Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
First off, let’s make clear that this is not necessarily all of Saudi Arabia, but rather the capital city of Riyadh. Seems fair to me.
Second, obviously I just made up “best and worst” so that I could talk about one cool thing and one uncool thing. It’s called Blogger’s License. I have one. Feel free to get your own.
I suppose there are a lot of things that people could say are less than magical in the Magic Kingdom — women not being able to drive, stores closing three or four times a day for prayer, no bacon, no sidewalks, yada yada.
But one aspect of Saudi life that is undeniably a bad deal is customer service. By that I mean that the concept of customer service is practically unknown here. That is: having store clerks who will actually come over and wait on you. That is: store clerks who will not simply interrupt your sales inquiry to take a phone call or handle another customer’s pressing business. That is: having a toll-free number for complaints or queries. That is: having a website to give store hours and locations.
All unknown here.
Now, if you have a problem and you do manage to attract the attention of a manager, there’s a very good chance it will be resolved. The manager will give perfunctory apology and proceed to see what he can do, but don’t expect any compensations like a free dessert at a restaurant or a discount on your next purchase. It will be more like “OK, you got us. Let’s just get the problem solved so I can go have some coffee and dates with my friends.”
Case study in how to ignore your customers: Mobily
To deal with these, Mobily provides a 4-digit number to call. The alternative is to get in your car or cab, drive to an office (when it’s open), take a number and talk to a representative.
The number, 1100, is what I call the Number of the Beast for telecoms.
The 1100 is about as useful as a fly swatter on a bowling ball.
First off, no one ever answers. Ever. Even after you’ve gone through their maddening phone menu. OK, so perhaps after 50 or 100 tries you do get a live person. The connection will either be accidentally terminated right away or you’ll find yourself with someone who speaks English with such a heavy Indian accent that you need to have him repeat what he says 5, 10 or even 15 times. Really.
Is it just me? I’ve asked several of my student groups and every time I mention Mobily they all immediately wake from their gerund-learning-induced stupors and start laughing and shouting about what a joke the 1100 number is.
I did find out while I was visiting the Mobily booth at an electronics exhibition recently (from a guy who probably shouldn’t have told me this): Mobily has a 5-tiered system for responding to calls on 1100. It starts with their VIP customers, works down to “post-paid” phone customers and finally dead ends at the “pre-paid” customer level. That’s me. I buy pre-paid cards worth 60 riyals every month or so. You’d think we would be among their most valued customers since we can leave the fold anytime.
Just to test out how much they can ignore, I did a test this week: I called up 1100, navigated their moronic menu (which includes a 16-second commercial seemingly randomly placed between options) and left the phone on the charger, with the speakerphone enabled. Result: 6 hours passed with no live person answering. I tried this a couple different times while I went about household chores.
Whew. Let’s clean the palate with something much nicer.
Best: Learning Arabic at King Saud University
Cost: free. Textbooks: free. Class size: 3-6.
Hard to beat.
We meet 3 nights a week for 3 hours each night for 13 weeks for a total of about 117 hours. At 9 hours a week, that’s the equivalent of about 2 1/2 semesters at an American university for a 3-credit hour class.
What makes it especially sweet for me is that I carpool with a colleague who is driving there anyway so my travel cost is practically nil.
Why is this free? Frankly, I don’t really know and didn’t ask. I just happened to hear about it from another colleague on the day they were forming classes and since I had the evening free, figured it wouldn’t hurt to check it out. My belief, unconfirmed, is that the king authorized and funded the program to promote the learning of Arabic by foreigners and the study of the Koran.
Learning Arabic is not easy, by the way. In fact, I can’t think of anything harder I’ve ever done. Not trying out for a softball team in Ohio. Not asking out a certain girl my junior year in college. Not quitting smoking (well….maybe that). Not hitchhiking from Miami to Tampa across the Tamiami Trail in the middle of the night. Not putting a T-34 single-engine trainer into a loop-de-loop.