Bad service. Something all too common in a country that used to pride itself with excellent service and an exquisite, world-renowned airline. I’ve bloggged about it on a few occasions, but my experience changing to a new air-con unit at home coincided with David Leo’s article on Today – “Hard truths for Singapore’s service culture”.
You see, my air-con was 12 years old. The entire length of the trunking was dripping with condensation. The servicing folks diagnosed that the insulation had deteriorated over the years. This not only resulted in dripping but also a loss of cooling power – wasted energy. Time for a new air-con.
I first went to a very well-known neighbourhood electrical shop at Hougang. They are known to give good value for money and are always busy – a reason for not smiling and greeting customers. And it didn’t seem to matter to the customers who are just looking for bargains. Luckily, I didn’t have to jostle for space in the shop that day and neither did I have to fight for the sales staff’s attention. I was keen on installing the Mitsubishi system they recommended, but I was told that I must first make an appointment for them to inspect my place and make measurements before they could give me a quote. I left my contact details and nobody called.
So next, I went down to the Best outlet at Compass Point. The sales staff there was a whole lot more pleasant to deal with. He was from China, but he was very polite and had excellent product knowledge. To confirm if I had to pay any extras for installation, he just pulled out a few photos and asked me which best illustrated the layout of my existing system. With that, he was able to give me a firm quotation. He recommended EuropAce, a brand I’ve heard of, but not too often. He pointed out that the cooling unit is actually Mitsubishi and only the less important parts are non-Mitsubishi. I remember buying an air-con unit in Thailand. The main cooling unit was made in Japan. Only the fan and other less critical components were made in Thailand. It cost 30% less than the Japanese units and it lasted me many years. Why not give EuropAce a try?
So the deal was settled. The date of installation was set on a Friday, just 3 days from the date of purchase. I went home hopeful, expecting the installation guys to be just as professional. On Wednesday, I received a call from the sub-contractor, Twin City Air-conditioning Engineering. First, they asked me all the questions that the sales staff at Best had already asked me.
“Haven’t I already informed the sales staff at Best?”
“They do sales. We do installation.” came the highly colloquial and accented Mandarin reply from the obviously Malaysian auntie.
Yao mo gao chor ah? In an age of Internet and smartphones, would the installation folks not receive such crucial customer information from the sales staff and need the customer to repeat everything – even like whether there is an existing unit?
Next, the auntie asked me if I could bring the installation date forward to Thursday. I told them I would not be home on that day. The auntie asked me when I would leave home for work and promised to install early in the morning before I left for work!
“But I leave at 8.00am.” I reminded the Malaysian auntie at the other end.
“Yes, very early. Just be sure you’re ready when we arrive.”
It sounded too good to be true and true enough at 8.00am, there was absolutely no sign or call from them. I left for work and at 9.00am when I was almost at my office, they finally called and gave the excuse that the technician doing the installation was on MC and the other technician would only be available later. I told them to stick to the original appointment on Friday and they told me that their schedule was full.
Do you see the whole picture now? I shouldn’t have told them that my maid would be in. They had absolutely no intention of installing the air-con for me before I left for work that morning. Since I sounded like a nice and easygoing guy, they took advantage and lied to me so that they could conveniently fit me into a last-minute slot. I had half the mind to ask my maid not to open the door for them, but later decided that I might not be doing myself a favour. According to my maid, their technician arrived slightly after 10.00am. She let them in. Over the next few hours, they called me repeatedly, apparently to inform me that they had to cut my cornice and stuff like that. Because of the nature of my work, I could not answer their calls. They went ahead and cut the cornice, feeling no guilt about how they manipulated me into a disadvantaged position to suit their convenience.
I rushed home from work to see if they had damaged anything. Fortunately the cornice was quite neatly cut. The air-con also functioned reasonably well. I decided not to raise a formal complain, but the issue of efficiency over integrity must be pointed out. One of the reasons that service standards in Singapore are so low is because we often value efficiency over integrity. The customers at that shop in Hougang didn’t mind that the sales people were unprofessional. They just wanted bargains. The sales staff at Best must be commended for their professionalism, but the support staff or sub-contractor in this case, is quite lacking in integrity and professionalism. Does it matter to us as long as they get the job done? I think it would have mattered a lot if there are situations which require us to be present to make decisions when the contractor is at work.
Would you have a company like Twin City Air-conditioning Engineering install your air-con? The problem of integrity goes a lot further than lying and just making last-minute changes that inconvenience the customer. If all operations are tweaked with only the service provider’s convenience regarded as a priority, customers will end up disadvantaged in the long run. I suspect many Singaporeans will just shrug their shoulders and accept their practices. That, sadly, is one of the causes of poor service standards in this country. Yes, my air-con is working and I got it fast, but Twin City Air-conditioning Engineering’s lack of integrity must be highlighted.