Customer Service Wins Every Time – Price Cannot Compete

As I write this, I am reminded of an incident that happened a week back – the United Airlines episode where a hapless passenger was gravely mistreated. Since enough and more has been written about this, I don’t intend to delve deep into this topic, apart from pointing out one thing, that an organization as large as theirs forgot the mantra ‘it takes months to find a customer and only seconds to lose one’. In a matter of few hours the company was embroiled in a PR crisis and in a couple of days their share prices crashed and they faced negative backlash and criticism, that is much deserved, if I may say so.

Focus on the basics

Now-a-days, it is not only a company’s pricing strategy that wins customers. To attain your set targets, you may reduce your pricing and win clients, but would that assure your clients remain loyal to you? Is price THE only deciding factor for a customer to not look at your competitors’ offerings? While winning customers may not seem as challenging, retaining the existing ones sure isn’t as easy as it seems. The cost advantage is no longer the only parameter for customers. You must look beyond this and develop an alternate strategy that focuses on quality and brand experience.

Gone are the days when there were limited players that reigned the market and price was not a deterrent. We live in a world where there is a market for everything and this is not just the virtual world that I am talking about. With multiple crowdfunding platforms available for entrepreneurs and innovators, companies are launching faster than ever before. (Companies large and small tapping into crowdfunding)

Go the extra mile. It is never crowded.

In the face of cut-throat competition, when companies are looking at gaining market share and rapidly increase their customer base, it is important to deliver on all fronts and not just offer the lowest price. You win customers when you offer more value. Remember all the instances when you have taken a liking to a company or its products because of the service received and the price wasn’t the deciding factor. Have your customers at the center of your business strategy and you are sure to stand apart from your competition. Provide extra services/ benefits. At the risk of sounding repetitive, I must remind you that no brand has a monopoly in the marketplace anymore, so if you don’t keep your customers happy, some other company will.

Deliver an experience

With the dominance of social media in our lives, we have become extremely vocal – be it raving about our local restaurant or ranting about X brand’s customer service. On any given day, Twitter and Facebook is abuzz with happy and unhappy customers, recommending as well as criticizing services/ products. Those are your customers talking, are you really listening? More often than not, organizations stick to a set of standard replies when replying to aggrieved customers. That really doesn’t help in addressing your consumer’s concerns – there must be more personal involvement. Excellent customer service is the deciding factor for consumers to place their trust in a brand. While it certainly isn’t possible to keep all your customers happy, but the majority should be. Consumers stay loyal to a brand when they know they are heard and their grievances are addressed.

As an organization, your sole aim should be to provide an exceptional customer experience. Just to drive this point home, I’d like to mention a study that states by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator. When we speak of customer experience, think Apple. All Apple users are brand loyalists and evangelists. They love the brand to the point where they are willing to wait in queues hours together to own the product on the day of its launch. The products are not loved because of its pricing. The thrill of owning an Apple product and the sheer experience it offers is incomparable. You need to strive to deliver an experience that is unmatched.

And as I sign off I’d like to leave you with this thought – The customer’s perception is your reality: Kate Zabriskie

– Dhruv Jain, Director, Expotrade Global

The article originally appeared in LinkedIn

Smart Cities, Sustainable Cities: The Future of Urban Development in Qatar

One of the most important aspects of sustainable design is its ability to adopt a multilayered understanding of the needs of communities, sites and the environment to propose integrated solutions that not only address short and long term environmental and economic benefits but could provide opportunities to enhance social and cultural aspects of the development. Over the past few years, this has extended beyond the scale of buildings well into the public realm to include sustainable urban development strategies, infrastructure design and smart city solutions.

The reasons for creating more sustainable design solutions to minimize the environmental impact of cities are no longer questionable. The main issues facing designers and developers now are how to find the most suitable, smart city solutions that balance client needs, project budgets and the environmental design challenges and opportunities that arise from a project’s context. This is why creating sustainable urban environments will be a continuous endeavor that the Middle East will be experiencing over the coming years.

Fueled by an economic boom that adds pressure on available resources, Qatar, like other countries in the region, is at a crossroads to rethink its approach to urban planning and design to create more sustainable built environments on a macro level and redefine the impact of its future cities. Many steps have already been taken as part of the country’s ongoing efforts to realize the goals of the Qatar National Vision 2030, where the country is witnessing a number of large-scale development projects set to the highest local and international sustainability standards. Over the coming years, it is crucial to continue down this path by providing the necessary tools to ensure that targets are met. The integrated efforts of all stakeholders will not only ensure that goals are realized but set on a continuous path of sustainable development.

–  by Rashed Al Nasa’a, Senior Sustainability Consultant, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, GSAS CGP, PQP, Arab Engineering Bureau

The Power of Words: How to engage your audience when presenting at a Conference

Have you heard people say, good speakers are born, not made? Well, I am here to tell you that it is a myth. No one is born a good speaker – you develop certain skill sets that make you a good speaker and you further hone those skills with experience. You were not born with a stellar command of your language, you developed it over time. Similarly, you become an inspiring speaker over a period. Good public speaking skills will only boost your confidence, make you more eloquent and ultimately help you advance in your career.

Can you remember an instance when you tried to wriggle yourself out of a situation, because you were nominated to present on behalf of your team and you preferred to be a spectator and let some other team member enjoy the limelight, only because you have stage fright? To you, I say, anyone can become a public speaker. There is no ONE essential requirement to be an exceptional speaker. It is a blend of many skill sets – inherent and acquired.

Content is king

You need to know everything about your content, and when I say everything, I mean E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. You don’t want to be in a situation where you are fumbling for answers because you didn’t think your audience would ask questions about it. A humble request, please don’t be one of those who have someone else create their presentation for them and then deliver it in a robotic manner, because that will not get you anywhere. When you are on stage, you need to develop a rapport with your audience; they should be clued in to your presentation and not lose interest midway.

Remember to keep your audience engaged. Use analogies and metaphors. Deliver insightful content in a crisp manner – a combination of textual and visual content is a more persuasive method than wholly verbal presentations. The power of visual content in a presentation is undeniable. I have seen speakers present to an audience of 300 or more in a room and not lose their audience interest even once. This brings me to the second most important requirement, voice modulation.

It is not what you say, but how you say it

The importance of pitch and tone while communicating is crucial. Using an aggressive tone can give an altogether different impression. Have you ever been in a situation when you were in a discussion with friends/ colleagues and you have miffed them with your point of view. More often than not, people are receptive to different ideas and perceptions, but it is the tone of voice that makes the difference. Use your voice to create an impact. Finding the right tone, volume and tempo are crucial factors in delivering a powerful speech/ presentation. A monotone pitch would indicate that you are quite unenthusiastic. Have a clear voice. Find the right timing to pause between sentences and most importantly modulate your tone depending on the text you are presenting. Once you have mastered this as well, the next crucial factor that you need to bear in mind is non-verbal communication.

Passion changes everything

All those public speakers who are popular and considered the best are the ones who engage with their audiences. To be able to connect with your audiences isn’t as difficult as you think it to be. The key is to be passionate about your topic. Speakers are also known to use hand gestures in enhancing presentations – the general rule is that your confidence is directly proportional to the way your ‘hands talk’ as you present. Excitement and passion are infectious. Your confidence and positive energy will also reflect in your body language; walk across the stage and don’t be limited to standing in one spot. Let your audience feel the vibe.

If you want to enter the niche category of becoming a powerful orator and an inspiring speaker, there is one thing you need to do. Practice. Practice. Practice. You can never be over prepared. Invest in yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.

Remember, good speakers are made and not born! All the great speakers were bad speakers at first. Les Brown once said, ‘You don’t have to be great to get started, but you have to get started to be great’, so what are you waiting for – get going! ­

– Dhruv Jain, Director, Expotrade Global

The article originally appeared in LinkedIn

Middle East Ready for Energy-Efficient Lighting

MELA image 1

Gerald Strickland, Director, Middle East Lighting Association delivering a presentation at the Middle East Smart Lighting and Energy Summit 2016 edition

Energy consumption in the Middle East is among the highest in the world and still increasing, leading to higher carbon emissions per capita than the world average. In the region, lighting accounts for 22 per cent of energy use compared to a global figure of 19 per cent, so the opportunity to increase lighting efficiency is huge.

Despite relatively low oil prices and challenging market conditions, the Middle East market is upbeat for LED technology and systems as it is expected to remain buoyant as private investments continue and government investment stabilizes. Members of the Middle East Lighting Association (MELA) believe that part of the answer to addressing this challenge is to be found increasingly in supporting Governments in the region in their efforts to restrict demand for least-efficient lighting products and systems and to promote “ledification” and supply of intelligent lighting solutions that will allow cities, businesses and individuals to both personalize their lighting solutions and save energy and funds at the same time.

In 2015-2016 across the region MELA members have seen a huge increase in interest for intelligent lighting solutions from office building owners, hotels and governments alike. This is a welcome change, and it shows that customers of our member companies now largely understand the impact of lighting on their energy footprint and the possibilities offered by other building management benefits delivered by intelligent lighting solutions.

MELA image 2.png

The speed of change from conventional lighting components to energy efficient LED has been faster than predicted as most countries in the region quickly adopt new lighting technologies for high profile projects. Controls are the next disruptive technology and itis in addition to LEDs that controls appear to be making a big difference. Currently, however, it appears government bodies and municipalities across the region do not have the necessary liquidity and this has a knock-on effect on the value chain, leading to project delays or cancellations. For public and private companies, there are also big opportunities but the sticking point also appears to be the initial capital cost. Fortunately, this situation had stimulated discussions about financing, and one can start to see the emergence of performance contract management in the region, a relatively new trend and service.

In general, MELA sees a long term trend of strong demand for lighting and controls as governments increase their spending on infrastructure such as roads, schools, homes and hospitals. Added to this, the growth in overall population in many countries in the region and positive demand for more intelligent lighting solutions can be seen in the long term.

Lighting market outlooks

According to reports by International Expo Consults “the LED market will witness a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 13 per cent from 2015 through 2022 in the Middle East and Africa region (MEA).” In the same study, the lighting industry in the MEA region was valued at $2.35 billion in 2015. This growth is set to be augmented by other countries in the GCC region that also aim to adopt LED lighting in many industrial, commercial and retail sectors as an efficient and cost saving alternative.

According to a recent study by Transparency Market Research, a global market intelligence firm, the Saudi Arabia electrical market was worth US$4.5bn in 2014 and is anticipated to reach a value of US$10.8bn by the end of 2023 expanding at a CAGR of 10.4% from 2015 to 2023. The lighting control systems segment is projected to grow at a fast pace, exhibiting a significant 14.30% CAGR between 2015 and 2023, thanks to the rapid urbanization in this region. According to the report, the LED lighting technology segment in Saudi Arabia is anticipated to register a 23.60% CAGR between 2015 and 2023 due to the growing demand for efficient lighting systems in this region.

This level of ambition and intent demonstrated by regulators in the region fits well with MELA’s principle objective to represent the interests of the leading lighting product manufacturers, in their support to legislators across the Middle East region in drafting and implementing policy (standards and regulations) for lighting related products and services.

Harmonizing Performance Standards

From a regional lighting-related policy perspective in 2016, regulators in the GCC appear to be in a phase of consolidation of regulatory initiatives targeting the lighting sector.  Indeed information revealed so far this year in discussions with various standards authorities in Gulf Cooperation Council members is that the GSO is attempting to harmonise lighting performance standards across the region. Lighting regulations adopted in ‘first mover countries’ such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) are often forwarded to GSO for scrutiny and eventual adoption. The UAE’s pending Restriction of Hazardous Substances regulation is a potential candidate for this harmonization process.

In line with other countries around the globe,  national initiatives in the region aim to prohibit inefficient and low-quality light sources, control gear and  luminaires from entering the GCC markets and to set new criteria for manufacturers and marketers of lighting products. This is particularly the case in the KSA, where the registration period for products within the scope of the new residential lighting regulation has recently come to an end signalling the formal entry into force of Regulation 2870 and the start of the market surveillance/compliance effort managed by the Saudi Arabian Standards Organization (SASO) in conjunction with regional customs authorities.

In the UAE discussions are underway regarding the update of the existing residential lighting regulation – Cabinet Decision Number 34. Indeed, Governments across the region are giving more attention to standards development and for MELA the priority is to offer the right expertise at the right time to support Governments in their efforts to get those standards right.

It appears that UAE is set to lead the LED marketplace in the Middle East due to the growth in the country’s large commercial establishments, entertainment sector and also investments in infrastructure development.

– by Gerald Strickland, Director, Middle East Lighting Association

Rising to greener heights

By Saeed Al Abbar

When tall buildings first emerged in the late 19th century in the USA to meet the growing demand for inner city office space, little did anyone imagine that nearly 8,000 miles to the East and over 120 years later, a small desert country, the United Arab Emirates, would boast the tallest skyline in the world.

In the Middle East, especially the UAE, the construction of tall and super tall structures is on a high growth trajectory. In fact, since 2009, UAE has been home to the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa.

As the Middle East continues to build skyscrapers, the earlier view of tall buildings as large scale energy consumers with little regard for sustainable architecture is now rapidly changing. The new generation of tall buildings are being designed with energy conservation and sustainability as their principal criteria.

The UAE has made significant strides since 2006 to drive the green building agenda with numerous ground breaking frameworks and programmes being implemented by the public sector. Emirates Green Building Council, an independent forum promoting sustainability, has been leading discussions on identifying solutions for existing buildings to become sustainable while ensuring that new ones are designed with ‘green building’ features.

The focus on sustainable built environments reflects His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai’s initiative for a ‘green economy for sustainable development’.

All tall building stakeholders need to look closely at the important aspects of implementing new technologies and features. We need these credible measures by developers to incorporate green building practices to contribute to the green vision of the nation.

 – Saeed Al Abbar is the Chairman of Emirates Green Building Council

Step up to stand out – Why you need to speak at conferences?

Do you deal with rapid heartbeat and break into cold sweat at thought of having to speak at a public platform? If yes, then you are one of the many that experience speech anxiety. Based on research and articles, it is understood that people’s number one fear is supposed to public speaking, second is death? If you are one of those who would rather die than address a crowd, you sure are losing out on building your own personal brand. Yes, I know, you would rather face death than engage in public speaking. But hold on for a second. Take a deep breath. Hear me out on why it is so important and why you must consider it.

I am sure you won’t disagree with me when I say it is only when you are seen and heard that you are recognized. Steve Jobs. Guy Kawasaki. Jack Ma. Oprah Winfrey. Mark Zuckerberg. Jack Welch. As you read these names, I am certain you were also able to instantly recall the brands that they are synonymous with. The only reason you had no difficulty in associating the name against their respective brands is because these renowned personalities are iconic figures that are a brand name by themselves. They have not only dedicated their lives in creating a product/brand that is admired, but have also become a household name. Had they been apprehensive about communicating with the large audiences, they wouldn’t have been recognized as worldwide influencers. That’s a given. And these are just a few top honchos whose names I have mentioned.

While you innovate, and introduce the most cutting-edge products, it is important to spread the word out. Let your peers and stakeholders know. Always remember, YOU are your company’s strongest brand ambassador. No one else will be as vehement and vocal in advocating your brand. Be part of trade shows, conferences – network and expand your business connections, exhibit your solutions but more importantly, take the stage to educate the audience on your company’s offerings, USPs etc. The opportunity to address a gathering doesn’t come very often, but when it does, you need to make sure it makes a significant difference to your business.

As a speaker, you stand to gain maximum exposure, more than any other attendee at a conference. The innumerable networking opportunities are extremely beneficial to your business. Add to that the opportunity to interact with the audience at such forums to get feedback on your presentation/ case study that can lead to stimulating discussions and help bring in a fresh perspective.

The importance of delivering an impactful presentation doesn’t solely lie in the content, it is also the delivery that holds the deciding factor in being a good speaker. The content will be effective only if your delivery is powerful and engaging. The idea is to capture the audience attention and not let it waver. As you would know, enthusiasm is infectious, so express your enthusiasm to deliver a compelling presentation and make a sizeable impact on the audience.

The aim is to be eventually recognized as an industry expert – you need to speak from a position of knowledge. Knowledge is power. By sharing your knowledge and perspective to a diverse audience, you lay the foundation of being regarded as a thought leader. To keep your audience engaged, you must be mindful not to make a sales pitch. Instead, a case study or a product reference in your business presentation with insights about industry trends will pique their interest. Post the speaking sessions, participating in engaging discussion with the audience, and sharing more insights that will help them in their business operations, is the next important step in developing your reputation for being the role model/go-to-person for information pertaining to industry trends.

Of course, you don’t become an expert overnight. But once you set the ball rolling and are seen delivering compelling speeches that add value, you will be invited to be part of more conferences. The more often you speak, and address different audiences across regions, you are building your personal brand. Over a period, you will gain the recognition and reap the rewards that come from becoming an outstanding speaker.

To reinforce this, you need to ramp up your PR/visibility quotient – a topic that I’ll leave for another day! For now, all you need to remember is, developing your personal brand goes hand in hand with expanding your company’s presence too.

Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel – Ralph Waldo Emerson

– Dhruv Jain, Director, Expotrade Global

The article originally appeared in LinkedIn

QGBC’S Vision For Creating A Smart And Healthy City

Qatar is currently witnessing unprecedented urban development, from the establishment of Lusail City and the development of downtown Doha, to the inception of numerous infrastructure projects, the need to incorporate smart technologies in city planning in an effort to move towards establishing a healthy city is becoming vital.

Retrofitting Doha to become a truly smart city requires the development of a comprehensive long-term strategy with active participation from all the relevant stakeholders in the public and private sectors. In Doha’s context, a smart city will fully support healthy living in all aspects including water and energy conservation, healthy air quality, increased community interaction and active lifestyle. The use of state-of-the-art technologies, such as smart water management system, intelligent and automated air, noise and waste management systems, and real-time communication mechanisms, will eventually help Doha move closer to realizing its vision of a smart and healthy city.

In an effort to conceptualize the development of a smart and healthy city amidst the ongoing infrastructural development, experts at Qatar Green Building Council (QGBC), last year devised a comprehensive guide ‘Doha: A Rough Guide to Healthy Cities’.  The Guide, http://qatargbc.org/interest-groups/green-infrastructure, tackles the issue of the environmental health of urban areas which is becoming increasingly important to the world’s population as a majority of people are shifting towards inner cities.

Highlighting the benefits of planning and designing a healthy city, the non-technical infographic provides design and planning professionals, senior school students and advocates of sustainable development, with interesting guidelines on how to create a healthy city.

The key for QGBC and relevant stakeholders is to foster education around this subject to help create behavioural change in the process. This infographic is a starting point for such practices, which need to be further highlighted through national dialogues, the likes of Arab Future Cities Summit, the Qatar Green Building Conference, and the Qatar Sustainability Week.  Such efforts will foster the development of green infrastructure as a national resource capable of delivering a wide range of environmental, economic and social benefits.

by Meshal Al Shamari, Director – QGBC