All your customers are entitled to quality customer service

All your customers, regardless of their spending budget, expect and deserve good quality and prompt customer service, if you fail to provide this, they can always vote with their feet.

I was a guest of Professor Lin Hsiou-Wei, Dean of Management College, Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan in late July 2016. It was my first trip to Taiwan. Upon arrival at Taoyuan International Airport in Taipei, after immigration and custom clearance, I was looking to buy a local SIM card so that I could stay in contact with the office (and my family) back home as well as with my host. A counter was spotted and I proceeded towards it. I saw five very elegant looking young ladies (PYT – pretty young things as coined by the late Michael Jackson)  sitting at the counter. What happened next went on to show why Taiwan is such a great holiday destination.

As I arrived at the counter all five PYTs jumped up from their stools, greeted me with smiles and went on to sell me the most suitable SIM card package for my short trip. While one PYT handled my money, one was explaining to me the features of the SIM package, what I could do etc., the third PYT was busy working on putting the SIM card in my smartphone which had 2 slots for SIM cards. The whole episode took no more than 3 minutes, I was then able to send an “arrived safely” message to my family back in Malaysia. My first impression of Taiwan was several hundred percent boosted by this small encounter (PYTs aside!)!

Just a few weeks before, my former colleague Peter Tang brought his guest, Mr. Li Qunshan of Hunan University, China to visit me at Han Chiang College. Mr. Li needed to fly from Penang to Johor Baru (JB) at the conclusion of his visit to Penang. We booked him on a Malindo Air evening flight which required him to transit in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA). Mr. Li who could only speak Mandarin (and a bit of Russian as he is from the border region between China and Russia) made a frantic call to me at around 5:30 pm. He said that he was not allowed to board (15 minutes before his scheduled flight) and the people there could not tell him what was happening. I ended up asking him to pass his mobile phone to the airline staff at the boarding gate and spoke to the Malaysian Airline System’s (MAS) staff in Malay to discover that Mr. Li’s Malindo Air flight was delayed and the boarding gate for his flight was re-assigned. When I asked the MAS staff which was the new boarding gate, the answer was, “Saya tak tau, kamu suruh dia tanya orang Malindo sendiri” (I don’t know, you tell him to ask the Malindo Air people). By then, Mr. Li, who was to attend a key event in Johor Baru was panicking. I tried my best to convey the MAS staff’s message but Mr. Li kept asking, “Where should I go to board my flight?” I was not in the position to answer him as I was 500 km away in Penang. My attempt to get him to find the flights information LED screen was futile as Mr. Li reminded me that he could not read English. At the last resort, I suggested that Mr. Li look for a Chinese-looking staff or even young Chinese Malaysian looking person who might speak Mandarin for help. 15 minutes later, I called Mr. Li and both of us were relieved that he finally found the new boarding gate and his flight was delayed by 90 minutes so he did not miss it. Mr. Li told me that he asked a Cathay Pacific staff for help and luckily for us, he was willing to take the trouble to find for Mr. Li the re-assigned boarding gate.

I feel that the quality of service of Malaysian airlines (both Malindo and MAS) left much to be desired. Malindo Air, knowing that there was a transit passenger in a delayed connecting flight where the assigned boarding gate was changed in the last minute should have stationed someone at the arrival/boarding gate of the Penang – KLIA flight to take care of Mr. Li. But that did not happen. The MAS staff was even less customer friendly. It did not take much effort to look up the new boarding gate for the Malindo Air’s KLIA –  JB flight as this sort of information would be easily obtainable from their computer terminals. They could have also alerted Malindo Air staff of Mr. Li’s predicament. But the MAS staff had chosen to ignore the problem. At the very least, knowing Mr. Li being a China National, the MAS staff could have just ask any of the passengers who could speak Mandarin (I am sure with 97% Chinese Malaysians having studied in Chinese primary schools, SJK(C), it would not be an issue) and helped Mr. Li accordingly.

Can Malaysia hope to attain her tourism target each year with this low quality of customer service at our international airports? I seriously doubt it!

On the international front, I think customer service quality is the determinant factor for the success of an international business at any market overseas if prompt service can be provided locally. In my “early” days of social media marketing of 2013, Facebook local office in the region did not provide technical or customer support. Often if you had issues, it would mean that you were on your own. There was once that we had a credit card issue (where a payment was refused by our bank and the advertising account was barred), it took us more than two weeks to get FB to resolve the issue. Luckily for us, we had a backup credit card, but even then it took about 48 hours for the switch of the credit card to take effect. It meant  that we were really not able to have our advertisements reaching our target audience for 48 hours! Then recently  Facebook which opened its regional office in Singapore back in 2010 decided that customer service provided at the local level was important and one of their staff indeed made contact with us to provide both training and technical advisory to allow us to make full use of FB’s advertising power and get us more bangs for our advertising ringgit. My digital marketing team (there were only the three of us, yours truly included) were very happy and learned a number of tweaks and tricks to stretch our advertising budget and to have more effective social media marketing campaigns.

We also have an advertising account with LinkedIn at my college. However, LinkedIn did not provide us with a full administrator access to our advertising account and as such simple procedures such as the change of authorized users would have to be requested by us and carried out by LinkedIn. LinkedIn also has an office in Singapore which, like FB, is serving the region. When recently I needed to nominate another senior staff to be given access to our advertising account  I first sent a LinkedIn internal message to the service personnel assigned to our account. It took him a few hours to respond to say that it would be done. 24 hours later, the request was still not acted upon. A second message to this guy was replied a few hours later to say that for technical stuff, it might be best for me to contact the person directly…but neither the technical support person’s name nor his/her contact details were given! I waited for another few hours, to no avail. I then proceeded to do some research and found out who was the person actually acting as our “account manager”. But there was no way I could contact this lady directly. I had to send an internal message to ask to be connected with her first. After a day she accepted my request to connect and only then was I able to alert her of my problem. It took another few hours for her to get back to me to say that the request was acted upon. All in all, it took LinkedIn more than 96 hours to act on a simple “please take out User A and replace with User B” request.

In desperation, before I was able to find and connect with my “account manager”, I even tweeted a message to LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner but of course, I did not get any response. I am just a small fry of a customer in little ole Malaysia! The Pareto Principle (80/20 rule) applies, I guess and I belong to the “80” crowd!

Even clients with small budget deserve to have the basic service quality from Linkedin. I am not sure if LinkedIn realizes that some of those in the “80” crowd, if they are treated well, could well turn into your “star” customers of the future!

I wonder if it is because of the fact LinkedIn now is owned by Microsoft that it has a different customer service philosophy or if it was because of the relatively small (by their standard) advertising account we have which put us in the back of any customer service queue? Now would you wonder why advertisers are not flocking to LinkedIn?

I monitor my college’s social media pages closely and I have been known to show my displeasure to my staff if there was a delay in answering any Facebook messages left on our FB Page, respond to messages left on our “live chat” app by enquirers during our “office off” hours etc.. With the internet being used as the first line of enquiry today, providing your potential customers (and existing customers) with prompt and quality service is the key to success. This holds true regardless of which industry you are in but it is more crucial for service industries like higher education. If prompt responses are not forthcoming, the potential students (and parents) today can just move on to the next college for answers and may enroll with your competitor instead. Thus high-quality service is even more important in the private higher education sector in Malaysia which is facing tremendous turmoils with cut-throat competition amid a dwindling local student market where more and more alternatives are available both locally and overseas. I think colleges that provide the best quality and prompt service will be the ones that will ride through this storm.

I opine that the key to Taiwan’s tourism industry raking in good sales could well be the tourist-friendly nature of the Taiwanese people. Throughout the short four days visit I had in Taiwan in late July 2016, I was amazed by the care and quality of customer service that was provided by everyone in the service industry from the friendly hotel staff, the waitress at the local cafe to the express bus service counter guy, everyone was making me feel very welcome and everyone took pride in their jobs and exhibited great work ethics.  If Malaysians could emulate even 20% of the Taiwanese attitude towards visitors, we will be very much closer to being a developed nation and could rake in more tourism earning! The “not my problem” attitude shown by MAS staff towards my visitor, Mr. Li will not be productive towards Malaysia’s aim of 2 million tourists from China for 2016.

All your customers, regardless of their spending budget, expect and deserve good quality and prompt customer service, if you fail to provide this, they can always vote with their feet.

Negative comments on social media ain’t that bad

A recent posting by a social media marketer, Praveen Inbarajan on Linkedin describeed a scenario where a Indian cab company’s Facebook promo advertisement was bringing more than the cab company, TaxiForSure (TFS) bargained for: a deluge of negative comments.

Inbarajan went on to give a commentary on some of the more vocal feedback provided by Facebook users whom  the promo advertisement had targeted with good precision. While I agree with Inbarajan’s interpretation of the grouses of the respondents to TFS’s post, I feel that Inbarajan, as a social media marketer, missed the point of such feedback.

Negative feedback is not necessarily equals to bad public relation. No one, least of all a cab company with many drivers, can please every body all the time. The billion dollar question is, how TFS deals with these negative responses.

TFS could have deleted all the negative comments to “protect” its public image and we are none the wiser which fortunate for TFS that it did not. What has turned the tide in TFS’s favour is indeed it readiness to admit the errors as pointed out by the respondents and apologized. In my book, if I am not happy with a company’s services and complained there are three things I will be receptive to which will turn me from an irate respondent to a sympathetic listener:

(a) They apologize for the errors:

This will calm down most people with a grouse with the company’s services or products. It is the first step to resolve a customer relation issue.

(b) They (presumably after looking at the compliant) admit fault:

This will have the effect of defusing any explosive situation. However in some litigious business environment, admitting fault may have implications on compensation etc.  however, a company should always treat this as the first step to stop litigation. In most cases, the complainer just want to get heard. If you hear them out and ascertain the fact that they are right, you can, in most cases win them over.

(c) They offer some token redress to the complainer:

Most people who feel that they have been wronged by a company’s staff, services or products, will be very prepared to accept even token redress such as a Starbucks voucher, or discount coupons. This is because most people do not expect to receive any response from the company, let alone an apology (best from someone with seniority) and a token of appreciation. The good will generated from this gesture is worth many times the face value of the vouchers.

I think what is worst will be a situation where having put up a promo advertisement like TFS did, a company’s staff are not monitoring the Facebook post and respond to feedback in a timely manner. Timely means at most 3 – 4 hours after the comment is made, not three to four days! Wasting the promo ad cost is the least of the problems, giving negative impression to all those who have responded is worst.

I have a situation whereby my team put up a promo on a posting of a new property development project for a company and obtained over 90 responses, some asking to be contacted as these were clearly  prospective customers wanted more information. The RM90.00 (less than US$30) budget spent had created the kind of reach and engagement that we designed. I thought this posting and promo advertisement would have generated some good sales for the properties company. However, the lynch pin of the whole work was of course the timely and accurate engagement by the project owner, the marketing staff of this development project. No one from the marketing team bothered to take the effort to engage with the prospective customers despite desperate pleas from me. In short, no one took ownership for the campaign (except the poor social media guys). We had a situation that not only created negative vibes among the respondents but anyone else looking at the Facebook posting will have a negative impression of the company as a whole. This is the worst kind of social media nightmare compared to the one that TFS has to deal with!

After the above episode, I changed my operational principle: before I set up a campaign on Facebook for anyone, I would get the sign off from the senior manager to confirm that she/he would ensure that her/his staff would not only monitor the posting regularly, but put effort to respond to comments in a timely manner. I needed the buy-in for the whole campaign from the project owner, otherwise it would be no deal from me! This evidently has turned out to be a beneficial move. A social media marketing campaign is as effective as the campaign owner’s preparedness to engage directly, timely and effectively with the intended target audience. This is no rocket science!

Footnote: This article is contributed by Dr. Chow Yong Neng who for a period of close to 10 months was engaged fully with using social media to drive engagement and traffic to his employer’s news portal.