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Saleswomen demand English-speaking lessons

"We don’t want to be embarrassed in front of our customers,” said Najwa Janzier

By Fadia Jiffry / 31 Dec 2013

Many Saudi female sales representatives working in shops across the Kingdom of  Saudi Arabia are demanding English-speaking courses, saying that they are facing communication difficulties when dealing with foreign customers.

Generally, companies operating in the Kingdom of  Saudi Arabia hire Saudis who can understand and speak English, particularly in jobs that involve interaction with expatriates.

However, with the recent Saudization laws a large number of Saudi women were hired in an effort to comply with the new labor laws, without taking into consideration their qualifications and without providing them with prior training.

Najwa Janzier, a sales representative at Paris Gallery, said that many foreign women shop in the store. However, the sales women are reluctant to assist them since they cannot communicate with them.

She added that a saleswoman with English skills is at an advantage and more capable of selling products to foreigners.

“There is less misunderstanding if we are able to converse in English. We don’t want to be embarrassed in front of our customers,” she said.

Janzier’s colleague Nadia Al-Zaid has taken a different approach to the matter, deciding to communicate with foreign customers, even in sign language if necessary.

“I’m not fluent in English, but I can manage with the basics and the rest of the conversation I usually conduct in sign language and hand gestures,” laughed Al-Zaid. “It’s difficult, but shying away from customers leaves a worse impression, as it might be interpreted as bad attitude or ignorance, and that reflects negatively on our work performance.”

Janzier and Al-Zaid urged managers to provide Saudi sales women with free English-speaking courses within their job training process.

Eman Ashwami, a Saudi female working at a lingerie store pointed out that in many circumstances she was unable to assist expatriate customers because she could not communicate with them in English.

“Ultimately, I had to show them around the shop and let them help themselves with what they needed,” she said.

Ashwami added that it is vital for people working in the field of sales to be bilingual, especially in a country like Saudi Arabia, which hosts one of the highest rates of foreigners.

“We deal with people from different countries, educational levels and backgrounds. We cannot expect them all to speak Arabic, but we should always be ready to serve on our part. Since English is an international language, I don’t see why we shouldn’t be given training to improve our English language skills,” she noted.

But Kholoud Al-Asiri, a Saudi head saleswoman at a leading cosmetic brand store in Jeddah, expressed a different opinion. She asserted that even though local sales representatives should possess a basic knowledge of the English language, it is also important for foreigners to be able to speak some Arabic words.

“Living in an Arab country where on most occasions conversations are held in Arabic, I believe it is important that foreigners adapt to our style and speak our language,” argued Al-Asiri. “Sure, I agree we as sales people have to be able to communicate with our customers and make them feel comfortable. But it is just as much important that they are able to converse in Arabic as it is the language they must communicate in wherever they go in the Kingdom .”

Statistics from a recent survey revealed that the majority of Saudi managers asserted that they do not prefer hiring women to work in sales, stating that the job required sales people who are experienced enough to deal with customers of different nationalities.

In a related development, Prince Abdullah bin Saud bin Mohamed Al-Kabeer, chairman of the Institute of Creative Routes, and Shaf Hussain, director of Central College of Nottingham signed a memorandum of understanding, which provides 200 young Saudi women with English language courses. The agreement comes within the framework of a private partnership agreement between the Kingdom and the United Kingdom, inked earlier this year.

The main objective of the program according to Prince Abdullah, is to empower Saudi women to be qualified in various vocations, in line with the Kingdom’s labor laws.


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