Les Petits Contes

About life's little observations, which matter. About hilarious situations, which illuminate. About stories which offer immense possibilities, open endings, different interpretations and perspectives.

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Location: Singapore

A nature lover; sun-worshipper, manic book-collector, dessert-devourer and a magnet for hazards

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Wake up, Singapore !


I was at the empty Starhub service centre at OUB Centre bright and early yesterday at around 9.45 am, to avoid the crowd.

The receptionist took my IC, asked if my request for broadband subscription was for the address listed on the IC, checked his computer, gave me a Q number and told me to wait for my number to be called.

The spacious shop was virtually empty – a big contrast to the usual crowd. There were few customers. The ‘’Q’’ system had three queues – ‘’mobile, cable, and others’’. I waited for more than ten minutes and saw the service counters were ‘’free’’. One of the staff at the counter was working at her computer. A few staff gathered around idling away and chatting, after the last customer has left.

I went to the receptionist and asked, ‘’why am I waiting so long when clearly your staff are not occupied? Why is there no one attending to the ‘’cable’’ queue?’’

The reply: ‘’Oh most of the staff are new and we don’t want them to handle cable customers’’.

‘’That’s not my problem. I have waited long enough and this is ridiculous, given that the shop has no other customers to attend to and here I am waiting indefinitely.’’

So he quickly led me to an empty counter. A young man tried to attend to me, while a Malay woman first asked me if I wanted my broadband subscription for the address on my IC, looked over his shoulder giving him every instruction (‘’go and photocopy her IC’’, ‘’check her address’’…) and another young girl looked over the two of them.

The young man took his sweet time to fiddle with the pen he was using, found that it was not working, took another pen, fiddled with it some more, and then asked if I had wanted my broadband to be installed at the address on my IC.

I thought: ‘’welcome to the world of service in Singapore; let’s see…’’ So I said, ‘’yes, this is the third time I have been asked this question since I stepped into this shop’’.

‘’But we still have to ask,’’ the Malay woman interrupted, and continued to guide the man, who was extremely retarded in his actions, even in a simple thing like copying my address on the form.

And following is what ensued:

Malay woman: Do you have Starhub cable point at home?

Me: I don’t know. I don’t watch TV.

Malay woman: We need to know otherwise…

Me: But both you and the receptionist have checked the computer, and know that my flat is cable-ready. All new flats are cable-ready.

Then she proceeded to ask a few questions before establishing that my flat is capable of receiving broadband.

Me: Excuse me, can you get someone qualified to service me? I am not here to be your guinea pig for your trainee.

Malay Woman: No, he knows how to do it, I am just supervising him.

Me: No, I am a paying customer and I want someone experienced to service me, and not someone who has to be coached in every action. I am not here to be part of your training programme.

The woman who was working at the computer (presumably the manager), overheard and without a smile or greeting me, simply told her, ‘’you just take over lah’’.

So the Malay woman took over and the process finally sped up a bit.

Malay woman: So ma’am, which plan do you want?

Me: What do you recommend?

So she proceeded to recommend the package that would suit me. I had to probe about the contract period and termination penalty which was the heftiest among all the packages. Truth is, in typical JL style, I had done my homework, research and checking with friends – I know all the packages, costs and details, but I wanted some basic ‘’service’’ too.

Finally it came to discussion on installation day.

Malay woman: The earliest we can install is Tue 4th April 3 pm.

Me: No, it has to be weekends or evenings, I work too, like you.

Malay woman: But our Saturdays are always full because everyone prefers Saturdays.

Me: I am also ‘’everyone’’ and I also prefer Saturdays. How about Sundays?

Malay woman: No we don’t work on Sundays. If you want, the next Saturday will be 8th April, two weeks later.

Me: No, that’s too long. Evenings?

Malay woman: Our evenings between 6.30 and 8.30 pm are also very popular and very difficult to get…

Me: Well, you have to find a way, I am a paying customer.

Malay woman: OK; Tuesday 4th evening?

Me: No, I have an appointment on that day.

She stared at me blankly, as if shocked that I dared reject her proposed ‘’popular evening slot’’.

Finally I had to suggest an alternative date to which she agreed and I was made to sign the service contract. Then she dropped the bombshell: ‘’I really hope that we can turn up on this day and time because it is really a popular slot. We will try and call you if we can’t….’’

So I gave her MY bombshell, loud and clear: ‘’don’t hope; make sure it happens. If you call me on the very day I rush back from work at 6.30 pm to say it has to be re-scheduled…..’’ I gave her the ‘’JL look’’.

I continued, when she said she would call at least the day before and not on the same day: ‘’look, like you, I also schedule my appointments in advance and I do not want to have to cancel my evening appointments, rush back, and then your guys do not show up. If you need me to call you again in advance to confirm, I will do so, or do you prefer me to call Yong Lum Sung [the CEO] instead? I worked for SCV before and I know installations can or cannot be done on what days and times!’’

So she said, ‘’hold on’’ and disappeared into the back room to ‘’check’’ and came back saying, ‘’yes ma’am we confirm it will definitely be on the 5th ….’’

Why do I waste so much time writing about this appalling ex employer of mine? Maybe it’s to help me ‘’accept’’ the pathetic state of ‘’service’’ in Singapore.

Starhub and Singtel have customers served up to them on a silver platter – customers suffer long queues to sign up for services. The companies don’t do much selling or fight hard to get customers; though they make a masquerade of ‘’apparent competition’’ with heavy advertising and expensive road shows. PC and internet penetration are high in kia-su Singapore. There are only two broadband players in Singapore – and both are of the same ‘’lineage/ parentage’’ if you trace the ‘’family tree’’.

And Singapore is such a tiny island – travelling all over the island to install services is not as painful as in the US, Australia or Europe where the geography is daunting. In fact, in Europe, employees travel between Milan and Paris in the day for work! Or between Paris and Marseilles for meetings. I also know of those who fly from Hong Kong to Singapore within half a day to sign contracts and to conduct meetings. Or between JB and Singapore for that matter!

And yet we have softies who can’t fill in a form, or who fiddles insolently with pens while servicing customers. And service staff who try and convince me that I am not an ordinary customer and that I should take a less popular installation slot, instead of perhaps giving feedback to her management to increase the number of installation staff for that time slot.

How long will the ‘’old guard MPs’’ be around to nag at us to be more competitive? How many Gems Card can they introduce in the name of ‘’service’’? How many more ‘’campaigns’’ do we need to remind us that our neighbouring countries have already caught up with us in every aspect of our ‘’progress’’ ?

Wake up, Singapore.

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