eGovernment Citizen Services


Recently, I went with my mother to the Passport Service Kendra (Centre) located not far from my home in Chennai, India. We both were dreading the fact that it won’t be an easy task to spend a few hours, waiting in various queues and chasing our documents from counter to counter. Our requirement was rather simple – obtain a new passport for my mother in place of her earlier expired passport which she had not renewed on time.

However, our experience far exceeded our best expectations and it also beat out the Singapore experience of fast eGovernment service to citizens. Of course, this is only one such service, and we do not as yet know the status at other government offices in India, and cannot vouch for the same without experiencing the same.

My mother was totally taken aback at the very fast service that she got at the Passport Service Centre. We were out of that office in exactly 30 minutes! It was just amazing!! I knew that the service level for senior citizens would be faster than for the others, and it was true. What I was not prepared for was the very fast turnaround at each counter – my mother’s case was probably tagged at each service counter as she is a senior citizen. Further, since we went with all the necessary documentation, and followed all the instructions given in the appointment receipt, there was no delay at any of the counters. I witnessed several youngsters encountering problems at the counters since their documents were incomplete – I do not yet understand how younger folks can be so careless, not only that, some were even arguing with the counter staff and delaying the others patiently waiting in the queue.

Nevertheless, it was a rather (and, probably the first) pleasant experience for us. When we walked out of the office, my mother could not believe that it was over in such a short time. The mandatory police verification was waived for her, and when my mother asked the officer when she would get her new passport, she was in for a total shock – the officer replied in a nonchalant manner that she would get it in about a week’s time via Speed Post.

Things are clearly changing for the better in India. Of course, there are thousands of things which need to be fixed, and it is going to be a long and arduous journey over the next 5 to 10 years. However, I believe that we must celebrate every small success like this experience wherein a citizen enjoyed the government service in a fast, expeditious manner, in a good environment (clean office with proper chairs to sit and wait, and clearly demarcated counter zones), for the service fee that he or she pays to the government. I do not know how this service is delivered in rural areas or small second tier towns – there may not be internet availability, and it would be hard to schedule appointment or make online payments (which I did).

I should say that this experience has totally changed my perception. However, let me see how this goes on and how other critical services are delivered without hitches or hurdles like in the past. People from India will understand why I am stating this………

Overall, great service to senior citizens, and Kudos to the Ministry of External Affairs, Government of India, for rendering this service to the citizens.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

02 February 2018

The Emirates Experience


Recently I flew to Dallas on Emirates Airlines (SIN – DUBAI – DALLAS).

The Singapore – Dubai flight was on Airbus 380, which provided a comfortable inflight experience. Emirates generally provides ontime performance, and it was no different this time – landed on time in Dubai and the transit wait was just 2 hours for the next flight. The only disconnect was the non-availability of Indian Vegetarian food for my colleague who is strictly vegetarian and prefers Indian food.

However, the flight to Dallas took longer than the planned time of 14 hours and 45 minutes. It took nearly 16 hours, making it one of the longest flights that I have flown. There could be any number of reasons, one being a 30 minutes delay while taking off from the busy and congested Dubai Airport. It was tiring, though onboard service was good (unlike the U.S. carriers who generally provide shoddy service).

Apart from this long overall duration of over 25 hours from Singapore to Dallas (which could have been around 22 hours had I taken the Singapore – Tokyo – Dallas route including the transit wait), the surprising issue was the experience in Dubai Airport itself while transiting. It was well past midnight when we landed, and the next flight was just 2 hours away taking off from another terminal. Unlike Singapore Changi Airport which has clear guidance to transit passengers, Dubai Airport does not provide guidance and leaves the transit passengers in the lurch. We had to figure out by ourselves how to get to the other distant terminal, and discovered that there is a crowded bus service which brought arriving passengers with no segregation from departing passengers. We had to wait some 20 minutes or so before a bus to pick up departing passengers arrived, which was a large van with a cart to load baggages trucking behind it! This was a curious experience, but we finally made it to the other terminal. I seriously think that Dubai Airport should give this aspect of its experience a rigorous examination.

Well, I have not mentioned the laptop ban issue till now. Emirates Singapore Office gave contradictory information over two phone calls regarding the laptop ban. In the first call, they said that I could carry the laptop as usual till Dubai Airport gate, and then they would take it over till Dallas, and eventually hand it to me upon arrival. During the second call, the lady who handled my call was very confused, and after checking with her supervisor couple of times, asked me to check in my laptop at Singapore itself. After few deliberations, that is what I did, but then found out at the gate in Dubai Airport that Emirates had a neat arrangement for collecting the laptops, packing the same securely, and take them into the cargo hold. And upon arrival at Dallas, Emirates made several announcements at the baggage belt area reminding passengers to collect their respective laptops.

On the way back from Dallas to Singapore, there was no laptop issue (it is a problem only when you arrive in any U.S. airport from any one of the Middle Eastern airports). However, there was a 9-hour transit wait for the flight to Singapore from Dubai, and so I decided to go into town for some shopping with my colleague and a relative of mine who was kind enough to shepherd us. We enjoyed the amazing experience of visiting the Ibn Battuta Mall (see IBN BATTUTA MALL).

Dubai Airport immigration service is fast and efficient. The security check was thorough. One had to walk a long distance of almost 800 metres from the car drop-off point at the airport terminal all the way to security check (it is a very large terminal), and then to the immigration counters.

Well, next time I am flying to the U.S., it is going to be back to the old routine of travelling via Tokyo Narita or Hong Kong. The challenge is that the code share flights are usually operated by American Airlines or United Airlines.

Just got over the jet lag, and now ready for my usual week beginning tomorrow.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

28th May 2017

Painless Customer Service


Doesn’t exist, right ?

Yes, you are probably right. Customer Service delivered over the phone to the consumer is mostly “painful”, so to say. It does not meet the requirements of the customer’s call on most occassions, and it rarely ever exceeds one’s expectations.

I recently had the “opportunity” to speak to a variety of customer service representatives – in banks, in cable TV provider, in broadband internet provider, etc., in Singapore. You would think that the standards and benchmarks set in Singapore should be really good, if not fantastic world beaters.

Don’t be surprised.

It is no different in Singapore, as compared to India or the U.S. I am always surprised by the fact that companies do not get this aspect of their operations right, given that the representative that the customer speaks to is often the “face” of the company. Rarely ever we get to know the senior management, CEO, or even the middle level operations managers responsible for the company’s performance. Or, even get to speak to them. I was put off many a time when my request to speak to the “supervisor” was turned down, with flimsy reasons such as he/she was not available to take my call. And, it is indeed very rare that any customer service operation would return your call, even when there is an agreement reached that they will get in touch with you in a few hours. I can only recall just one instance when that word was kept up.

The banks are funny. They generate lots of internal “policy” reasons not to deliver on the request that I was making, even after all the verifications. Obviously they are too scared of any mistakes or scandals. But the request could be as simple as a change of address. There is no way one can change the address even after one has logged into his bank account. That option to “update personal particulars” is not provided in most cases [the insurance companies in Singapore provide that flexibility using the Two-Factor Authentication]. This would mean one has to turn up at his/her bank’s branch during office hours and effect the change. The banks also ask lots of questions as verification points to put you off, expecting you to make a mistake. One usual question is “what is your credit limit on your credit card”; another one is “do you have a trading account”. And so on and so forth. But after all these questions, they might decline to make any change !

In the case of broadband internet service providers, the situation is far worse. Technical queries on a non-working modem could result in a response like “we will ask our sales person to contact you”. What ? And, when I asked why would that be necessary in a technical problem resolution mode, the answer is that “the only way to move forward is to have our sales person talk to you and fix the problem !??”. Problems which could be fixed on their side would get delayed because the representative is not knowledgeable enough to understand the question. Because of this lack of knowledge required to address customer’s queries, the representative puts you on hold for an average of 12 minutes in my experimentation. I would say that the wait time is too long on my mobile phone for which I am paying.

Given that customer service still continues to play a critical role in customer satisfaction, I am not able to fathom the rationale of corporations which cut their investment on this crucial aspect of their business. Take my broadband provider’s case for instance. I have only 7 months left in my two year special price contract with them. My current experience and the problems I have faced with their customer service has led me to think seriously on alternative options which are now available at a cheaper rate in the market. Well, my customer service experience might even deteriorate with the new provider, but atleast I pay less.

I have contemplated on the possibility of posting my real experiences on my Facebook account or on the Facebook account of the service provider. Nothing wrong with that, but I am still thinking. I amy not have more time to keep writing on the same stuff !

Think Customer Service !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan

13th March 2016

The Uber Experience


In a busy city like Singapore, taxis are always in short supply.

Though there are over 28,000 taxis in a city of 5.4M residents, it appears that taxis are never in sight when you look for one.

So, it is not a surprise that new taxi apps keep emerging all the time. I have always consistently used the “On Call” Comfort Taxi app, which has almost always delivered a taxi 95% of the time. The other one I tried is the Grab Taxi, about which I was not impressed after a first shot. Then came Uber.

Uber is actually a new kind of taxi service (unlike Grab Taxi). It has several types of offerings – the regular service, the UberX and the Uber Exec. I have tried the regular service several times, and the UberX for just one time.

The regular Uber service brings the standard taxi service companies’ taxis to your door. I asked the taxi driver the first time I used about this as I was surprised. He said that taxis are not prohibited from using various kinds of apps to get customers. He also said that Uber is getting popular with new kinds of promotions, attracting the business crowd. He was being paid by Uber anyway every week Wednesday and he gets the customers via the Uber app on his smart phone mounted on the dashboard (he had two smartphones and the regular taxi company’s GPS terminal).

So the regular service is not anything new, except as a new customer you get some promotional offer, and then as an existing customer, you get different promotions such as a dollar off for every ride, no booking fee for a limited period, etc., However, I find that the Uber regular taxi service is now getting harder to find a taxi and the UberX did not produce a good result for the one single time I used it. Now that the government is thinking of regulating services such as Uber, it is going to be a challenge for them to offer anything but regular and authorized taxi services. In any case, the Uber regular service is a good service, though I have to caution that the taxis take longer to come as compared to the Comfort taxi service.

Overall, the taxi landscape in Singapore is not up to the mark desired by commuters. The taxi service is expensive, not easily available, and quality of service is dropping. Government cannot do much in this area, except to regulate basic parameters, it is really up to the cab companies to enhance their QOS and availability.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
30th November 2014

Banks and Customer-Friendliness


I recently had this experience in Singapore when visiting a few banks.

I went to open a savings bank account for my son at Bank #1 (a local bank), which directed me to Bank #2 (a part of Bank #1 but still maintaining a distinct identity) since my son was less than 16 years old. Bank #1 can only open accounts for folks who are 16 and above. So, I proceeded to a nearby branch of Bank #2 on a Saturday morning and as expected, it was overcrowded. I had to wait for some 20 minutes before I got served by an officer. I eventually opened the account, but the process was slow and it took another 25 minutes of processing. With just 3 counters and some 20 people waiting, I felt that they would do better to open a separate counter for new accounts opening instead of treating new accounts as just another transaction. Getting a new customer should, in any case, be the most important activity for a bank branch, and so it should deserve special attention and service.

At the end of this experience, I still felt all right since my purpose was served, and the officer was very helpful. She gave explanations to all our queries and was painstakingly detailed in completing the activity.

Then, I went to Bank #3 (a MNC bank) for carrying out some action pertaining to my existing account. There was no “service” mentality at the point of customer interface, there was a questioning look at the entry point which put me off. The lady at the entry point failed to understand my “complex” need and referred my case to another guy who was stern-looking and definitely not customer friendly at all. He looked up and down at me, and asked for identification. I had to raise my voice a bit to get him to move. He could not resolve the matter and referred my case to an officer, which they should have done for any priority banking customer rightaway.

In both Banks #2 and #3, there were stern-looking security guards at the entrance, watching over everybody who comes into the bank. In a place like Singapore, this aspect should have been subtle, rather than in the face. In 99% of the cases, the person who comes into the bank is an existing customer, and why would the bank want to put him or her off ?

And, what about rendering service with a smile ? Completely out of the question. Service appears to be delivered with a grudge with in-built suspicion. Definitely not with a smile.

Welcome to the new world of banking.

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
7th December 2013

AA Experience


AA is “American Airlines”.

I thought AA would be a better bet than United Airlines, and decided to fly on AA from Tokyo to Dallas recently.

But they are all the same – hobbled by old aircraft and poor service. Not in line with the expectations of long-haul passengers, even in the economy class.

The plan was probably 10 years old, the in-flight entertainment system was not working properly and was old-fashioned (with shows starting in the next 20 minutes kind of messages), the service was terrible.

I don’t think that the airlines from the U.S. have learnt anything from the world-class service standards set by Emirates or Singapore Airlines. And they are not that much cheaper (they are surely not “low cost” carriers).

Why is this situation persisting ?

Even on the ground, the coordination with passengers was a mess. You don’t see those clean lines of passengers that you encounter at Singapore Changi Airport, irrespective of the specific airline you are flying. There was utter confusion and crowding at the AA Gate in Narita, and I almost thought that the flight was going to be delayed.

The funny thing which happened on board was that my dinner plate was grabbed back even though I was still finishing up and was I shocked ? Yes, I was and quite bemused. That was a terrible thing to do by uncaring air stewardesses. If the airline was going to charge even for drinks and for “special” aisle seats, the least that they could do was to treat every passenger as a special guest who had chosen to fly with them despite all the deficiencies, right ?

No, wrong. They just don’t seem to be getting it.

I decided that in future, I would rather take a slightly longish route rather than fly AA kind of airline. There is nothing special about AA, and even the normal standard one would expect as a long-haul passenger was not being met. Then why AA ?

It has been a while since I flew an American airline, and it is now going to be a long while before I will fly again on such an airline !

Cheers,

Vijay Srinivasan
13th April 2013

Rapscallion and Arroyo


I enjoyed some excellent seafood at the Rapscallion Seafood House and some fantastic, authentic Mexican food at the Arroyo Mexican Grill – both at Reno.

While I am not a food writer, I can comment on the ambience and generally the quality of the service in general.

The Rapscallion Seafood House is a fabulous seafood place, having been around for more than 3 decades……probably the most well-known seafood place in all of Northern Nevada. Great ambience, excellent service and some great wine selection distinguish the place.

I had the New England Clam Chowder Soup (on the recommendation of my Venezuelan friend from Mexico City), and the Alaskan halibut – both were amazingly delicious. I forgot to make note of the wine variety they served, but again it was a great Cabernet Sauvignon (probably Californian). I also took note of the fact that almost everyone around was enjoying the food greatly.

What struck me most was the classy ambience of the place and the outstanding service level. I guess the most important thing in a high-end restaurant is service and the need for the waiters to watch out for the needs of the diners and instantaneously appear nearby to take care of that need. Food only comes next, though it cannot be compromised.

No compromise was necessary at the Rapscallion as the food was equally good.

The other place which blew my mind was the Arroyo Mexican Grill. I had been telling my friends that I would really love to have a 5X food – really spicy to the maximum, and one of them found this place through an internet search. We were a bit worried when we arrived at the restaurant in downtown Reno on a Saturday evening – there was no sign of people and no activity. In that respect, Reno differs from most large American cities. It is a quiet place.

When we walked into the restaurant, there were just about couple of diners in a large-format place, and we were a bit worried. But then we got around to tasting the nacho chips with some outstanding sauces and dips that they had, and our doubts started to slowly vanish. We had a most spicy dip (don’t remember the name), which bombed all of us. Complete knockout was possible with that one.

I ordered the Molcajete with chicken and added further spice to it to make it even hotter. It was a blow-out concoction of a fabulous Mexican chef, punchy, extremely spicy (meeting my specification of 5X) and almost managed to knock me off. I truly relished this dish (being the first time I have ever had Molcajete). Actually, Molcajete is a Mexican version of the mortar and pestle tool – a stone device used to crush and ground spices. It is used to serve dishes in restaurants and the dish itself came to be known as Molcajete. The food stays hot for a long time in this stone utensil.

Overall, both restaurants are great places to host folks and enjoy food while enjoying the companionship of friends. Strongly recommended !

Best Regards

Vijay Srinivasan
8th December 2012
Mumbai