Sunday October 14, 2012
Have some faith in civil service
By DZOF AZMI
Instead of shrugging or resorting to short cuts, we should expect,and demand, the best from the government service sector.
I RECENTLY had a friend call up to ask if I knew somebody who could help him get a Residence Pass (a long-term employment pass that enables non-Malaysians to work in Malaysia).
It struck me the assumption was that he needed somebody on the inside to help “smooth” the process, instead of just trusting that it would take the advertised 21 working days to get a result. From this one example, we may assume that the public does not have the highest confidence in government customer services.
On the other hand, my experiences with one particular private sector company leads me to think perhaps the government isn’t so bad.
X is an electronics company from which I bought one notebook and two mobile phones. On the whole, I am quite happy with the quality of the these items and I believe that both the phones were the best on the market at the time of purchase.
Yet, every silver lining has a cloud attached to it.
First, the power adaptor for the notebook failed. It was still under warranty, so I drove down the Klang Valley’s Federal Highway to drop it off for service. In the process, I learnt the following about Company X’s customer services:
1) Do not go to the service centre any time after 9.01am because you will have to wait up to two hours. You have to be first in the queue to get immediate service.
2) Its service representatives have been trained to keep a straight face while blaming you, the customer, for flaws in the equipment. I was told off for being “too rough” when plugging in the power cord, resulting in a broken adaptor four weeks after purchase.
3) They have also been trained to answer the question, “Well, exactly how long will it take to repair?” with a guttural, “I don’t know” over and over again, presumably with the intent that customers will eventually give up asking. (This happened to somebody in the line next to me, in full view of everybody else at the centre.)
This was in January. Then, last month, my mobile phone had a problem. When the service people informed me that since the phone was bought outside Malaysia, it wouldn’t be under warranty, I accepted it. It was the risk I took for not buying it from a Malaysian dealer.
However, the following week, they said although they knew what was wrong with the phone, they couldn’t repair it. I repeated that I was willing to pay for any repairs, but they said they were not allowed to reprogramme microchips registered outside the country.
I asked if they could send it to Britain for me (where I understand it was under warranty), and that I would be willing to pay for the shipping charges. They said they didn’t provide that service either.
They also told me that the best thing to do was to get it fixed in Low Yat Plaza (in Kuala Lumpur, well-known for electronics with, shall we say, dubious origins) – but that it could not be with an authorised Company X dealer, or an original microchip.
I am aware that I’m among many people who misuse the word “irony”. However, standing in the main service centre of a major multi-national company – which is among the top mobile phone manufacturers in the world – and being told that the best place I could go to repair my phone was a dingy corner shop in KL, and that I had to replace my genuine microchip with a counterfeit one ... I think that’s ironic.
Actually, the real irony is that during the same time I’ve had to deal with various government agencies and I can say, unequivocally, I’ve got better service from every agency I have been in touch with.
Firstly, they have better opening hours. The tax office is open from 7.30am and the National Registration Department is even open on weekends.
Next, they don’t say, “I don’t know” or “We don’t provide that service, try Low Yat”. I think it’s a lot to do with the government’s “no-wrong door” policy and most times they are nice enough to point you politely in the right direction. It may not always be the right door, but they are genuine in trying to help you.
It is to do with organisations meeting or exceeding expectations. Maybe we have such low opinions of government public service that when those at the counters smile at you, it comes as a bit of a surprise. (By the way, I find they do it about half the time.)
On the other hand, we think large MNCs should give us good service, and we forget that all they really want to do is lower costs and maximise profits.
Customer service, when performed by the government, should be about making the country more efficient, and I think initiatives by organisations such as Pemandu (the Performance Management and Delivery Unit) are trying to head in that direction.
Maybe we can begin to expect more of our government, but as customers we have to portray it correctly as well. Asking people for inside help or trying to grease the wheels just signals how low our expectations are, and it would be too easy (and wrong) to meet them.
At this point, I must admit that I’ve been guilty of something similar recently. I asked through back channels about the status of an application, and although I wasn’t trying to influence the decision, I think the public sector works under some variant of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle: the act of merely inquiring about an application can affect its result. I should have trusted the system more.
At the end of the day, it is better to have high expectations of our institutions and to demand the best of them, rather than complain that they are not up to standard, or worse, shrug our apathetic shoulders in dejection.
And I will send a letter of complaint to Company X, if only to advise how it can give better service than the Government of Malaysia.
> Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician-turned-scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.