Why is that so, and what can be done about it?
I visited Singapore earlier in February, and on the recommendation of some of our Singaporean friends in Colorado who are mothers to toddlers and babies, my wife had asked me to book our air tickets with Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines takes good care of passengers who are flying with babies, they said. We have an 11-month old son.
I objected to my wife’s suggestion – order? – on the basis of my past bad experience with Singapore Airlines, plus the fact that we would be paying more and going out of our way to fly with them from Denver, Colorado. I also remembered a friend of mine – who’s in the aviation management industry – advising that their ground service was horrible. The air service is all that matters, you say?
Always eager to prove people – my wife included – wrong, I declared that I would be happy to spend (extra) money to substantiate my claim. We didn’t even need to get past the ticket booking stage for me to affirm my bias. Here’s what happened:
We couldn’t get the website of Singapore Airlines to process our booking properly, so I called to ask what happened. The agent told me – without a moment’s hesitation – that the error is due to the fact that I tried to add our infant son to the itinerary, and the only solution to that is to go ahead and make the reservation, and then call back to add our son. Which I did.
Then when I called to add our son on the reservation and to request for a bassinet on the flights, I was told that the bassinets were unavailable as all of them were already reserved by other passengers. So I asked to change my flight, and while being put on hold, I was hung up on. I called back (again), explained the situation and asked to change my flight (again), only to be told that we would be charged fees for changing our flight! I hung up on that agent after giving him a piece of my mind, and then my wife called. This time she got a more helpful agent who canceled our flight without charging us fees.
While my wife was on the phone, I managed to provoke a response from Singapore office through Twitter, and someone called me – long distance – to offer me a solution. However, it was too late. The damage was done. We flew with United Airlines instead and their service – both ground and air – was nothing short of exceptional on our trip to Singapore and back to Denver. I will never fly with Singapore Airlines again.
The fact that the first agent told me without hesitating that the booking error was due to my attempt to add my infant son to the itinerary, and that the solution was to book the tickets without him and to call back to add him suggests to me that this error has been known for a long time, and nothing has been done to rectify it. My Singaporean friends with babies confirm that fact.
It is amazing that an airline with a $12-billion dollar capitalization cannot get its website right. It is incredulous that an agent tried to charge us fees to change a flight when it was the airline’s fault. If the last agent that my wife spoke to could authorize the cancelation of the tickets without penalty, why wasn’t that done in the first place? Because you can, and because you don’t care?
So, in Singapore, I went to OCBC Bank at White Sands to close out my account, which I haven’t used in years and was accumulating fees. There were four teller windows open, and the line was about 15-deep. It took an average of two minutes to serve each customer. I was in line for about 30 minutes.
In my bank, if the teller line were 15 deep, my vice president will come out of his office and help. At the Walmart I used to work at, the managers would personally open additional registers to check out customers on busy weekends.
Not here though. Only four windows to serve a line designed to hold about 20 people in line, and the managers would rather hide in their office then to come out and help. No matter, it just gave me one more reason to close my account. Does OCBC not realize that they have only one branch in the whole of Pasir Ris, a town of almost 200,000 people? There were more desks to service customers with new account and loan requests than there were teller lines. What’s the point of getting a new customer if you can’t serve your existing one? You will only anger two people.
We were at River Safari’s Giant Panda Forest section when my son was hungry, so we gave him a sippy cup of milk. An employee approached us and told us that drinks were not allowed in that area. He’s a baby, and it’s a sippy cup, we protested. No, you can’t consume drinks in here, she reiterated. If we wanted, we could leave the area and feed him. I gave the employee a dirty look, and proceeded to pull the cup out of my son’s mouth slowly and dramatically as if to prove my point. Expectedly, he started crying. What do you expect? A baby cries when he’s hungry, but that employee didn’t seem to care.
As we started to make our way out, my wife saw several visitors consuming drinks in that section. She went back and confronted that employee about the arbitrary enforcement of the rule. A minute later, another employee – apparently a supervisor – came out with a sign that said “No photography, food and drinks.” My wife started reasoning with this employee, saying that exceptions should be made for babies. The second employee merely repeated what the first employee had said.
At this point, I was more concerned to get out of that area to feed our son. I told that second employee that “a baby eats when he’s hungry, and I won’t argue with you here because I don’t want to wake up the sleeping pandas.” With that, I walked out.
The point of not allowing the consumption of food and drinks in this enclosed section is that if they were spilled, it would be very difficult to clean up the mess quickly and quietly, as compared to the more open areas of the park. And, you know, pandas don't like to be disturbed. At the Denver Zoo, in enclosed areas where they don’t allow drinks to be consumed, they ask you to leave the drinks outside on a table, eliminating the risk of you spilling it, whether or not you’re sucking on your straw. And at various attractions in Denver, the no-drinks rule does not apply to babies, but that’s besides the point.
Anyway, what I disagree with is the employees’ blanket application of the no-drinks rule, even on babies drinking milk. A milk bottle or a sippy cup will not spill even if you dropped it on the floor, provided that you have sealed it properly.
Do the rule makers and enforcers at the park think that it is acceptable to bring drinks into that enclosed section so long as visitors do not drink out of it? Do cups not spill so long as you don’t drink out of it? What kind of cuckoo logic is that?!
Still at River Safari, after we left the enclosed section, we decided to take a break and snack at the Mama Panda Kitchen. They had very cute buns shaped like panda faces. You could choose from two flavors – chocolate or red bean paste. The price was one at $2.90 or four at $11.90 for both flavors. Since we were in a party of five adults (and a baby), I chose to buy four at $11.90.
What flavor, the server asked. I asked for two chocolate, and two red bean paste. Oh no, sorry, you can only choose one flavor or you can buy all four individually at $2.90, she says. Oh, ok, red bean paste then, I said, thinking that perhaps the four buns came from the kitchen prepared in a single basket, and she could not change the buns out according to customer request. When the buns were served, each and every one of the four was in a separate basket. Like this:
So, you can’t grab one flavor from each side of the counter to satisfy this simple request?
Well done, River Safari. If you were doing mortgage loans like I am, I could understand why you were so hard and fast about what you could do due to laws and regulations. You are selling coffee and buns. The buns were discounted by only 30 cents if I got four of them. Get over your stupid policy, unless:
- You start serving all four buns in one giant basket, but even then, you should think about having an option where you can have two of each flavor.
- You start charging different prices for each flavor but your accounting and cash register system should be updated accordingly so you still have no excuse.
Finally, on our last day, we decided to shop at Bedok Mall. My wife came across a really pretty dress at a small shop, which had no customers. “Sale for $19.90. Original price $49.90.” the sign read. She picked it up and asked to try it on, but the sales assistant told her that she couldn’t because it was already on sale.
What kind of logic is that? Have you ever seen a lady buy a dress without trying it on? I guess she didn’t want the sale. I understand that you don’t want customers to hog the changing room to buy your discounted items on a busy day when you could have customers wanting to try on the non-marked down merchandise, but you had no customers in the shop! I guess she just wasn’t that invested in the profitability of the business…
Why is customer service not a thing in Singapore? As you can see in the above examples, employees apply rules without knowing the reason behind them. Without knowing the reason, they enforce the rules blindly, not acknowledging that there are situations in which exceptions could be made.
But they’re not managers, you say, otherwise, they wouldn’t be on the ground arguing with your stupid self! Yes, but if the employees had realized that those situations allowed for exceptions to be made, then they might have asked a supervisor if they were allowed to make the exceptions. Instead, the employees stood behind the rules, because rules are rules are rules. This is not the army, ok?
Secondly, customer satisfaction does not seem to be a priority. It appears to me that employees are there as warm bodies, and not as an enhancement to customer experience. That is a shame. Employees are a resource! Use them wisely! Motivate your staff and always help them understand the bigger picture of which they are a part of.
Finally, employees are not invested in the success of their employers. “If the business doesn’t make enough money and folds, I’ll work somewhere else” seems to be the attitude. Have you ever been told at a fishball noodle stall in a coffee shop that you could not customize your order? Like, requesting for more chilli, more noodles, extra fishballs, or to cut up the noodles and get a small bowl because a young child is eating the food etc.? Sure, you might be asked to pay more depending on your request, but most stall owners will try to accommodate with your (reasonable) request. That’s because being small business owners, they’re invested in their stall’s success.
As Singaporeans compete in the international market, we’d better be aware that good customer service is expected and does exist in other countries. If we don’t improve our customer service culture, we may find it difficult to sell the Singapore brand. This is especially so since Singapore is trying to become a wealth management center. I don’t think I need to remind everyone that rich people do not take poor customer service too well. They will, however, take their business elsewhere, and quite easily too, I may add.