Something Like Life
Oct. 13, 2006
I WAS in Singapore again recently to cover an event, and it always blows my mind how this tiny city-state managed to be one of the most efficient nations in the world. You can say anything you wish about Filipinos being hospitable (mostly to foreigners) but, sadly, we can’t beat the Singaporeans in terms of professional customer relationships.
Okay, okay, I know some of you can no longer stand reading stuff about why some countries are better than ours (truth hurts doesn’t it?), but I just have to say my peace. Because I can’t imagine how we Filipinos—who are in demand all over the world because of our courtesy and how we put clients’ needs before our own—can do such a bang-up job here at home. And if we are supposed to make it in the global arena, we have to learn how to treat each and every customer with respect.
I have to give props first of all to the Palm technical support staff in Asia. I had sent them a few electronic missives from here in Manila to report that my phone, a Treo 650, was going nuts on me. They came back to me with clear, concise instructions on how to address my problem technically. Telling them that the reboots they suggested didn’t work, they told me that I could drop off my unit at a local address and Palm would ship me a replacement in three to five days from Singapore.
The tech staff also told me that if available locally, I could get a swap immediately instead of waiting for a replacement from abroad. I never got the chance to do this as I became too busy with my assignments. (Also I was too scared to actually part with my unit, which I have become dependent on to organize my life.)
When I had the chance to go to Singapore, I jumped on the opportunity to renew my communication with Palm tech support. In less than a day, I got my replacement unit without having to submit any paperwork or voluminous documents. All I had to do was give the serial number of my unit, pay a minimal fee by giving my credit-card details (as my unit was considered out of warranty), then drop off my defective unit at Palm’s Drop Off Zone at Tang’s. (Even going to Tang’s from my hotel which was three MRT stops away, was no big deal, as I just jumped on the train, got out, took the underground connection which led me across the street and up to Tang’s. When I finished, I returned to my hotel the same way. The entire exercise was completed under an hour, and would have been shorter if I didn’t walk around the displays of the gorgeous techie toys. How’s that for Singaporean efficiency?)
In contrast, my telco provider, which had given me the original Treo 650 through my postpaid subscription plan, has turned out to be a model of extreme inefficiency. I love my telco provider to bits, but since it has grown bigger, I think it is now suffering from too much bureaucracy. One would think the government has now taken a majority stake in it.
What’s more, the telco’s success has obviously swelled the heads of many of its executives who can no longer even answer simple questions from the media or the public. Wonder no more why its closest rival has been attracting more and more customers. Most are probably “switchers,” people who are no longer satisfied with this telco’s services that they just had to “switch” to its rival.
First off, I didn’t have any international roaming services even though I had signed up for it. In vain I tried to surf my telco provider’s site on how to activate the international roaming feature. Of course, after wading for what seemed like an eternity through a totally nonuser-friendly site, what confronted me was another dazzling display of low-tech nonsense where I was told that under my subscription plan, I could “Go out and roam! You are all set. No application, no fee required.”
(Read books like this guys! It might actually help your company improve and make your executives behave less of an ass.)
When I returned to Manila, I wrote to my telco provider’s customer service about my problem, and a representative e-mailed me back saying:
“Upon checking, International Roaming feature for mobile no. xxxx is inactive. Although your account is entitled to this feature and International Roaming deposit is waived, activation of the feature necessitates submission of signed letter of request and valid ID.
The scanned documents may be sent through this channel or fax to 8487-8807/848-8870.”
Whoopdeedoo! Welcome to the 21st century!
Of course, I told the customer service representative what I thought about this idiotic instruction, and she responded by saying that I could go instead to the telco provider’s web site and activate my international roaming service online. In other words, there was no way I could get roaming service because, as the site had cheerfully declared, I already had roaming!
I then called the telco provider’s PR department and one of its officers finally got back to me after two days, saying that he already had my international roaming service activated permanently. He added that there was also a problem with the telco’s partner in Singapore, which was why I was unable to roam. So what really was the reason for my phone not being able to roam? An unactivated roaming service or a defective Singaporean partner? Oh brother!
Thing is, I never ever had any problems using this telco’s services. I’ve been subscribed to this telco as far back as I can remember. Roaming abroad had never been an issue for me up until then. I land in another country, I switch on my phone, and I am automatically registered to whichever is the telco provider’s partner is in that country. I upgraded my plan last year so I could get even better services. Or so I thought.
Of course, now that this telco is such a success, it can’t help but be a victim of its own arrogance. In the process, it has alienated its own customers. (One columnist in another paper had also recently written about its bureaucratic unintelligent customer service. And, mind you, he was about to become a new subscriber after the telco’s CEO encouraged him to get a plan. Of course, you can pretty much guess what the columnist finally did to his application.)
So why are Filipino companies so bad at dealing with customers here at home when we’re supposed to be the best at this everywhere else? Sad to say, I can’t figure it out myself. Times like this, I just wish I lived in Singapore.
(My column Something Like Life appears every Friday in the BusinessMirror.)
P.S. I just found out that the Palm Technical Support Staff is actually based in Manila. So that just proves my point that there is a huge difference when it's Singaporeans who manage the customer services, instead of Filipinos like those belonging to my telco provider. Sad, sad, sad.