouth...EVERYONE was talking about this, but how did Etisalat choose to respond? By avoiding the situation. By not releasing a statement until a few days later, downplaying the story, saying only "300 customers were affected".

In an era where dialog with the consumer, transparency and honesty are key in ensuring a brand's credibility, Etisalat has got it all wrong...really!

I was not affected by this because just a week before the patch was released, I switched my BB service to Du...Yep...Du...And in all honesty, I am very happy with their service so far.

1) The coverage is good (there was only 1 location where I had Etisalat coverage but no Du coverage at all).
2) They are MUCH cheaper than Etisalat...even their international calling rates are better.
3) Turns out that changing my number to a Du number is not so complicated after all...All it took is one email and a few messages to advise my contacts that my number has changed. I still have my Etisalat number for a couple of months, and then I plan on completely discontinuing it.

I do hope Du benefits from the whole Etisalat mess. Not because I love Du (refer to some of my previous posts), but because any company that acts in such a moronic manner NEEDS to suffer some consequences!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Oh drive me nuts!

I've said this time and time again, but there is a serious problem with customer service in this country...and this is applicable to almost anything, from moving companies, to banks, to restaurants...and of course, telecom companies. Given that Etisalat is practically a monopoly, it doesn't really make the effort to invest in its customer service.

Case in point, my sister wanted to get her phone service changed from prepaid to postpaid, AND she wanted to get roaming service as well. Did she manage to do both these things at once? Of course not. She had to change to postpaid first, wait for a couple of days, then go back to get roaming service. And of course, she had to present a passport copy every time, because God forbid Etisalat keeps these on record in their files.

A couple of months ago, I also switched to postpaid. I had a business trip during the month of April and needed to expense some of the calls I made. I waited for the bill but did not get it. I got an SMS from Etisalat telling me what the total amount was, but I did not get a detailed bill.

I thought it was an address issue or something along the lines, but then I got my May bill, and the address was fine. So I called Etisalat to ask them for a detailed bill for April. You'd think that it would be a simple request...I mean, how hard is it for them to contact their billing department and ask them to send me a copy of the bill? Or to give me access to my detailed bill on my online account?

Noooo....of course not...because that would make it too simple and far too efficient...

Instead, I have to go to an Etisalat office (and not just any branch at a HAS to be an actual office), with a copy of my ID of course, to get them to either give me a copy of the bill OR to get them to give me access to my detailed bill online.

Totally, absolutely ridiculous! Almost as ridiculous as having to go to a bank and fill up a form in order to set up Internet banking!