Ser­vice with a smile

Spe­cial needs peo­ple de­serve to be treated with re­spect and dig­nity, just like ev­ery­one else.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - Star2@thes­tar.com.my By JAMES CHUA TUAN SEK

MANY deaf peo­ple have a bad cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence to share, es­pe­cially when we ur­gently need as­sis­tance via the phone.

Let me ex­plain. Even though I wear a hear­ing aid and can speak and lip-read fairly well, it does not mean I can un­der­stand every­thing that is spo­ken, and nei­ther can all deaf peo­ple lip-read and talk.

I have one good eye on the left, and my good ear is on the right. Thus lip-read­ing an un­fa­mil­iar per­son presents a huge chal­lenge for me be­cause of the po­si­tion of my good ear and eye.

If I could have my way, I would not have to meet the cus­tomer ser­vice peo­ple. Alas, in our ev­ery­day lives, we have to meet such peo­ple to get help for our geram (frus­trat­ing) sit­u­a­tions, and I bet you also have your own geram cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ences.

The fact is, 90% of the cus­tomer ser­vice peo­ple that I have en­coun­tered were rude, im­pa­tient or in­sen­si­tive, be­cause they could not be both­ered to write on pa­per to com­mu­ni­cate with me.

Even when I wrote my queries on pa­per, they kept on talk­ing louder, and got ex­as­per­ated with me when I could not un­der­stand what they were say­ing. They com­plained to their col­leagues who then be­gan the same “talk­ing louder and get­ting ex­as­per­ated” rou­tine with me!

Only af­ter some pub­lic em­bar­rass­ment did some­one deign to pick up the pen and an­swer my queries on pa­per. By then, I would have vowed never to go back to that es­tab­lish­ment, ex­cept that when I hap­pened to have some mal­func­tion­ing whatchamacal­lit, it ne­ces­si­tated a mis­er­able and of­ten hu­mil­i­at­ing trip back there.

Be­ing shouted at by re­tail shop as­sis­tants, given wrong food or­ders and get­ting scolded by the wait­ers, count among the many un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ences. But here is one that stood out.

Some time back when my ATM card could not work, I went to the near­est bank branch to get a re­place­ment. I waited one and a half hours and when my turn came, the cus­tomer ser­vice ex­ec­u­tive talked at bul­let pace.

When I asked her to write down what she said on pa­per af­ter ex­plain­ing to her that I could not hear, she shouted in my face, draw­ing the at­ten­tion of other cus­tomers who were present.

I still could not un­der­stand what she wanted me to do. Ex­as­per­ated, she grabbed my thumb and pressed it on the thumbprint scan­ning ma­chine. The ma­chine could not read my thumbprint de­spite re­peated at­tempts.

So she shouted again that I had to LAST Fri­day’s Bud­get 2012 may have put a smile on many peo­ple’s faces. How­ever, not ev­ery­one was ec­static about it and for good rea­son, too. Take the case of Chong Tuck Meng who hails from Ben­tong, Pahang.

“I was never re­ally in­ter­ested in the national bud­get un­til I be­came a wheel­chair user fol­low­ing a mo­tor­cy­cle ac­ci­dent 29 years ago,” said the 50-year-old tetraplegic who is a founder mem­ber and ad­viser of Per­wira K9 Malaysia, a national dis­abil­ity or­gan­i­sa­tion that sup­ports peo­ple with spinal cord in­juries.

“The first les­son that I learnt: it is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult be­ing a dis­abled per­son in Malaysia. There are nu­mer­ous so­cial ob­sta­cles and hefty med­i­cal bills to con­tend with.

“I slowly dis­cov­ered that national bud­gets can help to al­le­vi­ate the strug­gles and hard­ships that Malaysians with dis­abil­i­ties go through ev­ery day.”

Chong wishes the lat­est bud­get had specif­i­cally ad­dressed the is­sues he has to deal with af­ter he be­came paral­ysed from the neck down.

“The ac­ci­dent changed my life com­pletely. I was a very independent per­son. Now I need go to the main branch to deal with my thumbprint is­sue.

I was very up­set that she could not even talk to me nicely. I man­aged to lip-read her mut­ter­ing bodoh (stupid) when I asked to see the bank man­ager. That was the last straw. I de­manded an apol­ogy. The man­ager came out at that mo­ment, and apol­o­gised (though the ex­ec­u­tive did not) and of­fered me com­pen­sa­tion on top of re­plac­ing my ATM card for free, but the dam­age was done. I never pa­tro­n­ised the bank again.

I have had my share of great cus­tomer ser­vice at some banks, too. The few vis­its that I made to the HSBC Pu­chong Jaya branch in Pu­chong, Se­lan­gor, were al­ways pleas­ant.

When I lost my online bank­ing pass­word, I was wor­ried and went to the bank, hop­ing that some­thing could be done, be­cause it re­quired call­ing on the phone to ver­ify my per­sonal de­tails.

To my sur­prise, Puan H, the cus­tomer ser­vice ex­ec­u­tive, said she could help me do the nec­es­sary, if I did not mind shar­ing my per­sonal de­tails. She kindly ex­plained to the call cen­tre that I could not hear, and pa­tiently wrote down every­thing on pa­per.

My sub­se­quent vis­its were met by the same smil­ing ex­ec­u­tive, who greeted me like an old friend and al­ways asked af­ter my health. It would be great if such ex­cep­tional ser­vices could be em­u­lated by other banks.

Just last month, I lost my Android hand­phone to snatch thieves. Two mo­tor­cy­clists came along and the pil­lion rider snatched my hand­phone while I was check­ing my text mes­sages.

This was my first smart phone and it hurt to lose it. To add to the blow, my spec­ta­cles where knocked off in the process, and I was “blind” for a while. A kind taxi-driver who wit­nessed the in­ci­dent, helped to re­trieve my spec­ta­cles and drove me to the po­lice sta­tion to make a re­port.

In­spec­tor Fikri who was on duty at the Mu­tiara Da­mansara po­lice sta­tion in Petaling Jaya, Se­lan­gor, helped me call my dad. He spoke very slowly and used pa­per and pen where nec­es­sary. The Maxis cus­tomer ser­vice man at the Curve branch also ren­dered ex­cel­lent help in can­celling my SIM card and get­ting me a re­place­ment.

Not many peo­ple un­der­stand the power of words in mo­bile text mes­sages. My deaf friend had many bad ex­pe­ri­ences in tex­ting swim­ming in­struc­tors to ar­range for les- per­sonal as­sis­tants, what more we?” laments Chong.

Chong pointed out that in the United States, the govern­ment pro­vides the pro­foundly dis­abled with care­givers who are called “per­sonal at­ten­dants”. For those who need 24-hour care, they are pro­vided with a helper dur­ing the day, and an­other helper at night.

Chong feels a national bud­get can help in sit­u­a­tions like his if the Govern­ment:

> Does not im­pose a levy on maids em­ployed by Malaysians with dis­abil­i­ties.

> Sub­sidises the salary of maids for the dis­abled, or bet­ter still, pay for the maid’s full salary.

> Helps the dis­abled to get a re­place­ment for maids who run away, with­out additional cost.

> Gives RM500 in monthly aid to all per­sons with dis­abil­i­ties.

Chong feels that even though the lat­est bud­get may have missed these per­ti­nent is­sues, it is never too late to reach out to the dis­abled.

“When there is a po­lit­i­cal will to do some­thing, there will al­ways be a way!” Chong adds. sons. The in­struc­tors were curt and snarky when she en­quired fur­ther about the lessons. They kept call­ing her, which she ig­nored. She en­listed my help to find an in­struc­tor and a friend rec­om­mended Mr Y.

I texted Mr Y, and we were very im­pressed that he replied im­me­di­ately in­stead of call­ing me. His text mes­sages re­mained friendly in spite of the nu­mer­ous ques­tions we asked.

Our first meet­ing with him for a trial les­son con­firmed our hunch. Mr Y is an ex­tremely pa­tient and un­der­stand­ing teacher, who made it pos­si­ble for us to en­joy swim­ming lessons de­spite our hear­ing im­pair­ment.

Re­cently I flew to Sin­ga­pore for my con­nect­ing flight to Manila for a hol­i­day. It turned out that I needed to up­grade my bag­gage limit for the re­turn trip.

Miss Teo, the cus­tomer ser­vice re­cep­tion­ist at Changi air­port, is one of the rare peo­ple in the in­dus­try who enun­ci­ate clearly and slowly, and has a ready smile for ev­ery­one.

Hav­ing un­der­stood that I am hear­ing-im­paired, she pa­tiently held on to the phone for over 30 min­utes while at­tend­ing to other pas­sen­gers, and when she fi­nally got through, she re­layed the im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion to me on pa­per.

She even helped print the new tick­ets for me when she did not have to. That was my best-ever cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence, and it re­newed my faith in the cus­tomer ser­vice in­dus­try.

Com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a two-way process. Ev­ery­one de­serves to be treated with dig­nity, es­pe­cially by the cus­tomer ser­vice peo­ple, who are the faces of their com­pa­nies.

We never for­get a great cus­tomer ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence and will re­cip­ro­cate in what­ever way pos­si­ble. Just be­cause we can­not talk and hear, it does not mean there is no way of com­mu­ni­cat­ing with us.

There is al­ways pen and pa­per, and you can also try to ges­ture here and there, just as these above­men­tioned peo­ple did.

If the cus­tomer ser­vice is ex­cel­lent, I would heartily rec­om­mend the place to all my friends. In­vari­ably, they would want to check it out, and of­ten end up with happy pur­chases.

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