The following post originally appeared on Social Media Today.

I’ve been coming to the Middle East and Malaysia since 2011 running workshops on social customer care. Those first couple of years were hard work: literally me at the front talking for three days, trying to convince the attendees that social customer care was the future. By the time I got to the first coffee break I was already feeling exhausted.

But how things have changed since then. Organisations now have at least two or three years of experience to draw on. Conversations about tone of voice, resourcing models, benchmarking quality, outsourcing, operational intricacies and complexities are no longer a struggle. I’m actually having…conversations.

I’m learning as well. With each visit I see more and understand more about the subtleties and complexities inherent within the cultural differences that sets these parts of the world apart from what we are used to in the West. In the West we talk about empathy, about saying ‘sorry’. In the Middle East, whilst empathy has a place, it’s less about ‘sorry’ and more about ‘show me the cash’.

From a social platform perspective, while the West continues to be dominated by Twitter and Facebook, in the Middle East, the fastest growing customer service channel is Instagram. The published photo simply serves as a starting point to a complaint or query; no more, no less surprising than LinkedIn as a social customer care channel. Companies like Ooredoo are also offering Snapchat and WhatsApp in response to their customers in Qatar.

In the Middle East, I am seeing some of the most complex operational challenges faced by any company anywhere, particularly those operating as franchises – Alshaya (Kuwait) and Al Tayer (Dubai), or Majid Al Futtaim (Dubai Mall). These companies represent hundreds of brands.

The challenges faced by many of these companies are no different to the ones we face in the West. The major one being the resistance by management towards the cultural or organisational changes necessary for this type of transformation to take place. While the concept of the social business is still to gain genuine traction, examples of enterprise social network adoption do exist within both the public and private sectors.

I’m also always amazed by just how many companies in the Middle East and Malaysia are able to get by on simply posting and responding to customers using Twitter, Facebook or Instagram themselves. Although, one could argue this is reflective of where they are in their social journey. Whilst some have made the jump to HootSuite (occasionally Tweetdeck), the transition by the majority to using a paid social customer care platform such as Conversocial, Lithium Social Web, Brand Embassy, HelpSocial, SparkCentral, AegisLisa, Vocanic is largely yet to take place.

Part of the reason these companies have yet to make the transition to a paid platform, however, is that the majority of vendors in this space have focused on and created products for western markets. Whilst this does give vendors, such as CrowdAnalyzer first mover advantage in the Arabic-speaking space, the time must now come surely for that focus to shift eastwards?

There is no doubt in my mind where once we looked to BestBuy and BT, and now KLM, we will at some point in the next few years be closely following the advances made by companies such as Maxis (Malaysia), Astro (Malaysia), Saudi Telecom Company (Saudi Arabia), Air Asia (Malaysia) and Ooredoo (Oman) amongst many others. As in the West, telco and airlines still pushing the boundaries!

 

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