In order to meet customers’ needs and exceed their expectations, do we need to invest in developing and improving government service centers in the UAE?

This is a question that occupies the leadership’s mind in every government entity in the UAE. The story began in 2013, when UAE leaders started the digital transformation journey by setting an ambitious target of shifting to an efficient and customer-centric government.

At that time, the target was to provide all government services through mobile devices; accordingly, all government entities invested in automation, integration, and in how to provide services to customers through a new channel (e-services).

By May 2015, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, announced that 96 percent of government services had been delivered successfully via mobile devices. That was a remarkable achievement and a substantial leap for government services innovation in the UAE.

His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum set a new target for 2018 – 80 percent of those who use government services should access those services via mobile devices. The target was about how to shift customers from going to service centers towards using smart and online services instead.

The new challenge is not only focusing on digital transformation but also on changing customers’ preferences, attitudes, and behaviours when it comes to government services.

Educating customers in the UAE about new services is an important part of marketing. However, with 202 nationalities living in the UAE, customers have different service delivery backgrounds, and their needs and preferences are complex. So it would take extensive effort to let customers understand the value and benefits of the new services.

The new target put a great deal of pressure on government entities; how to ensure successful digital transformation while maintaining the e-adoption from both entities and customers. With this in mind, the future of the service centers was always uncertain.

Should we invest more in service centers? Should we close them altogether? Should we reutilize them in other purposes like training or quality control units? Those questions were often asked by the government leadership.

While exploring customers’ needs and preferences in the UAE, several studies found out that:

  • Customers still prefer the human element in service delivery. They want to talk to someone who answers their questions. Talking to a customer service agent makes them feel more comfortable.
  • ‘Blue collars’ is a segment of customers who still prefer the traditional way of personally visiting service centers to drop and collect the documents of a given transaction.
  • ‘Elderlies in UAE’ enjoy filling their time by visiting service centers and talking to people during the service provision.
  • In a retail world, customers prefer to visit stores and service centers to check and try products before purchasing them.

With anything and everything now purchased online, traditional businesses have been disrupted, which raised the question about how we can utilize the dead stores?

SingTel digitally-augmented stores are a clear manifestation that service centers will never die and that we are moving towards a new era where service centers become a new channel providing customers with a new value.

SingTel introduced a hybrid approach, where both online and offline touchpoints are combined to provide the best Customer Experience with a highly personalized service.

Below are key features of the new digitally-augmented stores, where the best of the digital services and in-person services are blended together to provide the perfect Customer Experience.

1. Queuing the smart way with an intelligent wifi-based queue system

The simple way of providing a queue number is to login the store free wifi, where customers receive a clear update on their queue status and at the same time watch live TV streaming on their devices.

This might look simple although the benefits could be great. Through the login information, Singtel is able to identify customers using their phone numbers, retrieve their history, their preferred devices, and their latest online transactions from historical records. This can give a clear picture to the agent about the customer and enable them to personalize the service offered.

2. Advanced crowd and data analytics

Using the smart wifi network and the customer location, position, and movement inside the store, supported by store cameras, the service center manager is able to analyze the real-time traffic of customers. This could help store managers to choose the right products to show and to reutilize their resources.

3. Seamless instant self-checkout and digital self-service facilities

The store offers a nine-meter display wall, which allows customers to try out the latest models and accessories and even buy instantly by scanning the product QR code. Automatically, the product anti-theft RFID is disabled and the customer can grab the device and go with a smooth and automatic checkout.

The store is also offering different kiosks for online services that allow customer to pay bills, card top-ups, and SIM card replacements. With smart lockers, customers can also collect their online purchased devices 24/7 through entering their product number and verification code.

4. Live bots – smart employees

Through iPads, connected to live employees, Singtel is offering a new channel to assist customers in remote service delivery through a customer agent located in another store with less customers or an agent In the contact center. It’s simply a video call that can help customers get what they need in a smart way.

5. Intuitive product discovery

With products connected to sensors empowered by IOT technology,  and devices with smart touches and cameras, each counter can provide analysis on how customers perceive the product, how many seconds they need to try it, and it also provides customers with useful information to help them make a decision, such as product information, comparisons, and price.

6. Transformed event space

With a great fit-out located in the middle of the store with a seven-meter LED video wall and a convenient seating area, the space can be used as a waiting area for watching TV programs. It can also be readily converted to a space for special events such as launching a new product and holding press conferences or e-game tournaments.

In fact, this center registered an increase of 30 percent in store traffic, a significant boost in staff productivity, and an increase in Customer Experience scores as high as 97 percent.

The above example is not the only one. In Dubai, Apple has applied the same approach by opening a new store in Dubai Mall – Burj Khalifa with a fabulous view of the fountain and with a fit-out that transforms the customer journey in a very positive way.

The way forward for UAE government is to transform the service centers to a new channel:

  • A channel that can offer new experience with mix of the human touch and highly smart systems
  • A channel that can be used as a service lab, where it can provide services and at the same time collect customer insights and feedbacks about services and products
  • A channel that can provide smart services through integrated systems and proactive approaches
  • A channel that can be very cost-efficient and that can utilize resources efficiently

To enable this, the UAE government entities might adopt different techniques such as:

1. Enabling more technologies, such as IoT, face recognition techniques, cognitive intelligence modules, and smart and integrated systems

This will help offering smart services with proactive approach, identifying customers from the moment they step in or call the center, enabling employees to be ready with solutions so that customers can feel that the government is always prepared.

Dubai Airports are using smart sensors in all ceilings before the counters, connected to IoT modules that provide headcounts (customer heat map). Therefore, decision makers can decide to close or open more counters to accommodate customers in the queue.

2. Empowering employees with tools and decisions, so that they can solve problems on the spot

Seoul Airport, Ritz Carlton hotels, and Disney are pioneers in that. With dedicated petty cash for all customer service agents and clear delegation of authority, employees can do their best to create unforgettable customer journeys.

3. Providing a one-stop shop where customers can find all related services under the same roof

This is commonly known now as service bundling. UAE, Malaysia, Estonia, Finland, and Singapore took the lead in this. From the moment you step in to renew your car registration, you will find all related services around, starting from car inspection, licensing, insurance, mechanical repair, body and engine technician.

4. Acting efficiently by utilizing human resources

Dubai Police are now transforming all their stations to smart police station (SPS), with smart kiosks equipped with a video conferencing function. Customers can go to any SPS and open a case while the agent who is providing the service is located somewhere else accommodating less customers.

5. Using service centers as future labs for testing new services, products, bundles, and using feedbacks to enhance and improve the service

In a nutshell, service centers and stores will never die, and I am positive that service centers in UAE government will adopt a futuristic approach that can better utilize the existing centers and benefit from the new technologies to deliver a great Customer Experience.