What lies beneath

Being a communications professional comes with a very specific occupation hazard. I instinctively assess any written material for structure, the flow of the logic and very important, the thinking behind the writing.

I love the fact that more people’s voices are being shared over our local newspapers’ forum sections. In fact, The Straits Times received 25,000 letters in its Forum segment last year, up from 17,000 in 2007. I have enjoyed reading some of these and commend the improving quality of these submissions.

Not all of the letters get a response. Of the replies that are printed some have been rather disappointing for me. To be clear my disappointment is triggered by the suggested line of thinking behind the replies, not the words written per se.

(Let me also say that I am aware that whatever disappointment I experience is clearly a function of my interpretation of what is being written. I do not claim that I have a superior “template” versus the one I perceive to be used currently.)

Specifically, I have observed a certain pattern in responses from several government-related bodies or those with links to it (government-linked corporations, GLCs). There’s a perfect example in today’s TODAY paper. The original letter as well as the subsequent response is appended towards the end of this post.

Typically it starts with someone who experienced an unfulfilled expectation and/or thwarted intention and/or in some cases, questions posed about something based on a specific personal experience. (The validity of the questions is not the focus of this post.)

In this case Ms Siti Radiah wrote in to TODAY sharing her experience with SATS (Singapore Airport Terminal Services) when trying to arrange for a buggy ride for her aged in-laws at the airport for a trip they are making from the airport. She ended the letter with the simple question if the fee to be charged for the service is justified (I paraphrase).

The response from the Senior Vice President of SATS’ Passenger Services was – unfortunately – the typical reply I have come to see from several large entities in Singapore. From my perspective, the reply:

1. Focused on explaining existing policies in place i.e. for S$70 you get this, this and that.
2. Explained what SATS staff did when faced with the request.

In other words, the reply did not answer Ms Siti’s question or initial concern.

Based on the reply, I get the impression that Ms Siti’s simple request of buggy service did not fit into the standard service package that SATS provided. Hence she was advised to approach the airline separately to arrange for complimentary wheel chair service which SATS will be “at hand to usher the passengers from the check-in counters to the departure gate upon receipt of such requests from customers.”

I have an issue with this reply. It clearly showed that the SVP of Passenger Services and the ground agents did not think that something as simple as offering to contact the airline to make the arrangements on behalf of the passenger is doable. Sure this will be outside of the perimeter of “standard services” SATS provide but wouldn’t taking the extra step (not exactly a mile in my opinion) fall under the definition of providing “Passenger Services”?

I lament the occurrence of such episodes where the human being facing the issue deemed that rules and policies are more important than addressing the issue at hand. It’s a classic a triangular peg did not fit the square hole and hence it cannot be done. Period.

It also all seems to stem from “it’s not my fault”, “going by the book” line of thinking.

Where is the empathy and compassion? Where is the thinking on the feet? Where is the willingness to serve?

Let’s consider for a moment that perhaps the SATS staff did make the offer, except that in Ms Marie’s reply, it was not communicated. In which case, perhaps it did not occur to her to highlight this as it would not have fitted into the standard protocol governing the very sophisticated world of customer service feedback.

We will never think of taking an action that does not fit into our view of the matter. In this case, I assert that the SATS staff was coming from “this is what I know we can do for you within the confines of our rule book”.

If his view is to “ensure all users of the Singapore Changi Airport have the best possible experience”, I dare say it would have made all the difference to Ms Siti and her family and in the process, won over a customer – and perhaps a friend – for life. Wouldn’t that be worth the effort rather than a lame “We thank Ms Radiah for her feedback”?

Buggy transport: Customer advised to contact airline
Letter from Denis Marie, SVP Passenger Services, Singapore Airport Terminal Services
04:46 AM Apr 08, 2011

WE REFER to the letter by Ms Siti Radiah on “Airport’s S$70 buggy-ride” (April 6).

SATS’ buggies are largely deployed to ensure a smooth flow of our operations at Changi Airport. Only a small number of buggies are mobilised for ferrying passengers and we offer it through our premium Affinity Concierge Services.

The concierge service caters to the needs of passengers requiring a range of personal assistance. Our customer service agents will escort the passengers, help facilitate their check-in and clearance through immigration, and ferry them on buggies to their departure gates. SATS charges a fee of S$70 for this concierge service.

When Ms Radiah enquired about the buggy service on April 3, our staff advised her to contact the airline directly if she only required buggy transport. Our staff also highlighted that she could approach the airline for complimentary wheelchair service. For the latter, SATS’ customer service agents will be at hand to usher the passengers from the check-in counters to the departure gate upon receipt of such requests from customers.

We thank Ms Radiah for her feedback.

Airport’s S$70 buggy-ride
Letter from Siti Radiah
04:46 AM Apr 06, 2011

My family is accompanying my parents-in-law to visit their eldest daughter in Adelaide in June. Both my in-laws are in their 60s and are not able to walk long distances.

I enquired with Changi Airport if they had a buggy service and was informed that “the buggies used by other agencies are for operational purposes”.

I was also advised to contact Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS). To my horror, I was told that the charges would be S$70 for an “escort service from the kerb side to the check-in counter and then through Immigration” and thereafter a buggy service for the short distance from Immigration to the departure gate. That is just an obscene sum to pay! Even the taxi fare from my home in Sembawang to Changi Airport and back would not cost S$70.

Besides, that fee applies to one person only. Additional passengers would be charged an extra S$5.

Is the service rendered commensurate with the amount charged? After all, it takes just one electric buggy and a driver to carry out the task.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “What lies beneath

  1. Hello your site has what i was looking for . Excellent work with your blog by the way .

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