Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Coffee Bean shows flexibility

Coffee Bean's willingness to be flexible has left a good impression on Shionge.

She wanted to order two birthday cakes for Saturday (New Year's Day) for her aunt and cousin. So she logged on to The Coffee Bean's website yesterday but was dismayed to learn that she must do it four days in advance (excluding the day the order was made) for an order to be executed.

She said: "Out of desperation, I called The Coffee Bean HQ and spoke with one Officer – Zi-Fong (sorry didn’t get the correct spelling). I explained to him that it is only ‘delayed’ by one day and if he could kindly assist.

"He left a note with the production department and hey…this morning, a Mr. Richard from Coffee Bean called me and acceded to my request.

"Although I was not able to place the order online, I just needed to head down to the West Mall outlet and make out the full payment. By being so accommodating, it really warmed my heart.

"If they had stuck to their policy they might have lost out on a sale and probably a loyal customer as well.

"What a wonderful gesture to end Year 2010."

Yes, a small gesture from Coffee Bean but it deserves a BOUQUET nevertheless.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Internet speed: IDA must act

It is disappointing to read the three major internet service providers' response today (Dec 28) to the government's proposal to have them disclose their average surfing speeds when they go about marketing their broadband.

Their answer is a flat "No". Reason? It is impossible to define what is an average speed because many factors affect internet speed.

This seems odd to me because when I googled to find out the internet speed of other countries, I came across a study that ranks the "average internet speed" of the various countries and Singapore was nowhere in that ranking.

If the three telcos --- Starhub, Singtel and M1 --- refuse to agree to the Infocomm Development Authority's proposal to state their average speeds, then logically they should not be allowed to market their plans based on their "rarely achievable maximum speeds".

It is a case of having their cake and eating it. The IDA must act.

Monday, December 27, 2010

SingPost: Another tale of woe

Anne Wong Holloway has added another tale of woe about SingPost service. She thinks it does not seem to be able to provide a basic one.

She says: "We had been expecting some desk diaries from Hong Kong and it was a good thing I checked - otherwise the senders would have thought us rude not to thank them and I would have thought their mail room staff inefficient.

"As it turned out, the diaries were mailed to Singapore and but have not arrived even after a fortnight. So another package was immediately despatched by DHL and arrived today (Boxing Day) despite the intervening public holiday.

"Providers of postal services in many parts of the world e.g. USPS and Royal Mail are seeing a decline in revenues -- and making efforts to stay relevant.

"If we cannot expect basic postal services in Singapore, Singpost is only hastening its death knell."

With so many complaints about its delivery service recently, I hope SingPost is giving its full attention to this problem.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

One year old today

Today, Christmas Eve, is exactly a year since I started this blog. And I am surprised -- and happy -- that I am still at it.

Although my postings have not been regular as they depend on the number of feedback that I get and whether or not I am in Singapore, I still managed a total of 157 in one year.

I am overjoyed by the words of encouragement that I have received from various people. Many have also signed up as "followers". Some even have links from their own websites and blogs.

TODAY newspaper wrote a piece on the blog on May 3 which helped to publicise it and boosted the "hit" rate. The Straits Times/Sunday Times made mention of it a couple of times, including one last Sunday on retiree Ricardo Rodrigues and his unhappy experience with a senior SQ crew member who reprimanded him for using the airline's A380 Suites toilet.

One indicator of the impact the blog is making is the fact that many organisations which have been the subject of compliments or complaints, have continued to monitor the blog regularly. These include the airlines, the banks, the telcos, our hospitals, various government institutions and retail outlets.

I would like to thank these organisations for taking the effort to respond to our feedback even though many postings were not complimentary. I applaud them for facing up to the issues squarely and welcome their assurances that they would improve on their services.

As for those who did not bother to acknowledge our feedback (you know who they are reading the blog), they still have the New Year to look forward to for enlightenment.

Finally, I would like to thank all the contributors who have taken the trouble to write to me. You have played your part in helping to improve our service standards.

Have a Joyous Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Parcel for Maggie...could it be on a slow SingPost boat from China?

More complaints about SingPost service. This one is from Maggie in Canada who is expecting a package from her friend in China...yes, from China via Singapore.
Here is her story:

"My situation is a little complicated. My friend in China asked a company to send a package to me via Singapore EMS Speedpost to Canada. Apparently, I was told that this route would be faster than if the package was sent directly from China.

"I received a tracking no. as EC401580157SG. On Singpost's track and trace, the status is "Shipments in transit from Origin". The status has not been updated since Dec. 15th.

"From SingPost's website, the estimate delivery period for my package, a WWC Document Item, should be 2-4 days. Regardless of business days or calendar days, it does not seem like this package will make it to Canada in that time as it is still stuck, somewhere in Singapore.

"I am not sure whether Singpost has simply lost my package or the package is stuck in limbo somewhere in Singapore. I have sent an online enquiry to Singpost last Friday but they have not responded. I did not save a copy since it was made on Singpost's website.

"I'm in Canada so it's not really convenient for me to call them. I understand this is the holiday season but I would appreciate if Singpost can provide me with an expected time of delay and the reason for such.

"To make matters worse, I will be leaving for my Christmas vacation on the 23rd and will not return until Jan. 3rd. If I cannot arrange for someone to pick up the package while I'm gone, I'm worry that the package will be returned!! perhaps to SINGAPORE..geesh."

Let's hope SingPost can unravel this one.

**** LATEST: Hours after I alerted SingPost to Maggie's dilemma, she wrote to say
"My package has finally been 'acknowledged' in Singapore...but I have given up on hopes of receiving it before my vacations."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Priscilla and fiance get their Housing Board flat after 9 attempts

Way back in March, I posted a story about Priscilla and her boyfriend, and their frustrations in applying for a Housing Board apartment. They wanted to get married and start a family quickly but, like many young couples here, they could not get a unit to call their own.

At that time, she said she had failed a total of 7 times since her application in 2008. "This is quite an appalling number of tries considering that HDB claims that majority of first timers can get their flat within 2 tries," she said then.

She appealed to the minister after their fifth unsuccessful attempt, but that also did not bear fruit. After her 7th attempt, she told me her story and I decided to blog it. I also alerted HBD to the feedback and was notified to wait for a reply.

Nothing was heard from either the HDB or Priscilla about the matter until two days ago when she sent me a Season's Greeting. I took the opportunity to ask her about her application and this was her reply:

"After the posting on the blog, we wrote a second appeal to the minister (which once again got an unsatisfactory template reply after a month).

"This was followed by a separate email in early May to an MP to get his help after all the disappointments. I guessed the appeal from the MP was unsuccessful as well since we did not get a Jurong West unit which we balloted for in May.

"Just as we were at our wits’ ends, we decided to write in another appeal to specifically target the points raised by HDB in all the previous replies. At the same time, we balloted for one of the BTOs that was launched during this period.

"Fast forward a few months, we received a queue number that was within the number of units available and have successfully chosen a unit.

"This has certainly been a long journey of close to 3 years and I’m glad we never gave up trying.

"But despite this, I can only say that HDB still needs to work on their replies as none of the replies provided have been satisfactory at all (and this includes the final email acknowledging that I have chosen my unit)."

When asked whether her story in boo-n-bouquet was useful, she said: "I guess in some way, the blog post helped and made sure they paid attention to my case. But I sent in two more appeals after the post, attacking every point in their replies. So I guess that, combined with the blog post made them more aware of my case."

Bouquet for Priscilla for her perseverence. As for the HBD, well...

PS...Priscilla's new home is in Bukit Panjang.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gary glitters at Paragon's ishop

Here's a Christmas bouquet for a salesman named Gary at the ishop at the Paragon.

My friend Lulin just wrote to tell of her happy encounter with Gary:

"Any one wishing to buy an Apple product should look for Gary at the ishop at the Paragon. When I wanted to buy an imac and needed to transfer everything from my macbook, Gary was most helpful, smiling and cheerful -- important for me as a shopper as it puts me in a good mood.

"Another sales lady in the shop was also helpful but with an expressionless face that could be seen as unfriendly.

"Fortunately Gary took over and met every one of my requirements. He explained why it would take 3 hours to transfer and persuaded me to return the same evening.

"When I said the traffic would be awful in the evening, he suggested coming back later, as the shop closed at 9.30pm and they often stayed back till 10pm. Good advice!

"Not only did he copied the stuff, he installed my MS Office, cleaned up the clutter, showed me how to use iphoto efficiently, advised me on how to minimise the collection of clutter in the computer, which accessories I needed and which not to waste money on, and a host of other tips. Assured me I could go back for more help if I needed it.

"Plus he was chatty, friendly without being overbearing, interested without being nosey. ishop, give him a large bonus! I am rarely this enthusiastic about good service but Gary deserves it!"

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

SingPost goes back to using rubber bands

On Dec 6, I wrote about the continuing problems facing Singapore Post in its mail delivery. I gave my own recent experience and how it took action to ensure that I do not receive letters that are not meant for me.

After that, SingPost started delivering all my mail in a sealed transparent plastic cover.

I was intrigued and concerned, and wrote in my blog: "I do not know whether every household is getting the same treatment. If it were so, then I am sure the cost of delivery would have shot up. The question is, when will SingPost pass on the cost to its customers?

"My other concern about having these plastic covers is that, at a time when the world is trying to GO GREEN, why is SingPost doing such a dumb thing."

Well, the good news is that SingPost has reverted back to delivering my letters in the old way -- all bound by a single rubber band.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Trainee gives excellent service and visitor shows his appreciation

I stumbled upon this item in the South West Community Development Council's Facebook site and thought it was something worth sharing:

"South West SPEAKS: When there's GREAT Service... It brings more than just a SMILE.

What does SERVICE mean to YOU? A customer's entitlement? Or a staff's responsibility to project a positive image? For us, it brings more than just a smile... Such moments might just strike as one of our fondest memories.

Here's a letter by one of our visitors who's impressed with People Association's service delivery in our district. Kudos to the staff of West Coast Community Centre~ :)

'Dear Sir / Madam,

Allow me to introduce myself. I am James Scholefield based in London. The purpose of this letter to you is to compliment a young gentleman that had done more than an extra mile as a service personnel.

Recently, my company sent me and my family to Singapore for a short trip to look and familarise myself with the environment which I will be posted here in the year 2011. I happen to come by with my wife to this area "West Coast" to look at private housing facilities and stumbled upon this place "West Coast Community Centre".

The moment we stepped into the office, we were greeted politely by this gentleman from the front desk. After I told him that we were foreigners and would like to know more about Singapore and this community centre on what it has to offer.

Without hesitation, he introduced to me the many aspects and things he knew to me and my wife. He then started by telling us about the transportation system in Singapore and how to get around in the various modes of transport.

He carried on by sharing with us those necessities of information we needed to know and aware of when we asked him. From there, he started to introduce what this community centre has to offer in terms of facilities and courses where he introduced and explained in details clearly to us the passion card which he illustrated in an excellent manner on how useful is the card is to us as consumers.

Throughout the conversation, he was polite and courteous towards us which we felt that he deserves this compliment. Me and my wife felt that this gentleman had provided an excellent service, comparing to many other service staffs whom I came across during our trip.

As I do not know his name but I clearly remember seeing his name tag shown as "Trainee". He certainly deserves more than just a pat on the back for his excellent service which I believe he should be given the thumbs up for the things that he had done for us and most likely to all other customers that he met too.

I must say this gentleman handled his role professionally and should there be an service excellence staff award from your organisation, I would strongly recomend him to be awarded as he deserves it. Thank you.


James Scholefield' "

BOUQUET to this trainee who showed that he can make a difference and to James Scholefied for taking the trouble to write in to show his appreciation.


Sunday, December 12, 2010

Ricardo's story a big hit

Ricardo Rodrigues' story about his unhappy experience on board SQ637 from Narita to Singapore on December 4 was given an airing in The Sunday Times today (Dec 12).

As a result,, was mentioned for reporting it. And -- as a result -- the blog saw a huge spike in the number of hits today.

Ricardo, retired regional manager for bookstore Borders, wrote to me after he was reprimanded by a crew member for using a first-class toilet in the A-380 when he was travelling on economy.

He said he was treated "like a child" for something that he just "could not hold" as he was having a stomach ache and all the economy class toilets were occupied.

The responses that I got when I told the story to my friends and family members over the weekend were mixed. Some said Ricardo should have asked for permission before he went into the first-class toilet. My counter was that he just did not have the time to do it.

Others wanted to know where to draw the line on who should be allowed to use those "higher class toilets". They said it would be difficult for the airline because there was always the risk of abuse if those toilets were opened up to those having "stomach aches".

It also has to consider the reaction of the higher-paying passengers if those from the economy class were allowed to encroach into their space wily-nily?

Well, I guess this is something the airline will have to work it out because we can be sure that such a dilemma --- to allow or not to allow? -- will confront crew members again and again.

But one thing that is not in dispute --- all my respondents were surprised that Ricardo was treated so badly, especially by an airline that is noted for being ultra friendly to its passengers.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Anne's two Christmas wishes granted

It's going to be a happy Christmas for Anne after all. At least two of her wishes have come true.

ONE, her application for a HSBC Visa card has been approved, sealed and delivered.
She says "Thanks to Rozilah (Service Quality Team) and Jonathan Shan (HSBC Claymore branch) who expedited getting the necessary documents to the credit card processing department, I received my HSBC Visa card."

HSBC also sent her a gift hamper for "bringing their attention to the glitches."

"Hopefully, the information from my case will be put to good use and future credit card applicants and customers will have a smoother, less bureaucratic introduction to the Bank and its products," Anne says.

"The test of a company and its staff is when things do not go by the book or minor crises arise, their ability to respond in an appropriate and timely manner as they did in this case justifies their shareholders' and customers' confidence in the company."

, her search for the electric Electrolux pressure cooker is over. After the company's PR guy read my blog, he contacted me, and subsequently Anne, and arranged for the machine to be delivered to her doorstep.

Pretty good PR and damage control by HSBC and Electrolux although the latter was faster.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

We are sorry, but no personal apology, SIA tells Ricardo

Hours after I posted Ricardo Rodrigues' complaint to Singapore Airlines about an unhappy encounter he had on board SQ 637 from Narita to Singapore, its customer affairs manager Lindy Lin replied to him:

"Dear Mr Rodrigues

Thank you for speaking with me over the phone yesterday. I have since brought your case up to the attention of my Senior Manager.

Informatively, Customer Affairs department is specially set up to handle
all customers' feedbacks and therefore it will be the central point of contact for our customers and other departments. As such, while we can empathise with the experience you have related to us, we are regrettably unable to provide you with a personal letter of apology from the crew member or allow you a personal meeting with him.

Mr Rodrigues, I would like to reassure you that we will certainly take stern action against this crew member if it is found he had behaved inappropriately and unprofessionally. The incident will be recorded in his file and his performance will also be monitored. We will strive to ensure that a similar incident does not recur as well. I would also like you to know that I will personally follow through with this case and the investigations with our Cabin Crew Manager.

Please accept our sincere apologies for the poor experience, Mr Rodrigues.
Thank you.

Yours sincerely

Lindy Lin
Customer Affairs Manager"

Well, the ball is now back in Ricardo's court.

Ricardo uses SQ business class toilet and gets a scolding from crew

Time and tide wait for no man. I might add a tummy ache and its consequences, too, especially for just retired Ricardo Rodrigues recently.

Ricardo was completely stunned when he was reprimanded by a senior cabin crew from Singapore Airlines for using the Business Class toilet
when he was not allowed to do so while on a flight back to Singapore.

His mitigating factors were: he had a stomach ache and needed to use the loo urgently, and the economy class toilets were completely occupied.

When he got home, he wrote to the airline: "I would like to bring up an encounter with one of your flight crew that happened to me on a flight from Narita to Singapore on Sat 4th December 2010.

"I was on board flight SQ 637 departing Narita for Singapore and was seated in economy class seat 33D. This being a A380 flight, my seat was in the cabin directly behind the Business class section with a galley between the two cabins.

"After take-off, the crew started to serve drinks to the passengers. I suddenly developed a stomach ache and had to use the toilets. I stood up and saw that the toilets behind me were being used and there were other passengers waiting in line for them. I was also blocked by the drinks cart which was between me and the toilets.

"At this point of time, I had no choice but to try and use the Business class toilet. I went forward and saw one of the toilets was empty, and went to use it.

"Before entering the toilet, I saw two crew members near the toilet who did not stop me going in. After I had finished, I exited the toilet and started walking back to my seat.

" I heard a sound behind me, and when I turned around, I saw a senior crew member whom I recognised to be the In-flight Manager behind me and he in not too many words began to "scold" me by saying "These toilets are not for your use, they are solely for our priority passengers, you must use the toilets at the back. Do not use these toilets again".

"I was too stunned for any words, and I stood there and just replied OK. I then turned around and made my way back to my seat. I guess this guy was still not finished with me as he followed me back to my seat and continued to stare at me.

"I would like to admit that I may have made a mistake by using the Business class toilets and I will not make any excuse for using it except that it was an emergency to me.

"What I really expected was for your crew to speak in a better manner and tell me instead of treating me like some child. I may be in economy class, as this was a family holiday, but when on business I do travel on business class on certain sectors.

"I cannot give you the name of the crew, as I was too stunned to take down his name, but he was definitely a senior crew because all he did was walk around the cabin not doing anything.

"He had a crew cut and had quite a lot of grey hair. I also want to inform you that whilst he was telling me off, there was also another cabin crew member near him, and I could see from his face that he was quite uncomfortable to see and hear his senior treating a passenger in this manner.

"I am writing this not so much to get things from SQ, but to highlight the 'new' kind of service cabin crew are giving to passengers. I am sure that dealing with the millions of passengers SQ handles this has to be part and parcel of the job, but I as a Singaporean who always flies SQ, am very shocked by this.

"Kindly assist me by investigating this matter, as I know a simple letter of apology will normally be the case that Companies send and also to say that the person concerned will be counselled. In this day and age all airlines etc are doing the same for customers, but the difference has to be in the customer service both on the ground and in the air. I know this as I have been in the service industry for the last 30 odd years and have just retired.

"I would like to be able to receive a personal apology face to face from the crew concerned, or I may have to take this matter further. Please understand that this is not a threat."

Ricardo tells me that a woman from SQ called him last evening to apologise, but he feels that a more appropriate response would be a personal apology from the crew member concerned.

The ball is now in SQ's court.

Monday, December 6, 2010

SingPost gets more complaints

I had forgotten about my problem with SingPost over receiving letters that were not meant for me until I read three letters in The Straits Times today about people having mailing and delivery problems.

To be fair, I must say that SingPost had responded to me when I wrote to them recently about my problem and they were apologetic about it. After that, I started receiving all my mail sealed in a transparent plastic cover.

I do not know whether every household is getting the same treatment. If it were so, then I am sure the cost of delivery would have shot up. The question is, when will SingPost pass on the cost to its customers?

My other concern about having these plastic covers is that, at a time when the world is trying to GO GREEN, why is SingPost doing such a dumb thing.

These are the three letters in The Straits Times today (Dec 6):

Delayed packages and missing mail
I HAVE been selling baby products online since 2007 and usually I post out 10 to 20 packages a day to online customers, most of the time using SingPost. Recently, I have found that the postal service standards have dipped drastically.

It is stated on the post boxes that packages mailed before 5pm will reach recipients by the next working day. Yet, I have had so many instances of customers receiving my packages only three to four days later - sometimes up to two weeks later. This has been so especially since SingPost switched to a five-day work week.

Also, I have never encountered so many cases of lost mail until this year.
Do consumers have to make do with such standards of service?
Ivy Lam (Madam)
Take action
'The situation has not improved despite complaints.'
: 'Over the past 15 months, SingPost has on 15 occasions delivered to my mailbox letters meant for a unit in my neighbouring block which has the same unit number. They included even confidential letters like those from banks and the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore. The situation has not improved despite complaints to the inspector of post at Kallang Regional Base. Three of our own bills have gone missing so far. Has the implementation of the five-day work week resulted in a heavy load for postal staff at the start of the week, leading to errors? I hope SingPost will take fast action to bring its service back to the good old days.'
Wrong delivery, almost every day...
WE ARE a food and beverage firm located at the Concorde Hotel and Shopping Mall in Orchard Road. Since late October, we have been having problems with the postal service. The mail keeps getting put into the wrong slots practically every delivery day.

Our letter boxes are #01-01 and #01-02 but we have received mail for other units and even letters meant for shops in Orchard Plaza and recently, Centrepoint.

We used to receive at least 10 letters a day but now, only two to three letters reach us. We are worried that we are missing some. Some 20 other tenants in the building are also worried that their mail is going somewhere else.

I complained to Singapore Post three weeks ago. An assistant supervisor from SingPost called and promised that this will not happen again. But three days later, it started happening again.
Tan Ai Li (Ms)
Assistant Manager
Great Treat


No IHT causes withdrawal symptoms

Mr Holloway, Anne's hubby, obviously cannot do without the International Herald Tribune. When the newspaper did not appear on their doorstep over the last few days, he wanted to know why.

Anne got to work. She had an exchange of email with the paper's Hong Kong office followed by a phone call. Then she wrote to me:

"Mainstream print media is bleeding. South China Morning Post and Straits Times have been running subscription promotions to staunch the flow.

"Yet IHT's Subscription Customer Service in both Singapore and HK have missed the message.

"When I was in HK in early November, I renewed and paid for our subscription.

"At the end of November, I received a notice with a Singapore subscription number, telling me that our delivery of IHT in Singapore would cease as of December 3rd.

"Naturally I ignored this as our subscription is HK-based.

"No one from IHT had emailed me to remind me that time was up on our temporary diversion of delivery.

"So when our IHT did not arrive on Dec 4, I emailed IHT - offering to pay for the Singapore issues for 3 months and suggesting they start my HKG renewal when we finally get back to HK.

"Today, again no IHT so my head was on the block as my dear husband was suffering withdrawal symptoms (he needs a daily fix of a decent newspaper).

"I called and spoke to IHT in HK - the quickest they can reinstate delivery is December 8th.

"If he weren't such a dinosaur and would read his papers online, life would be simpler for me."

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Electrolux fails to fulfil Xmas wish

Christmas being round the corner and Anne Wong Holloway being a good cook (I assume) is missing the use of her made-in-China Supor Pressure Cooker.

So, when she chanced upon an ad in today's Straits Times promoting 12 Electrolux products including an electric pressure product, she went hunting for it after lunch. But, alas, she ended up with nothing.

"I would be hopping mad if my wild goose chase in 'underground Orchard Road' this afternoon (Saturday, 4 Dec 2010) wasn't good for my health after a huge lunch!" she consoled herself.

Anne has been looking high and low for a replacement cooker after her Chinese one succumbed to a sudden death. She had been become reliant on its "computerized wizardry which helped me produce great tasting dishes in next to no time. Unfortunately it had been purchased online in China and when it decided to die a sudden death no one wanted to take it in to be fixed."

She says Supor has a worldwide distributor in the SEB Tefal Group, but they do not import the pressure cookers into Singapore.

"Anyway, I decided to keep an eye out for something similar and the Electrolux EPC6000 seemed to fit the bill. After I read the advertisement I went to their website to check out the details.

"Poste haste, after Saturday lunch with my friends, I made my way through a sea of humanity to Tang's. Electrolux seemed to only have vacuum cleaners there. The sales representative suggested I try Best Denki, more in hope than certainty and so I made my way there underground.

"Unfortunately Best Denki did not have any Electrolux pressure cookers, the only appliance bearing any similarity being a Philips rice cooker-cum-pressure cooker. So I walked as fast as I could to get home.

"My heart and health benefitted from the walk, but I was no closer to a new electric pressure cooker.

"Electrolux's copy said, '.....we're giving merry deals for you and your loved ones to indulge and delight in." I only wish!' "

Well, Electrolux has failed to make this Christmas wish come true!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

SQ call centre completely fogged up

Last Friday, I posted Irene Hoe's story about how she had missed her SQ flight to the US but was still happy because of the excellent service that the ground staff had given her. But she also gave notice that there was a second part to her story --- one that concerned the call centre and this time, it wasn't a pleasant experience at all.

After a week in the States, she finally found time to write about it. Here's her story addressed to Singapore Airlines:

"Dear SQ,

When I was unable to board SQ62 that morning because of an ESTA problem, I called your reservations line to get me on the next flight out to the US, which was the flight going to LAX.

Unlike my experience with Lily and Dinesh at my abortive check-in, my dealings with your call-centre employee who gave his name as Rafiq proved most trying.

There seemed to be an impenetrable electrolinguistic fog between us that thwarted all my attempts to make him understand what I needed him to do.

His constant and repeated response was to insist that any changes to my itinerary had to be made through my travel agent.

I said this could not be correct. He kept insisting otherwise.

I was quite dumbfounded that he seemed not to understand me when I said again and again that I was still at Changi Airport, that it was 4am in Singapore and my travel agent's office would not open till 9am, by which time it would be too late for me to get on the LAX flight whose ETA was 9.45am.

Finally, after perhaps 10 minutes of this completely fruitless batting around of words, I said: "OK, let me start again. I have missed my flight. I need to get to the United States as soon as possible and this SIN-LAX flight is the next one out. Tell me how I can get on this flight."

Then and only then did he say that I could do so if I paid a $75 re-issue fee. Aiyoh!

Later on, it struck me that this SQ call centre could have been routed offshore to a call centre possibly in India, and that the extra $75 would be such a hefty sum in his terms of reference that he would think it unimaginable that anyone would want to pay it rather than wait a few days for a travel agent to sort it out.

That is the most charitable explanation I can come up with.

Never have I ever been so frustrated in my dealings with any airline's reservations call centre.

When I asked Rafiq if he could help me to change my onward connecting flights, which had been routed through Houston originally, he said bluntly: "No, you have to do it yourself." It wasn't just his words that were annoying but the completely unhelpful way in which they were uttered.

When I asked why I had to pay a no-show fee even though I had tried to check in for the flight, he said: "It's not the fault of Singapore Airlines that you were not able to board."

Ergo, it's YOUR fault, dummy.

At no time did I ever feel that this employee even halfway appreciated the stress that a passenger experiences over a missed flight, much less cared.

Moreover, when he transferred me to an automated system for payment, it kept timing out, and required repeat attempts.

When it came to making payment, Rafiq might as well have been a robot.

Is it is too much to expect a call-centre employee to walk a customer through the process? It would have helped if he had explained the prompts to expect and how I should respond, and to caution me that there would be a time limit.

All he did was inform me that I was being transferred me to some automated system. So, each time the process could not be completed and the call bounced back to him, he would sound increasingly irritated and I, ever more agitated.

By the time I hung up, I was drenched in perspiration from this utterly stressful encounter.

Think about this, SQ: These days, customers contacting your call centre are probably on cellphones. Therefore, each time your payment system prompts a customer to input some number or code, there is a time lag when the customer takes the phone from his ear (not everyone uses a Bluetooth headset) to key in whatever is required.

You may want to rethink the time allotted, unless you truly believe that the only people who call Reservations are digitally deft and perenially Bluetoothed teenagers capable of hitting the right keys precisely and flawlessly while their cellphones are still in their pockets.

Better still, please do investigate how United Airlines manages its call system which answers the issues I have raised. It uses voice recognition to perform most routine functions, referring callers to an employee when requested or when the system detects that a particular caller is experiencing difficulties.

It couldn't have been more of a contrast to Rafiq when I dealt next with United Airlines reservations. Its response to my predicament was sympathetic and helpful. "Sorry you missed your flight out of Singapore, ma'am. Let's see what we can do to get you a connecting flight."

I have one last request. I don't care if you do not respond to this email.

But whatever you do, PLEASE DO NOT send me one of those anodyne and insincere template replies . These form responses are irritating beyond belief and an insult to customers who have identified your system problems and taken the trouble to write to you. "

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not connected but Starhub charges Irene

Irene Hoe, who has had problems with Starhub over prepaid cards, is complaining again.

On holiday in the US right now, she emailed me her note to the telco:

"Starhub, This truly sucks. I cannot call it a service. If you look up my current usage, you will find that there were several attempts to call that despite never being connected were nevertheless charged against my prepaid account (8116 0122).

"I am in the USA now and finally I appreciate what a service you rendered me on previous visits when I was unable to make a call using my prepaid SIM."

When can we get consistently good service from our telcos?????

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Botanic Gardens cat saved after plea by Anne and her walking pals

Three walking pals -- Anne Wong Holloway, Linda Shaw and Shirley -- were most upset and worked up last Thursday morning to find a cage baited with a chicken leg in the Botanic Gardens. Beside the cage was a sign that advised anyone seeing a cat in it not to release it but to telephone a pest control company.

Anne told me that her friends called the pest control company who told them that they had been engaged to trap the cat and hand it over to the SPCA.

NParks whom they also contacted said that someone had complained about the presence of the cat. The person they spoke to suggested that they wrote in on behalf of the cat, and they did.

Linda told NParks that the car "has been a resident and a favorite mascot of regular visitors to Botanic Gardens."

She questioned the need to remove the cat which "is harmless and adds to the character of the Gardens."

Apparently, there had been a complaint that feeding the cat would attract other strays and that plastic bags of food left by well-meaning people was unsightly.

Linda said: "This cat has been here for many years and we have yet to see any other strays coming in to that particular area -- the services entrance of the Orchid Pavilion --- because of the food. Besides, the cat appears to have been neutered. As for litter from leftover food, that can be taken care of in your routine maintenance, as with all other human litter.

"Surely this Garden does not merely exist for a few animal-phobic human beings whom I am sure are a minority.

"I urge you to call off your pest control people and get them to remove the trap. I also hope you won't resort to poisoning either."

Anne's email to NParks argued: "My friends and I have seen human visitors to the Gardens --- some of whom are less fastidious than this cat. They hawk and spit or leave litter.

"Since your maintenance crew have to pick up after human visitors, surely a small container left over from feeding the cat should not present a major problem.

"I can understand trying to trap and get rid of it if the cat were a monkey because some of them can be aggressive and do terrorise adults and children alike --- as a child growing up in Singapore I was terrified by the monkeys that used to roam freely in the Botanic Gardens. But this is a harmless domestic animal."

NParks obviously was swayed by the women's explanations and arguments. It wrote back promptly to inform them that the trap had been removed.

The next time you see a white cat with ginger patches in the Botanic Gardens, remember that it is still there because of Anne and her walking pals. Bouquets to these three women.

And also to NParks and Botanic Gardens for acceding to their plea.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Irene misses SQ flight but she's happy

Frequent flyer Irene Hoe has taken off again --- this time to the US. But the trip did not start off
smoothly. In fact, she missed her flight because of a mistake in her ESTA application. And she had to check into an airport hotel to wait for another flight.

However, it was not all frustration for her even though she was delayed. She was thoroughly impressed with the Singapore Airlines ground staff who helped her and she promptly wrote to SQ to tell them about it.

Here's her letter:

"Dear SQ,

I used to say that you were my favourite airline in the air but never on the ground.

I'd like to amend that in view of my experience at Terminal 3 when I tried to check in for SQ 62 early on Tuesday morning. I didn't manage it but I was very favourably impressed by the efforts your staff made to accommodate my needs.

The problem began when I trusted an unfamiliar employee of the travel agency I use to register me for ESTA with my new passport number. He apparently just checked the date when the agency had last made an ESTA application on my behalf, then assured me all was in order.

All was not in order.

So when your staff tried to check me in, they couldn't, as the ESTA system didn't recognize the new passport number.

They assessed the situation quickly and called the gate to alert them while they helped me to use a PC to register for ESTA, read out my new (and unfamiliar) passport number to me as I went through the process, supplied paper and pen so I could write down my registration receipt number, and in lieu of printing out the receipt for verification suggested that I use my cellphone to take a picture of it.

Lily helped me to stay calm while the application page kept bouncing back with error messages. Then I had a minor brainwave and removed the # sign from my address. This time, my application was finally accepted.

But by then it had really got very late. Lily apologized and said they were sorry but they couldn't hold the gate open for me any longer. She told me the next flight out to the USA was to LAX via NRT and wrote down the reservations telephone number for me.

I decided to stay at the Crowne Plaza for what was left of the night while I worked to reset my itinerary. Dinesh piled my bags back on the baggage cart and walked me across to the hotel's reception desk. I had told him I could make it there on my own but he insisted on helping me, for which I am most grateful.

What impressed me throughout the whole episode, was that never once did Lily, Dinesh and another lady whose name I didn't catch make me feel that it was my fault (and it was!) or that I was inconveniencing them (I was).

Thank you for restoring my faith in SQ.

Irene Hoe

(And there's Part 2 to come concerning your call centre) "

Bouquet to the SIA ground staff who showed so much understanding and went out of their way to help Irene.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

SIA apologises to Quak for 'only pork' meal

Singapore Airlines has apologised to Quak Hiang Whai for the disappointing meal he had on board SQ 802 on 15 November 2010 from Singapore to Beijing.

In an email to Quak, its customer affairs manager Dzuraimi Mohamad Taib said: "I would like to apologise for the disappointment caused to you on this occasion. I understand that the chicken meal had run out and there was only the pork meal as an alternative. We uplift our meal types based on past consumption figures as a means to reduce wastage of food onboard our flights.

"Evidently though, the figures need to be revised from your experience. I would like to reassure you that I have conveyed this to our Food and Beverage Manager to review the uplift figures.

"I note that you were expecting our crew to surprise you with some initiative. Certainly, they could have tried doing this versus just providing you the starters.

"As you mentioned, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach and our crew should have been more sensitive to your needs. We apologise for the lack of proactiveness on the part of our crew. The crew will be spoken to on the importance of looking after our passengers’ needs to the best of their abilities.

"I realise that I am unable to reverse your experience, but as a gesture of goodwill, I would like to arrange for 3000 miles to be credited into your KrisFlyer account. This is just above the number of miles which you would have accrued for your flight. These miles can be used towards future upgrade and award redemption bookings...

"Mr Quak, thank you for this opportunity to follow-up on your concerns. We hope to be of better service to you for our future flights.''

I am glad that SIA has made the effort to address its passenger's disappointment. For the record, Quak did not make the statement that "Stewardess probably didn't know that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach". I did.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Second time unlucky for Shionge

Shionge was so happy this morning when she found out that the promoter of Korean boyband Super Junior was releasing another 200 tickets for the "sold-out" January 29 show.

She activated many friends and family members to help her book tickets online, only to be disappointed again because the computer was completely jammed.

She said her friend had queued at the Vivocity Sistic outlet but also could not get any tickets even though she was fourth in the queue.

Sistic has responded to my feedback about not setting aside a portion of the tickets for public sale. It said that it was out of its control as the decision was made by the promoter, Running Into The Sun, a subsidiary of Fly Entertainment.

Tickets were snapped up a few hours after they were put out for sale on Saturday (Nov 20). Apparently, all of them were taken up by priority bookings, leaving nothing for the public sale which was scheduled to start on Nov. 23.

An upset Shionge said: "Actually I am just a supportive Mom trying to buy tickets for my two teenage daughters and I knew their anguish. Only good thing was that they did not queue overnight like what some teenagers did over at the Hereen on Friday."

Monday, November 22, 2010

Super Junior, but sad Shionge

Shionge was looking forward to buying tickets for her two teenage daughter to watch the Korean boyband Super Junior when news of their show was announced. But because of priority bookings, every ticket was snapped up and nothing was left for the public.

She emailed me: "I am very upset to find out that although priority booking for Super Junior was meant for OCBC Credit Card & Singtel customers, all tickets were released from 20 Nov to 22 Nov.

"The publicity poster stated that ticket sale for the public would commence on 23 Nov onwards.

"As I was not able to log on to book on Saturday, I had to wait till 23 Nov (Tues). Meantime, I emailed Sistic just to check how many tickets were available online and via Sistic counter.

"To my surprise, Sistic customer service officer Donna told me all tickets were sold out on the first day during priority booking. I am very upset because if this was so, then they should have informed the public, otherwise all the poor fans and teenagers would be camping overnight at Sistic outlets just to get their hands on the tickets.

"She told me she would feedback to the Management but I felt that the system is totally wrong. If there is priority booking for credit card holders then some tickets should be reserved for public sale. Imagine if I did not find out this morning, I would have been one of the fan queuing up overnight.

"With 5000 tickets for sale, how is it possible that within minutes all tickets are gone? I am really upset and now ebay is selling them like ‘hot cakes’….. Grrrrrrr….

"Anyway, just my thoughts, Sistic should have allocated tickets fairly and not released all on the first day."

Shionge made a valid point. Sistic should have kept a portion of the tickets for those people who either do not have a OCBC credit card or a Singtel account.

And if indeed all the tickets were sold out before November 23, when public sale was scheduled to begin, then it was the ticket-seller's duty to inform them instead of keeping them in the dark.

Another case of an organisation taking its loyal customers for granted?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Anne's frustrations with HSBC

Anne Holloway is exasperated with HSBC. After her frustrating attempts to apply for a credit card, she has this to say:

"Nothing gets my goat more than incompetence and lousy customer service and thus far, in my 61 years of life, the most outstanding example has been HSBC (the global local bank) in the past week.

"No, I did not want a loan or credit. I just wanted to apply for an HSBC credit card for the SOLE reason that Cathay Pacific has fare promotions --- and some require the possession of an HSBC credit card.

"Word to CX: the problem with you (and any company requiring a specific credit card issuer) is that by the time the person obtains the credit card, it is often too late to take advantage of the promotion.

"It will be for me - IF and when HSBC Singapore ever issues me a credit card!

"CX's Singapore website informed thus:

'Don't have a HSBC Visa Platinum credit card yet? Sign up for one today! To apply, SMS to 74722 with PLATCNAME NRIC e.g. PLATC Christine Ng S1234567A
Visit for HSBC terms & conditions.'

"I sent an SMS on Nov 13 (11:07 am according to my iPhone) - it remains in the ether somewhere, as there has been no call from HSBC's card centre. As a matter of fact I sent another one after that (both were acknowledged).

"Then, I went online to ask someone to contact me; also no response.

"Last resort: I emailed my brother to refer me for a card so that he and I could benefit (hey, I am as frugal as the traditional HSBC banker!).

"This led me to visit an HSBC branch about a Par 3 from our condominium yesterday afternoon (6 days after my first SMS) and completing an application form and providing copies of my Singapore IC and 2 years' tax returns.

"Last night I got on the web and sent in a referral form on my brother's behalf. It was acknowledged and I was instructed in an email to complete an online application which I tried to complete.

"This morning I attempted to call HSBC's Claymore branch to ask the friendly banker to submit my hard copy application with my brother's referral reference. That's when the fun and games truly started!

"Without going into greater detail, I finally sent this in a feedback form to HSBC:

'I am NOT an HSBC customer and do NOT wish to be after most unsatisfactory recent experiences within 24 hrs. It culminated in dealing with 'Betty' at your call centre (9:20-ish today, Nov 20, 2010) in order to contact Jonathan Shan at your Claymore branch.

'I got hold of 'Betty' as none of the other phone options I tried led me to someone I could speak to without a card or account number.

'Your branch is a stone's throw from where I live and I can walk in any time - but I cannot get the telephone number or have my call routed there.

'So I shall have to get dressed and go look for Jonathan?

'Because 'Betty' required my name, the reason for my wanting to contact Jonathan, etc - thanks to Singapore's absent privacy laws I have to reveal my personal details to a call centre person even before I know if she could help me?

'No way. Thanks, HSBC'

"It is 9:59 am as I write this and Jonathan has not called me. So I shall change and visit the branch to find out if anyone from the call centre has passed on my message to him!

"LATER: (circa 10:12am) My cellphone rang as I was getting ready to visit HSBC at Claymore Hill. It was the brother's friendly banker to whom I gave a potted version of what happened.

"It transpires that the referall programme is restricted to online applications.

"So we agreed he will go ahead and submit the hard copy with the supporting documents today when the bank messenger physically transports it for processing.

"And NO, no one from the HSBC call centre has relayed my message to Jonathan.

"The way I see this whole episode is that the call centre telemarketers, the branch staff and HSBC's online centre all compete for the same piece of business and ne'er the twain shall meet.

"Except when a dummy like me, sitting at my laptop, visits their website with telephones (landline and iPhone) at the ready and within sight of an HSBC branch decides to apply for a credit card that I never wanted before but now need to have in order to buy a discounted air ticket.

"If there is blame (oh dear, I'm being un 'PC') then it is the marketing strategists and executors --the overseers of the website (do they act on responses by SMS and email?) and those training the call centre boys and girls.

"As my late mother used to say, "it's not the poor boob's fault" when the system got the better of a person. Which in this case is true --- the system and manuals got in the way of the people who are supposed to get their audiences to love the bank!"


Saturday, November 20, 2010

No chicken -- or satay --- from SIA

Unlike Irene Hoe, Quak Hiang Whai is not impressed with Singapore Airlines' service. I was surprised by what he told me:

"Disappointed with SIA service quality these days. Flew to Beijing Nov 15 802 Flight. They offered me Pork or nothing for lunch. So i flew all the way to China without a proper meal.

"They said they ran out of chicken. I waited to see if they would surprise me with some initiative (Maybe go Business class and grab some satay or something). Stewardess offered me starters instead."

Well, I am sure biz class would have more than enough satay to spare. Stewardess probably didn't know that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Irene praises Fuad from Starhub

Irene Hoe, who had criticised Starhub for its below-par service, has written to praise a young man from the company who helped her.

She said: "While I was on my way to your service centre at Plaza Singapura last week, my left knee gave way and I was in great pain. I managed to hobble over to Starhub. There, a nice young man called Fuad helped me to a seat, and got someone to attend to linking my prepaid account to an auto top-up.

"While I was trying to decide how I was going to make it to Guardian Pharmacy to get a walking stick, Fuad appeared again and gave me his arm to help me get to the pharmacy.

"His genuine concern and thoughtfulness, which no instruction manual and no amount of sensitivity training can instill, are a credit to his upbringing and also to Starhub."

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sistic fails to convince Irene

Sharon Chan, Sistic's Senior Executive, Corporate & Marketing Communications, has responded to Irene Hoe's concern with giving her personal data over the Internet in the customer survey.

In an email to Irene, she said: "... we would like to assure you that the survey software we are using offers SSL encryption so your details are encrypted while being transmitted to us.

"The reason why we ask for an ID number is for us to verify that the winner who comes to collect the prize is indeed the person who responded to the survey. We will request for a copy of their ID and check it against the info in the survey. With an attractive prize of iPads, we need to be doubly sure!

"As for birth dates, we use that information to help us understand the
demographics of our respondents."

Unfortunately, Irene was not convinced. She wrote back:

"Dear Sharon,

"To be valid and useful, a market survey does not need such complete and detailed personal ID information, especially that which can be subject to misuse.

"It is well and good that you say you encrypt this. But it is still no guarantee that my personal information will be completely secure in your hands. Moreover, customers have absolutely NO assurance that you will not sell on this information, no matter what you say in an email. An email is not legally binding.

"As I stated, if you asked for the last four digits and alphabet of a customer's IC number instead of the whole thing, you would still be able to verify ID.

"The chances that there would be TWO people with the same name and ICs with exactly the same last four digits AND alphabet are nil.

"Even if I can understand why you want all this information in a form that can be easily hacked - I am unwilling to risk identity theft.

"Besides, I already own an iPad.

"I am a regular if not frequent customer and for that reason, am not ordinarily averse to giving feedback at any time, providing the questions are few and relevant and the format does not insist on so many personal details."

Monday, November 8, 2010

It's taking a long time for term insurance to be promoted

Life insurers know that term insurance is the best and most economical way to ensure protection for you and your family. But they do not encourage their agents to promote it actively because the returns are pittance compared to those that have an investment link.

Over the years, the authorities and a few honest financial advisers have been urging the industry to do the right thing but to date their pleas have fallen on deaf ears.

Last month, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong raised the subject again by asking life insurers to put more emphasis on term insurance. He gave good reasons why it should be done, one of which was that it would allow lower-income to be insured.

So far, nothing has been heard from the life insurance industry leaders to say that they support SM Goh's call.

Meanwhile, I was encouraged after reading a commentary in The Sunday Times yesterday (Nov 8) by Christopher Tan, CEO of Providend, a fee-only independent financial advisory firm, advocating the use of term insurance as a form of life protection.

I was sufficiently moved by his piece to write a letter to the newspaper calling for action to be taken. Hopefully, it will be published in the next edition.

Here's letter to The Sunday Times....

After reading last Sunday's Invest commentary, “For good terms, buy term insurance”, by Christopher Tan, CEO of Providend, a fee-only independent financial advisory firm, I must say that his is the most honest and clearest of all the views that have been expressed by industry leaders on this subject.

Although there have been other advocates of term insurance as the best and cheapest way to protect yourself and your family, their voices have somewhat been lost in the insurance jungle out there.

This is because insurers have always been able to counter their argument by appealing to people's natural inclinations towards savings and investments, and encouraging them to buy investment-linked products instead.

But what these insurers have failed in their duty by not informing their customers the indecent amount of commissions that they would make from selling such “with-profits” policies. Policy-holders therefore are not made aware of how much they have been over-paying for protection.

But Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong certainly knows what has been going on when he recently urged insurers to put more emphasis on selling term insurance. The Insurance Commissioner from the Monetary Authority of Singapore has also over the years been encouraging the life insurance industry to do the same.

However, my belief is that change will be slow --- if at all. According to CEO Tan, his firm has been advocating term insurance for the past seven years but not very much has changed.

As I see it, there is really no motivation for these insurers to heed what SM Goh said.. Why should they when a large chunk of their profits is from selling investment-linked products. I dread to think how much mis-selling of policies has taken place.

Many who have been landed with “wrong or inappropriate” policies are now stuck with them. They do not know how to extricate themselves from the situation they have been put into without losing lots of money.

While the government is only doing the urging because it still believes in the “buyers beware” regime, the insurers and their agents meanwhile continue to sit pretty on their awesome profits and commissions.

It is high time someone in authority took action to burst the bubble. Words alone mean nothing to Big Business.

Here's Christopher Tan's commentary in The Sunday Times yesterday:

"For good terms, buy term insurance"
Insurance is for protection only – and term policies offer more value for money than whole life plans

"Since 2003, my wealth management firm Providend has been advocating the use of term insurance as a form of life protection. While many Singaporeans appreciated our belief, the insurance and financial planning industry fought it. We stood out like a sore thumb and were a lone voice.

So it was very encouraging for me when, during NTUC Income’s 40th anniversary dinner two weeks ago, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong supported the use of term insurance and even asked insurers to put more emphasis on it.

So, why our belief in using term insurance?

Some of the biggest risks in life include the loss of income due to death, disability and any medical crisis. When we retire and no longer earn an income, we do not need insurance protection for it. Therefore, buying permanent cover using expensive whole life insurance means paying for something that you do not need and likely cannot afford. So Singaporeans end up being grossly under-covered for their protection needs.

One of the main reasons given by insurance agents to people on why they should not buy term insurance is that when the insurance expires, you will get nothing back. While this is true, it is only half a truth. This is because it is the same for whole life plans too. For every dollar you pay as premium for your whole life plan, a portion of it goes into paying the mortality charge that provides you the cover you need. The rest of it is invested into the insurance company’s life fund. The mortality charge portion is never returned to you.

The only reason you get money back from a whole life plan is that you gave the insurance companies extra money to invest. But when you buy a term plan, you are effectively paying only for the mortality charge. You are just buying pure protection.

For the longest time, we have been told that we can use insurance for protection as well as saving towards our financial goals. The irony of this is that the returns of insurance are insufficient to help us reach our goals and whole life insurance is so expensive that you are likely to have insufficient cover, which means it will not protect you fully as well. So buying whole life insurance achieves neither goal.

When we buy term insurance, we can at least achieve the protection goal, which is the priority and foundation of all good financial plans. Then, with proper advice and coaching, we can use the savings from not buying a whole life plan to invest and reach our goals. We now have a chance to achieve both goals. Even if you are very conservative, there are many other optional instruments. There is no need to use insurance. Insurance is for protection only – the word insurance suggests so.

If the advantages of term plans are so clear, why are they not frequently bought? There are many reasons, but editorial space allows me to highlight only the two main ones. I call them the two ‘lacks’ of salesmen. The first is the lack of knowledge, and the second, the lack of motivation.

When I started out in this profession about 14 years ago, I spent a short time with an insurance company. I can count the number of times we were trained in the use of term insurance on one hand. The emphasis was always on ‘with-profits’ products.

But I think the biggest hindrance to term plans is the salesman’s lack of motivation. It is obvious that the commission payout for a whole life plan is a lot more than that for a term plan. In this commission-hungry industry where salesmen are rewarded for sales more than advice, whole life plans will always be sold. This is not to say there are no good salesmen or advisers out there. Unfortunately, they are in the minority. I know some of them who will insist on recommending term insurance despite earning less. To these people, I salute you. But the fact still remains that for the majority, compensation drives behaviour.

I speak at seminars to thousands of people each year. Every time I ask why they don’t buy term insurance, most will tell me that their agents and advisers will not sell it to them. Even if they do, they will package some whole life plans together with it, on the basis of ‘playing safe’, just in case they need it for their entire life.

About two months ago, I asked an actuary (someone who designs insurance products) who had left an insurance company what he buys for himself. Like many former actuaries I have spoken to, he said he would never buy an investment-linked plan or a whole life plan as it is just too expensive and doesn’t make sense. He has protected his family with term plans. So, if the chef doesn’t eat his own cooking, why should we?

SM Goh pointed out that it is the advisers who wield the greatest influence on the type of plan a person buys. I agree. We have been advocating term insurance for the past seven years and not very much has changed. I believe real change will come when Singaporeans understand what insurance is for and begin to insist on term insurance. Salesmen will then have no choice but to sell it.

It is a shame that clients have to tell this industry the right thing to do. But in the case of term insurance, it is the only way things will change. I look forward to the day when we have an advisory industry and not a sales one."

The writer is the chief executive officer of Providend, a fee-only independent financial advisory firm.

As a parting note, this is what CNBC's financial adviser Suze Orman, who also advocates term insurance, has to say about whole-life policies:

"If your friend advises you to buy a whole-life plan, he is NOT your friend."

Thursday, November 4, 2010

DBS makes service recovery

I posted Auntie Lucie's complaint about DBS's customer-unfriendly way of cancelling her Gold Visa card on my blog last month (
She emailed today to inform me that the DBS has acted to bring closure to the issue. A woman named Mel rang her to say that the bank was going to upgrade her card to Platinium.

Here's what she wrote in her blog, Food fuels me to talk...

"DBS credit card: service recovery?

Believe it or not, I got a call around sevenish tonight, from a woman who said she was from DBS. When asked for her name, she said she was Mel, no surname, nothing more as “sorry, we are not allowed to give more identification”.


She offered to upgrade my DBS Gold Visa card that I had been notified would cease to be valid from Dec 1 — as detailed here – to a Platinum card, at no charge and to port over all existing arrangements and benefits from the gold card to the new card.

She asked for my I/C number and date of birth.

Naturally, after I accepted the offer verbally – although grumbling all the while why such an offer couldn’t have been made together with the notice to invalidate the existing card — I was somewhat suspicious.

Could it all be a hoax?

OK, the caller ID on my mobile showed 68786800 but it’s not a number I’m familiar with, tho that doesn’t necessarily make it a fake number of course!

Hence on hearing Mel say she couldn’t give me a more complete name than M-E-L to help me identify her in future should the need arise, I pressed for other identifying marks.

Which department are you from?

She replied: “Funds transfer department.”

Does that deal with the credit card in question?

She replied: “I’m helping the customer service agent.”

I was about to give up when she added this caveat: “You should receive your platinum card no later than February 2011. Meanwhile, you can continue to use your gold card.”

So, great! The card that was going to be invalid on Dec 1 would remain valid till February 2011, unless the new card arrives earlier.

Again, why couldn’t DBS have thought all this thru before shooting off its termination notice?

Still, I really should be thanking DBS on bended knees for remembering to make me this offer, considering that it ends tomorrow. I should consider myself lucky to have gotten on board be4 it ended, n’est pas?

Such great service recovery this! If I’m ever asked, I shall definitely nominate DBS as Singapore’s best service provider of the year! Only kidding! "

I am glad DBS is listening --- and acting. Hopefully, it is learning, too.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Sistic, be more sensitive!

Sistic is doing a survey as it aims to improve its service "to make your ticket buying experience a better one." But it also wants those being surveyed to give their IC numbers and other details which theatre-goer Irene Ho objects to.

She wrote to Sistic: "Do NOT ever require people to give you their IC numbers online when you can offer NO ASSURANCE of the security of our information and NO GUARANTEE that my identity will not be stolen through the carelessness - or worse - of the staff at your office and those who might handle this information.

"I got to the end of the survey and would have been happy to send it in but NOT with my IC number, complete with birthdate and other details that would have allowed someone to use my Sistic account without my knowledge and also do certain financial transactions.

"It should be enough to require the last three or four digits of a customer's IC number. After all, YOU contacted me and you should recognise me as a customer.

"This is just a survey. You are not paying us to complete this survey. Your prize is not worth the risk of compromising the security of my identity."

As an organisation dealing with the public, Sistic ought to be more sensitive about their customers' personal data.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Holland American Line apologises

Holland America Line has finally replied to feedback (Excellent service on Ms Eurodam? Not in our case ) on my travelling group's experience during our New England cruise in September

The email from Ms Hanna Kielczewska, Special Advisor, Office of the President, says:

"Thank you for the email referring us to your web log concerning your ms Eurodam sailing on September 6, 2010. First and foremost, we are sorry for the disappointment you experienced.

Holland America Line acknowledges the significant personal impact felt by a guest who encounters multiple issues, large or small, on their cruise. The majority of our passengers sail without incident, and our satisfaction ratings remain extremely high.

"We endeavor to prevent problems, and try to remedy difficulties as they arise, but occasionally an unfortunate combination of factors causes an individual to be affected by several matters on the same cruise. The main concerns that you addressed were with regard to the embarkation procedure, the shore operations check-in staff, the laundry services, the price of bottled water as well as the onboard management decisions and follow up.

"Rather than respond to each of these points one by one, we would like to assure you that we take guest input very seriously. In light of your correspondence, we have registered all of your complaints against this sailing and have advised the appropriate senior management for their information and corrective action where necessary.

"Furthermore, we sincerely regret that you were dissatisfied with the itinerary on your cruise. Careful planning goes into choosing our cruise ship routes and port calls. We endeavor to offer fascinating destinations around the world so that our travelers may experience a rich diversity of people, places, and cultures.

"Although the port facilities at some locations may not be in the center of the areas of interest, we strive to offer a variety of optional shore excursions to enhance our guests’ experience and maximize their time ashore.

"Also, we periodically revise and update itineraries to appeal to our many repeat travelers, while maintaining numerous long-standing favorites. We do apologize if you feel that the ports of call on this sailing were not completely satisfactory and we hope that your next cruise itinerary will be more to your liking.

"We understand an apology will not erase the frustration you experienced on board; however, we appreciate your efforts in providing us with specific details on how we may improve. Your feedback is extremely valuable to us, as it is through constructive suggestions that we will be able to maintain the high standards toward which we consistently work.

"Staff will certainly redouble their efforts to meet our goal of consistent excellence. We thank you again for taking the time to provide us with your detailed comments. We hope you will give us another opportunity to welcome you on board again in the near future."

I am glad the cruise management took the trouble to reply at length to our complaints. It is a good example of how service providers should respond when they are faced with unhappy customers.

Many will stay it is so much words and that those promises must be seen to be fulfilled. I agree.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Another grouse against DBS

My friend Wendy obviously isn't the only one unhappy with DBS for cancelling her Gold Visa card without making it customer-friendly.

The following was what Auntie Lucia wrote about her experience in her blog, Food fuels me to talk...

Credit card nonsense
This post belongs to the “everything must complain” category. I’ve been encouraged to write about my own experience with the sudden notice from DBS Cards to cancel my Gold Visa (among other cards) starting Dec 1, after reading Boo n Bouquet’s version.

I was a bit non-plussed on receiving what seemed like a marketing circular that i almost threw away. Just as well I took a closer look.

The circular advised that “as other DBS/POSB Credit Cards bring you market competitive privileges and benefits”, the bank has taken the unilateral decision to close your ”DBS Affiinity/Charge Gold Visa/Mastercard credit card XXXX-XXXX-XXXX-7066″.

I hold two DBS cards and at first wondered if the bank meant both since one is what I assume is an “affinity” card (being a National University of Singapore Society card) and the other was once an affinity card too (to Raffles Marina, till some where along the way RM broke off its affinity with DBS and the bank without much ado issued me a new gold Visa card).

Then I took heart. Going by the last four digits provided by the circular, only the ID of my gold card ended with 7066.

And shucks, I’ve got a Giro payment for a small health insurance policy that’s been going on for perhaps 20 years linked to it. With the card gone, my policy may laspe and I don’t want that to happen.

I called the bank’s hotline. I waited for ages b4 I got to speak to a customer service officer and after many more minutes of explanation managed to extract a phone number from him, with the helpful tip on where I might find my policy number in my monthly credit card bill.

No, he could not arrange for the Giro charges to be ported over to my other DBS card. No, he couldn’t do anything. I must contact the insurer and make my own arrangements. And to think I had originally signed up for that insurance package because the card issuer made all the arrangements!

More time wasted with the insurers be4 I got the necessary form to instruct the insurer to instruct the bank to deduct.

I’m not the only DBS credit card holder inconvenienced by the bank’s unusual move to delete a whole slate of cards at one stroke.

Perhaps the 7066 cards are cards which are hardly used by their holders.

If so, DBS should have given card holders a choice: use them more often or give them up. And if you give them up, we will help you move your Giro arrangements to other DBS cards you use. We will also help you to consolidate your reward points rather than force you to consume them be4 Dec 1.

That would have been a lot more customer friendly.

But then, when you are Singapore’s biggest bank, who cares about being customer friendly!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Irene pleased with SQ service

Irene Hoe, back from yet another holiday in Europe, is thoroughly pleased with the service from Singapore Airlines.

"Both flights were very pleasant," she said.

"I was in 35C on SQ324. During the night, I had a coughing fit while in the toilet. Almost immediately, there was a knock on the door and a concerned voice asked: "Is everything all right, ma'am? Are you OK?"

"When I emerged several minutes later, the flight attendant was still there, asking if I was unwell and if she could get me anything. "Tea? Some warm water?" she said.

"I didn't really need anything but she was so kind and sounded so concerned that I said yes to the warm water.

"She made me feel so well looked after.

"On SQ 321, I was in 43C. I declined the breakfast as both of the choices contained chicken, to which I am allergic. Immediately, the flight attendant went to check if there was a vegetarian meal I could have.

"She and the male colleague who brought me the meal both asked if I was travelling again soon and took the trouble to explain how to request a special meal. That was nice, especially as it was a full flight and they'd only just started on the meal service.

"I explained that I just usually carry my own food in case I can't get a non-chicken meal, because it's easier and safer that way.

"Ex-Singapore and HK, I believe that some sauces and gravies in "non-chicken" meals may be seasoned with chicken stock or chicken powder as I've sometimes had allergic reactions after a meal on board. Incidentally, it's never happened with meals ex-US or ex-Europe.

"By the way, I have tried ordering a special meal online in the past but have given up on that as I can't see how it is to be accomplished."

Definitely a BOUQUET for SIA.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Wendy upset with DBS Bank

My friend Wendy has been a DBS Bank customer for more than 30 years. You can consider her one of the bank's loyal clients.

Soon after she started work, she got for herself the bank's Classic Visa credit card. Later it was changed to a Gold card and she has been using it since.

Last month, the bank sent out a letter to all its customers who have its DBS Affinity/Charge Gold Visa/Mastercard credit cards, informing them of their impending closure.

Its September 28 letter did not give a reason for the closure. It simply said that it will be closing the credit card programme on December 1 and that any supplementary card tagged to the principal card will also be closed.

Wendy was understandably upset because she felt that the bank should have offered her another card as she had been a long-time customer and that was the least it could have done.

Instead, it asked that she apply for another DBS/POSB card that is "most in tune with your lifestyle".

By the way, Wendy is a Treasures customer, so one would have expected the bank to offer her another card without her asking for it.

Instead, she had to call up her relationship manager who subsequently visited her to get her to fill up an application form for a new card. This is really unnecessary "service" which the bank could have easily circumvented.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Two servers leave a good feeling

After coming across two excellent service providers in the past few days, I am beginning to think that more of such people are fast realising the importance of good service.

I may be a little optimistic, but I must say I do end up with a good feeling when I get service that is out of the ordinary.

The first to impress was Frank Yeo, sales executive of Audio House in Liang Court shopping centre. My wife and I were there to shop for a new fridge, and he attended to us.

He knew his products and was patient, even though he was pumped with numerous questions about reliability, guarantee, size and usage. He also said the company would charge $50 to carry away our old fridge.

When we got home and confirmed that the fridge was suitable, my wife called him twice to ask him more questions before placing an order. He remained patient and helpful. What was a pleasant surprise was when he said that he would ask the company to waive the $50 fee for taking away the old fridge.

Delivery was prompt and we now have a Samsung fridge that I am confident will not give us as many problems as the American model.

The other person who made my day was a young Nepalese man named Tanka. He works as a supervisor in Chin Huat Seafood Restaurant in Sunset Way, Clementi estate, but he told me that he was also studying part-time to improve himself.

What I liked about Tanka was his easy demeanour, his initiative and his willing to serve. My friend Sunny and I could tell straightaway that he was a true professional. No request was too big a task for him.

Tanka explained to us the value of the set lunch at $11.90++. It included a wonderful starter of smoked duck and wasabi prawn, lovely deserts of black glutinous rice with ice-cream and durian pudding, plus a choice of coffee, Chinese tea or ice lemon tea.

When it came to choosing the main course, he suggested that Sunny and I order Seafood Hokkien noodles and Seafood Horfun, instead of both of us having the latter. That way, he reasoned, we could share and taste two different dishes.

Meal over, he came over to ask us for feedback. Overall, I would give it 9 out of 10 for its quality, value and the service that Tanka provided.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

No-Claims Discount: Let's hope authorities will act this time

I am glad to see the issue of No-Claims Discount (NCD) being aired in The Straits Times' Forum.

I wrote about my personal experience on this subject in this blog headlined, "Why must motor insurers have it both ways", on April 1 but, sadly, could not get the authorities to do something about it.

I hope with the issue being raised again this time, some kind of action will be taken.

It is so obvious in this NCD issue that our motor insurers are having their cake and eating it. The queston is, why is our Insurance Commissioner blind to it?

Here is the letter by Tan Kin Lian, former NTUC Income's CEO, published in the Forum Page today (Oct 6):

A fairer contract for motorists
THE General Insurance Association of Singapore's reply on Monday ('GIA's advice to motorists on no-claims discount') noted that motor insurers here offered different variants of the no-claims discount (NCD) protector.

But as a market practice, all motor insurers disallow the transfer of protected NCDs from one insurer to another.

It is unfair for consumers to pay an additional premium for an NCD protector and to suffer a large loading in the premium on making a claim.

It defeats the purpose of purchasing the protector in the first place.

It is unrealistic to expect consumers to be aware of the intricacies of the different NCD protectors offered by insurance companies. Some consumers may be paying the additional premium without any real benefit.

The association should ask its members to have a standard feature in the NCD protector that guarantees the preservation of the full NCD and the waiver of any loading to the premium as the result of one claim.

The cost of the waiver of the loading can be priced into the premium for the protector.

This would be a fairer contract for consumers.

I hope the regulatory body will encourage the association to take this step in the interest of fair dealings with consumers.

Tan Kin Lian "

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Excellent service on Ms Eurodam? Not in our case

Now that I have more or less recovered from my jetlag, I guess I should relate some of the high and low points of our travelling group's experience with service providers in our three-week holiday that included a 10-day cruise on board the Ms Eurodam (pictured)

Our group of 10 took the ship, one of many operated by the Holland America Line, from New York to Quebec. At the end of it, most of us rated it the worst of all the cruises that we have taken.

One of the reasons perhaps was that many of the places that we stopped at were not particularly unique, historical or spectacularly scenic. Unlike those many of us had experienced along the Mediterranean, Alaskan and Baltic coasts.

I guess our timing had a part to play, too. We got there much too early to catch the Fall colours which would have made a difference to city folks like us.

And what certainly didn't help in making this holiday a memorable one was the service standards that we encountered on board the Eurodam.

It started off badly when some members of our group had to wait a long time to check in. The luck of the draw saw them being attended to by inexperienced staff who were apparently still learning on the job.

After the check-in, what created a worse impression was having to wait for our cabins as they were not ready for occupation. I was surprised that the management could not get this basic thing right after being so long in the cruise business and whose promotion tagline is "A Tradition of Excellence".

Another surprise was the discovery that we had to pay for bottles of water in our cabins. I don't remember having to do so in all our previous cruises with other companies.

If the reason was to cut costs, the management could have easily included the expense in the price of the cruise. To us, it was a matter of convenience. Obviously, it was something that did not cross the minds of those in charge.

Those bottles of water consumed during our cruise did not amount to much, but by charging for them, it certainly did not earn them any goodwill.

As the cruise went on, it became apparent to us that the management was not paying sufficient attention to detail. A good example was the confusion we experienced over dinner bookings at its various restaurants.

On several occasions, our group had to unravel booking schedules because of failure to co-ordinate among staff members of the food outlets.

Although the service personnel were generally friendly and helpful, their inability to focus on "the little things" could sometimes prove embarassing to the point of being irritating.

Another example of poor service: My friend EC sent a pair of his favourite pants for laundry with very specific instruction that it should be dry cleaned. When it came back, he found to his horror that it had shrunk. The reason? It was given the normal wash.

When EC complained, the cruise office denied any wrongdoing. However, after some haggling, it offered to compensate him US$50 but with a catch: he had to hand over his pants.

EC was flabbergasted to say the least. His pair of trousers had cost him a few hundred dollars and here he was being insulted with an offer of miserly compensation --- plus the possibility of losing his pants

He decided he needed to speak to someone with authority. So he left word with the cruise office that he would like to speak to the "Hotel Manager".

Those were magic words indeed. The next thing he knew, word came back that he would be allowed to keep his pants, have his US$50 and be compensated further after he has sent the pants for alteration.

Well, the bitter taste in EC's mouth was somewhat soothed. But the question is, why must the management wait for EC's attempt to escalate the matter before it decided to do the right thing?

Our experience with poor service did not end with the "Case of the Shrunken Pants". On our last night on board, we dined at the Tamarind, the Asian restaurant where we had to pay for our meals.

When it came time to settle our bills at the cruise office, two couples in our group discovered that they were double-charged by the restaurant.

But what took the cake was when our friend Bob pointed out the mistake, he was told by the office staff to go upstairs to the restaurant to sort it out. He rightly refused to do so.

Holland America Line management should not be surprised when they read our answers to the most critical question in its feedback survey ---whether we would be cruising with the company again.


* WE FOUND the service staff at restaurants generally helpful, friendly and knowledgeable, and we had some good meals in New York, Boston, Bar Harbour in Halifax, Quebec City and Montreal.

While we appreciated the service that was rendered, somehow at the back of our minds we could not help wondering whether they were doing it just for the money.

Quite often, it was difficult to tell how geniune these people were. After all, tipping is part of the culture at these places and it is understandable why they sometimes have to put up a show.

For me, I much prefer the Singapore system of taking off 10 per cent for service. It removes my predicament of how much to tip and whether I have tipped these service people sufficiently.

* THERE are tour guides and tour guides. In our land tours, we came across three versions -- the Good, the Bad and the Witty.

The Good was in Boston. Steve is probably in his late 50s or early 60s but he was clearly enjoying his job as a guide. Apart from bringing us to the place where we had the best lobsters, he also knew his history and could easily trot out all the significant dates and the backgrounds of the places and events.

What really impressed us was when we stopped at a statue of Paul Revere on his horse and he started reciting The Midnight Ride by the poet Longfellow. When he ended 10 minutes later, he was greeted with loud applause from his listeners.

THE Bad was a woman in Halifax. She went through her routine of showing us the town without showing any spark. It led to "Lullaby in Halifax" as many of us dozed off along the way. However, we were awakened not long after when the bus stopped for us to take a stroll in a garden that did not impress at all.

THEN came the Witty in beautiful Quebec City. Not only did she have a sense of humour, she also had a mind of her own -- and was not afraid to show it.

She was a natural entertainer. We enjoyed what she told us about the history and the social trends of the place, and had no trouble mixing it all up with just the right dose of wit.

* I SHOULD not end without mentioning a concierge named Kelly at Millennium Broadway Hotel in the Big Apple. To me, he was a model worker. He was helpful, engaging and was able to strike up a rapport with his customers without any effort.

It was only later that I realised why he had such a personality. He told me that he had his own band playing in a club and he was the leader. He had also played minor roles on TV.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sloppy work from DBS Bank

DBS Bank has been sending out new DBS/POSB Credit/Debit Cards which are embedded with an EMV Smart Chip that is supposed to enhance security and protection.

Customers are being told to start using these EMV Chip Cards and cut up their existing ones to prevent unauthorised usage. DBS said the existing cards will be closed within 40 calendar days from the issuance of the chip cards.

Anne Wong Holloway, who uses one of these cards as a spare, was intrigued by the letter that accompanied the arrival of her new card. She noticed that there was no date on it.

She said: "Why set a deadline of 40 days to utilise the card (which is what it amounted to when I called the number provided to activate my card)when the customer has no idea of the start date?

"DBS senior executives should check before they sign off on proofs bearing their signatures, names and designations."

The undated letter from the senior vice president and head of Cards and Unsecured Loans, Consumer Banking, reminded her of the recent incident when the YOG certificates of appreciation for volunteers was printed with specimen rather than the proper signatures of Jacques Rogge and Ng Ser Miang.

Fortunately, in this case, less harm was done and no reprinting was required. However, it was still sloppy work.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Car number fees: LTA to consider feedback in review

Sorry for not posting anything for the past three weeks. I was away on holiday.

When I opened my email today, I was pleasantly surprised to read a reply from Mr Lim Bok Ngam of the Land Authority of Singapore. It was on the issue of car number retention fees which I had written in my previous postings.

I had expressed my unhappiness over my having to pay $1,300 for retaining my car number and using it on another used car that I had purchased. I thought it was illogical and unfair when compared to the $100 fee which is charged on someone who retains his number and uses it on a new car.

In his reply, Mr Lim did not concede his position (see earlier posting), but what I found comforting was his assurance that LTA would take into consideration my feedback in its future review of car number retention fees.

In trying to read between the lines of Mr Lim's email, I thought my argument about the huge disparity between the two fees might have struck a chord with the powers that be in LTA.

If I am right, there is hope that action will be taken to close the gap.

The following is Mr Lim's reply to me...

"I refer to your email dated 1 Sep 2010.

"I am glad you understood that the processes involved for using a vehicle number on an existing vehicle vis-a-vis a brand new vehicle are different.

"Thank you for your feedback on the retention fee. I would like to reiterate that whilst LTA provides the service to give the vehicle owner the opportunity to use a retained number of his choice on either a new or used vehicle, we leave it to the owner to decide whether or not he wishes to make use of the service and pay the relevant fees.

"With regard to the fee to use a retained number on an existing vehicle, LTA has pegged it to the minimum fee payable by an owner to use a bid number on his existing car to make the 2 fees comparable, as the processes are somewhat similar.

"Nonetheless, we have noted your feedback, and will take them into consideration in our future review of the retention fees."

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

LTA sticks to its stand on huge fee difference for car number retention

I am happy to report that the Acting Chief Executive of the Land Authority of Singapore, Mr Lim Bok Ngam, has replied to me regarding an issue that I have been pursuing for more than two months now.

It concerns a fee, which I consider unreasonably high, imposed on owners who retain their car numbers for use on second-hand cars.

I wanted to know why LTA is levying a $1,300 fee on such owners when it is charging just $100 for those who retain their numbers for a brand new car.

I accept part of Mr Lim's explanation for the difference in fees, but I am still at a loss over how it could possibly charge such a huge difference.

I have responded to Mr Lim's email and urged the LTA to take remedial action as I believe the huge fee is illogical, unfair and exploitative.

LTA's Acting CEO, Mr Lim Bok Ngam's explanation to me on August 31:

"I refer to your email dated 27 Aug 2010 and the earlier replies by my staff to you.

"I have looked into your feedback on the fees payable to use a retained
registration number on an existing car vis-a-vis a new one.

"I wish to explain that different fees are charged for the use of a retained number on a brand new car and an existing car as the processes involved are different.

"Unlike a brand new vehicle that has no past records in our vehicle registry, an existing vehicle would have its historical records since the day it was registered and these historical records must be updated accurately.

"At the same time, we are also aware that some owners do choose to use new registration numbers to replace the numbers on existing cars. As the
processes for replacing the number on an existing vehicle with either a new number or a retained number are similar, the fee structure to retain an existing number for use on another existing vehicle is comparable to the use of a new registration number on an existing vehicle.

"Retention of numbers is one of the services provided by the Land Transport Authority to give motorists the opportunity to use a number of his/her choice on a new or existing vehicle upon payment of relevant fees. Those who do not wish to change the registration number on their existing vehicle will not need to pay any fee."

My response to Mr Lim:

"Thank you for your explanation. If I may, I would like to make the following comments:

"1. I accept your argument that a different fee has to be charged for using a retained number on an existing car as against a retained number on a brand new car because the processes are different. Yes, an existing car has a record and it takes more time to process whereas a new car does not have a record and therefore is easier to process.

"My question is: Is the process for the former so much more difficult that LTA has to charge 12 times more compared to the process for a new car? I hope you can justify that.

"In my case, the existing car that I bought was not even one year old and there was hardly any historical record to process. When I was first told about the payment of $1,300, I was flabbergasted because the difference is beyond the imagination of any ordinary person.

"2. You said the fee paid by some owners to use new registration numbers to replace the numbers on existing cars is comparable to that paid by an owner who retains his number on an existing car because the process is similar.

"With due respect, Mr Lim, you are not comparing apples with apples.
I am not referring to the use of new registration numbers and therefore it should not be used to argue your case.

"I am just puzzled over the LTA's logic for charging $1,300 to retain a number for an existing car as against $100 for number retention to be used on a new car.

"As I said, I accept your argument that there is a different administrative process used to retain a number for an existing car against one for a new car.

"But I cannot believe that there should be such a huge difference in fee imposed on the owner who retains his number for an existing car. It is simply illogical, unfair and exploitative.

"I must declare here that I have no self-interest in this as I have already paid the $1,300 to retain the number for my used car.

"However, I am pursuing this because, as a citizen, when I see an injustice staring me in the face, it is my duty to point it out.

"I humbly urge the LTA to recognise the discriminatory policy and take the necessary remedial action.

"Thank you again for taking the time to engage me."

I am not hopeful that the LTA will agree with my point of view as it would be difficult to make a turnaround which might seem like a "loss of face".