Telling it straight: The importance of word of mouth in Dubai’s construction industry

April 24, 2018

Information through word of mouth

It could be easy to underestimate the power of traditional word of mouth in the age of digitalisation.

And yet, in the construction industry, word of mouth remains one of the most important factors in the success and durability of a business.

Nowhere is this truer than in Dubai, where trust is so intrinsically linked to face-to-face meetings and negotiations.

In a survey of 30,000 respondents in 60 countries, global data analytics company Nielsen found the most credible advertising comes straight from the people we know and trust. The majority of respondents (83%) say they ‘completely or somewhat trust’ the recommendations of friends and family.

So how can you gain trustworthy recommendations within the fiercely competitive construction industry here in Dubai?

Why your reputation has never been more crucial

What makes the power of word of mouth so important in Dubai right now is the increase in competitiveness of construction projects in the city.

The building and construction industry in Dubai has never been busier, according to the Dubai Tourism organisation, thanks to initiatives such as Expo 2020 Dubai and Smart City. This isn’t just a flash in the pan. The growth of the industry has attracted service and product suppliers from all around the world over the last 20 years.

The growth of the industry has attracted service and product suppliers from all around the world over the last 20 years.

A report by consulting firm Flanders states that the forecast for the construction sector in the UAE remains largely positive, adding that ‘the continuous growth of the population, along with major government investments, makes for a large number of projects in healthcare, leisure, hospitality and residential sectors’.  All well and good, it seems, but the report notes that growth going into 2017 was slower paced than before the 2009 downturn, and ‘investments are undertaken more cautiously and are focused on infrastructure, retail, hospitality and commercial projects’.

Importantly, Flanders stress ‘you need to be very competitive and visibly present: an agent, a local branch or a reputable distributor are indispensable if one wishes to get to know and penetrate the market thoroughly’.

The use of the word ‘reputable’ here is key. Being seen as reputable is not just indispensable for distributors, it is critical for any firm working in the construction industry in Dubai. This is where the power of word of mouth comes in. Nobody in their right mind is going to work with you if they haven’t heard good things about you and your business.

The importance of great relationships

So how do you become reputable and increase the word of mouth effect in the construction industry? More specifically, how do you do this in Dubai, with its unique way of doing business?

To answer these questions, we need to look at the most important traits when it comes to building relationships in the construction industry: reliability, dependability and trustworthiness.

1. Reliability and dependability: Reliability, and indeed dependability, play a critical role in every aspect of business success. This isn’t just about understanding and delivering on a specification, and getting a job done efficiently, on time and within budget.

Reliability, and indeed dependability, play a critical role in every aspect of business success.

Being a reliable and dependable business improves efficiency and customer experience, which in turn increases the word of mouth effect, not to mention worker satisfaction on site. It’s also about ensuring systems perform consistently well, and measuring those systems effectively to monitor output, and making tweaks to improve output and iron out errors.

Increasing reliability through efficiency is directly linked to investing in new technology and digital processes, something the construction industry has been notoriously slow to adopt. In fact, a 2017 report by management consultancy firm McKinsey, called Reinventing Construction Through a Productivity Revolution, says companies could boost productivity by 50–60% by focusing on key drivers such as new design and engineering processes, improved procurement and supply-chain management, new materials, advanced automation, and reskilling the workforce.

2. Trustworthiness: Trust is a big word in construction. Everyone expects it but how many businesses genuinely achieve the level of trust required to be selected for the most prestigious projects in Dubai?

At the most basic level, trustworthiness means having a strong team that partners and clients rely on to get the job done. That means meeting and hopefully exceeding expectations. It is far more cost-effective to gain the trust of core customers that will give repeat business with good ROI rather than having to continually seek new business with greater risk of losing out to other firms with a greater association with the customer.

According to Anita Cerić in her book, Trust in Construction Projects, ‘the one common thread [in construction projects] throughout is the importance of people, their relationships, communication, and the trust engendered between the parties. Great systems do not lead to successful projects; people do’.

3. Understanding the Dubai difference: To develop trust in Dubai, we need to understand what makes people tick – to ‘speak their language’. This means understanding the culture and heritage. The official portal of the UAE Government lists some of the distinct features of the Arab and Islamic heritage as ‘hospitality, tolerance, family cohesion and solidarity among members of the society along with honour and pride associated with being part of this heritage’.

If we transfer this to the construction industry, the companies that thrive have great communication skills to foster a strong sense of cohesion and solidarity among employees, partners and customers, and a sense of pride in a project being done well. At the very least, every contact with customers must be friendly, courteous and respectful. Companies that forget the basics won’t get very far.

In this sector – particularly in Dubai – it is important to build personal, face-to-face relationships with your clients. The PWC report, Doing Business in the UAE, is very clear on this point: ‘People in the UAE prefer to do business in person. Relationships and mutual trust are paramount for any successful business interaction and can only be developed through face-to-face meetings.’ It also notes that it’s ‘important to have connections with people in the UAE who can facilitate introductions before attempting to do business in the country.’

4. Refining your strategy: It’s also vital to be on top of the procedural side of things to bolster your company’s reputation. In a report on Construction and Projects in the United Arab Emirates, Thomson Reuters state that in the Middle East a split procurement approach is more popular, where the employer sources the design from a third-party consultant. In large-scale projects, involving international contractors, the employer sometimes appoints one contractor to carry out both the design and build aspects of the work. Typically, under this approach, the contractor sources the design from a sub-consultant it appoints directly.

It’s also vital to be on top of the procedural side of things to bolster your company’s reputation.

For government tenders, it is particularly important to demonstrate support for the socioeconomic and environmental wellbeing of the emirate. In this regard, it’s worth noting the UAE Department of Culture and Tourism stresses the importance of:

  • Promoting the use of Khalifa Fund Suppliers
  • Reducing the use of paper and recycling exercises
  • Supporting sustainable solutions and green practices
  • Supporting suppliers who are committed to the development of UAE Nationals
  • Encouraging joint ventures and partnerships with UAE owned businesses.

The building blocks of great client relationships

It is evident that enhancing the word of mouth effect in the Dubai construction industry touches on many aspects of business operation.

We need to develop and nurture a good relationship with every person in each section of the process: site managers, procurements, owners, project managers – anyone involved. We will then be able to get great feedback every step of the way, which will help improve performance and delivery. This means putting people first, and understanding the importance of a friendly approach, backed by strong hospitality, and above all patience.

Equally important is developing face-to-face relationships – speaking via email or phone calls doesn’t work as well as it does for other sectors.

Total transparency is vital from the outset and letting customers know the status of each project and when you anticipate completion. Be honest about potential problems and communicate changes immediately.

And of course – reputation is everything. This means consistently delivering exceptional service, supported by strong communication and efficient processes. Being reliable, dependable and trustworthy is at the heart of all exceptional service.

In the end, it doesn’t matter how many clients you’ve worked with in the past – in the Dubai construction industry you’re only as good as your most recent job. Remember this and treat every contract as though it’s make-or-break. In this highly competitive market, that’s the only way to ensure longevity.

TGP is one of the Middle East’s leading design and production companies, focusing on exhibitions, events, interiors, graphics, and audio-visuals for various industries. For more information or to meet the team, please call +971 50 636 7774, send an email to, or click here.