Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Customer Is Always Right?

I hate the statement that says customers are always right. The one who came out with this line probably had little interaction with customers from diverse backgrounds, and hence do not understand the agony some unreasonable customers bring to us service providers. Today, I am "lucky" to be able to see one of such for myself.

This afternoon was a pretty quiet office as we did not have many walk-in customers. However, my colleagues and I were still pretty busy as the phonecalls kept coming in. I was handling some paperwork when I overheard a middle-aged man talking loudly into his mobile phone, complaining that no one was there to serve him. I thought he wasn't referring to our company, as I did not even see him step into our office; he was pacing up and down at our doorstep all these while. Moments later, however, it was confirmed that he was referring to us. He mentioned our company's name, and he seemed to be complaining to our main office.

Later on, he stepped into our office, still wailing that everyone was talking on the phone and nobody bothered to serve him. I was annoyed by his boorish behaviour, but tried to ask him if he needed any assistance, but he simply took a quick glance at me and continue his yelling. A female colleague beside me retorted him (in a neutral tone) "If you want us to serve you, you have to approach us. Or else, how are we supposed to know what you want?" This actually provoked this boor more, and starts accusing her of being rude and shouting at him! He then demanded our manager to come over, but nobody bothered to attend to him.

After a few moments of drama, another colleague attended to him and he managed to calm down. He was however, still upset and demanded to cancel his tour package booking which he had originally done with us. Good riddance! It's not as if our company will collapse just because we lose a package from him. It's not as if he brings in ten over grand of revenue for us each time he steps into our office! So what grounds does he have for being so cocky?

Lately there has been complains saying that the service standards in Singapore is not good generally. I beg to differ. As the saying goes, it takes two hands to clap. If the customer is not a bad substance, how good can the service be? Before pin-pointing at the service providers, I think we should reflect on our bahaviour first; when you point a finger at others, your other 4 fingers are pointing back at you!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

A False Alarm

Today, a big hoo-ha happened at my work place, which I think can almost make it to the front page of our local papers.

I'll have to backtrack the story to last night, where my supervisor noticed an unclaimed luggage during the closing of our office. Thinking that some passengers who had forgotten to carry it onboard while boarding their bus, she decided to keep it in the office until someone called to claim for it. However, until this morning, no one had yet to claim it, and hence she asked one of my colleague to hand the luggage to the police. From what I heard, my colleague had actually opened up the luggage and found a bottle of green liquid that was wrapped up like some handmade bombs in the movies. My colleague did not bring it to the police of course, and instead, he called up the police.

Shortly after, 2 police officers came, and after a short while more, another batch of policemen came, and soon my office became a mini police station. I didn't know why was there a need to activate so many people, when I thought just 3 or 4 men were enough: 2 to take records and 2 to examine the luggage. I was a bit skeptical about the way the policemen were handling the case, and the way they handle the luggage was rather rough. I could hear the luggage knocking against the cabinets, and my colleague was wondering what would happen if that bottle was really a bomb and exploded under their bad handling. They took quite a while working on the luggage, and they finally decided to take the luggage away. I thought they should have done it long ago! However, the luggage was only gone for a short period of time before the same duo brought the luggage back. My colleagues and I were suprised; what do they mean by bringing it back? Has it been declared safe already? Or they simply did not know what to do? We questioned them about why the luggage was brought back to our office, but they could not give us a definite answer. Instead, they gave us an embaressed smile and they brought it out again. Within the next 1 hour, I could see men in blue passing by. My colleague had actually done a count on them, and claimed that there were at least 10 of them, including those in civilian clothings. Some came into our office as well, but asked the questions that had been previously asked before. I wasn't the one who'd been questioned, but I could feel the frustration of my colleague, as I actually felt irritated by just sitting at a side listening to what's going on! But I don't blame these civil servants. Afterall, after the recent foiled plans to bomb British airplanes, the local police will sure be more vigilant. It's just that their lack of experience in these area made me lose a bit of confidence. Anyway, we were later told by one of the constables who took the luggage away that the suspicious liquid in the bottle was actually washing detergent. However, as this matter was still considered a big issue, they could not return the luggage to us, and hence they had it brought back to their headquarters.

I thought the case was over for the moment, until another colleague reported to work, and told us that the luggage was actually left behind by a customer who had came to buy tickets from us the previous night, and was supposed to leave tonight. She had also requested to have her luggage deposited in our office first and to be collected tonight before departure. We realised that we have made a big mistake, and tried to contact the respective authorities to claim back the luggage, but was told that the owner must collect it from them herself. According to my colleague who had made the call, he said that the whole unit had known about this matter already, as the moment he mentioned our company name, the person on the other side of the line immediately knew that we wanted to know how to claim back the luggage. So, you can imagine how high-key this matter had become!

I am now out of office, but I can't help but think of how the customer would react, if she found out that her luggage was now in the police's custody. Although it was her fault for wrapping her detergent in this manner and thus creating unrest, how can we justify the act of opening up her luggage without her permission? I just wish that this matter could be resolved quick, and not turn into another storm!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back To The Travel Line

I was very nervous the moment I stepped onto the bus and headed for work on Monday. It has been over a year since I left my previous-previous company, a travel agency, and I was starting work on that day at another travel agency, which was just next door to the former!

Having been away for quite some time, I wasn't certain if I could handle the kind of workload and stress at the travel agency or not. (At times the travel agency can be flooded with phonecalls and customers simultaneously, and moments later, the agency becomes quiet again!) Anyway, I believe I would not be sitting behind the counter for a very long period of time, because the position I applied for was not a tour consultant, but a coach operations executive. I'd be assigned to do counter sales for the time being, until the time I am familiar with how the company's coach system works then will I be transferred to the coach department. Actually, I'm not sure if I really wanted to venture into this area, because I was actually aiming at the ticketing side, and this position I took up will not allow me to progress into ticketing. Another consideration was that the future of the coach business is an uncertainty. Just days before, it was reported in the news that Malaysian Airlines and Tiger Airways are looking at the possibility to provide Singapore-Malaysia flights with prices to match that of coaches. If this plan is successfully launched, that means the coach industry will be affected by quite a big deal. Other than isolated and unpopular destinations, who would still want to take coaches, if they could fly at the same cost and a fraction of the time needed? Anyway, I can only cross my fingers and see how things work out within the next few months. Or pray that the company allows me to switch over to counter sales and ticketing!

I arrived Golden Mile Complex at 8.30am, half an hour before my scheduled reporting time. I went to the toilet to change into my uniform, took a slow stroll around the building, and then report to work at 8.45am. It was a nice feeling to be back working at Golden Mile Complex, because I always like the "mini-Thai" atmosphere of the place, except for maybe the fightings and quarrels which happens once in a while. Speaking of that, some of my ex-colleagues actually dared not enter the building, complaining of a strong stench from the walkways into the building. I do not know what is that smell till now, but I believe it should be coming from a kind of foodstuff called "smelly fish". This is a fermented fish which gives off a very strong smell, and is a favourite among the Issan (north-eastern Thais) people, which formed the majority of the Thais in Singapore. This time round, the smell was gone, either the shops there no longer sell such stuffs (lately there has been an "invasion" of Vietnamese goods in the supermarket there), or that my nose has already got used to it.

Time passed rather quickly in my new office, and it was soon time for lunch. I had a late lunch as there were many customers. I noticed a small shop by the walkways into the building that sells Thai noodles. The shop's settings was very simple; clean white walls with a big menu pasted on one of them, and photographs of the food they serve just in front of their stall. There was 3 to 4 tables inside the shop only, and on top of the tables were condiments like fish sauce, sugar, chilli powder and grounded chilli to go with the noodles. This looked so typically Thai that tempted me to try their food. The food tasted quite nice, and I finished the entire bowl of chicken kway teow, including the soup. The female waitress of the shop was actually suprised that I know how to eat their noodles (with the condiments)!

After my meal, there was still half an hour left for my lunch break, so I decided to shop around. I found the CDs for my favourite bands Potato and Peacemaker, but was dismayed that the shop only sell duplicated albums and not originals. I'm a person who prefer to get original CDs if possible. Other than to support the copyright laws, I find that the duplicated CDs had very short lifespans, and within 3 years, the discs will become unreadable, and that's what happened to some of my CDs previous bought from there! Another thing is that the cost of the CDs are considered very expensive, especially when the discs are not even labelled decently.

As I walked out of the CD shop, I saw that the coffee shop just next to it was playing some lakhorn (Thai drama serial). I don't know what show they were playing, but I knew it was produced by Channel 7 (with the TV station's big logo there) and acted by Oil Thana, a singer-actor from one of my favourite Thai pop groups Lift-Oil. I stood there for about 15 minutes watching, but I could not understand a single thing, other than dialogues like "Where are we going, my dear?", "What's that?" and "(female lead's name), I...."!

As I head back to work after my lunch break was over, I got a news from the supervisor there, that I'm be transfered to another branch at Lavender with effect from the following day. I was told that I was supposed to start work there, but due to some miscommunications, I ended up at Golden Mile. That was a disappointment to me, as I actually preferred to work in Golden Mile than in other branches. But luckily, Lavender and Golden Mile is just 10 minutes' walk away, and I'm still able to come back to Golden Mile for lunch anytime.

My first day at work was relatively easy for me, as I was only asked to familiarise with the pricing for coach tickets. However, I did try my hands at calculating prices for tour packages too, and though I haven't been doing it for a long time, I could still manage with a little bit of help from my colleagues. Anyway, I've made a sales of about $500 by the end of the day, which I think was quite a good start for me. Hopefully my new job with the company will kick off a good start as well!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

The Makeover

Last week I received a call from a company stating that I was picked from a lucky draw and was entitled to one free makeover session, which at the end of the session I would be given 2 free photographs of my makeover. Sounded too good to be true, but nevertheless I decided to go and take a look, and see what they are up to.

My appointment with the agency was at 8pm, at their studio in Raffles Place. They were rather secretive, and I only know their address and company name via SMS just 2 days before the appointment. I instantly knew this was part of their marketing strategy, a technique commonly used in network marketing companies to "lure" customers. And I was right. The moment I reached the studio, I saw the reception hall filled with people, mostly seated around coffee tables each having 3 chairs and a Mac monitor. Typical network marketing companies' setting! Anyway, although my appointment was scheduled at eight, I was only attended at about 9.15pm. The guy who attended to me introduced himself as the "image consultant" of the company. I had my doubts on him, as his turn-out and behaviour told me elsewise, but I decided to keep quiet. He explained that the makeover session would consist of 2 parts: 1 casual session and 1 formal session. Casual session would be carried out in my attire at that time, and the formal session would include a change of attire into one of their apparels from their wardrobe.

After the briefing, I was led to the makeup room for makeup. I was suprised that the makeup was done with less than 10 strokes of the brush, and completed with a smear (yes, you did not read wrongly, and neither did I type wrongly) of lip gloss over my lips with a cotton bud. I really wonder if these so-called makeup artistes really know how to do makeup, for I had been through 2 makeover sessions before, and I know one needs at least 5 minutes to do the makeup. What's more, the lip gloss was so badly applied that I can feel one big chunk of the lip gloss still stuck to one side of my lips. After the makeup was done, I was ready for the first round of photoshoot. Were they out of their mind? I had been running around the entire day and had been touching my hair for uncountable times that it was already in a mess, and you called that "ready"? I remained quiet, since it was free-of-charge anyway! It wouldn't get me anywhere if I were to argue with them.

The first round of photoshoot was alright, as I am already quite used to posing in front of the camera. However, I did not have confidence in the photographer. Some of the poses he asked me to pose were really awkward. Like for example he asked me to sit on the arm-rest of the sofa, and put my legs on the back-rest. That's a real weird pose! I wondered if he would be asking me to do a leg split on the top of the couch with my front foot touching the ceiling! And one thing I noticed was that he snapped his photographs rather quickly. So far I've never came across photographers who actually took pictures at such speed, and I really wondered if he was just taking random trial-and-error shots.

After the first round, I was led back to the makeup room to choose clothes for my second round. My image consultant chose some floral long sleeve shirt and asked me which one I prefer. With one look I knew the shirts were too big for me, at least a "L", but he did not realised it, and I had to remind him that I can only fit a "S" size. How on earth can an image consultant failed to realise such details? But anyway he explained later that most of their shirts were "L" or larger, so I had no choice but to pick one of them. I was later given a bit of touch-up to my makeup (again with a few strokes of the brush again), and this time round, I finally got my hair made.

I was once again led to the photoshoot studio, but this time round, I was introduced to another photographer. This photographer seemed more professional, as he was more graphic in the poses he wanted me to put on for the camera, and I felt that the poses he requested from me were less awkward than the earlier one. Still, the speed of his shots were fast too.

After the photoshoot was completed, I was led back to the reception hall to view my photographs. As expected, those taken during the first part were simply horrible, mainly due to my messy hairstyle. Some of the poses were problematic too, resulting in me looking more like an Allegria performer or Dunhuang dancer than a makeover pose. Those taken in the second round were much better, and there were a few which I think were quite well-taken. However, as these pictures were raw and unedited, my image consultant proceed to select one of the pictures to do a on-the-spot touch-up. I was impressed by how fast he navigates through functions and shortcuts within Photoshop, but that was it. In terms of skills, I think I could be better than him, although I admit I'm still nowhere near a professional DI artiste. There were instances whereby he tried to touch-up some areas in vain, because he had selected the wrong image layer, and I had to remind him that. Speaking of this, Art was invited by this company before months back for a similar makeover session, and she actually taught her image consultant on how to do some effects!

After "impressing" me with the final finished masterpiece, my image consultant then started to feed me with the "essence" of this makeover session, by telling me the benefits of being their members by signing on a makeover package. I had already anticipated that, but I just pretend I knew nothing and listened. He was rather smart as to not talking about prices (other than the market value of the freebies thrown in with the offer). I pretended to enquire about the price involved in signing up the package, and my image consultant introduced me to another colleague of his, whom he said was in charged of the sales and marketing.

His colleague was a very cheerful person, a bit too cheerful in my opinion! On my way up to their studio when I first arrived, he was the first person I met at the stairways, and he greeted me very politely and warmly. And earlier on while browsing through my photographs, he had actually popped by and commented how great the photographs were taken. I admit I felt flattered, but not naive to not see that these are all business tactics. Anyway, he gave me a quotation of over $2000 for one photo album with all the freebies and benefits as previously mentioned by my image consultant. $2000! What a hefty amount for such "quality" work! I had expected the price to be real expensive, but this amount was really unexpected. Since I had no intention to sign up any package from the start, I simply declined the offer by saying that I did not have that much money, and I did not have any credit cards or savings, and neither was I able to pay in installments. The mega-watt smile of the other guy instantly disappeared, as he stood up and left to prepare the paperworks for me to collect my free photographs. What a change in character! I was then asked to select any of the 2 unedited photographs that I like, and my image consultant then burned them into a CD-rom for me.

I left the company at around 11pm, feeling relieved that I could walk away without paying a single cent. (I'm actually bad at rejecting offers, especially if being pushed by a few persons simultaneously) I had done some touch-up of the photographs on my own and had sent them to print. Hopefully my touch-ups were alright, as I can't visualise from my aging LCD monitor which is forever darker than anyone else' monitor!