Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Of Euro 2012 goodies and models in sacrilegious wear...

The Straits Times report, 10 April 2012
When things start breaking down in our very own backyards, naturally we make it our business to complain. Not the very least because it affects us on a personal level.

These days, Singaporeans are speaking up on many things that bother us. Crowded MRT trains that frequently break down. Telcos that give better perks to expats. Event organisers who have models dressed as a Christian nun or a Taoist priest.

Two recent examples come to mind.

Example 1: Starhub, one of Singapore’s telco giants

This week, Starhub raised a ruckus from local subscribers. All because of a better Euro 2012 package offered to European expats living in Singapore.  To placate angry local subscribers, the telco apologized and subsequently modified the promotion eligibility to include Singaporeans and other nationalities.

A good thing that Starhub acted quickly to mend the dent in its reputation. Spokesperson Jeannie Ong apologized and concedes its mistake. “We take customer feedback very seriously and we now realize that we have scored our own goal. We deserve a red card for this.” She went on to explain why the promotion targeted expats only.

A good nip in the bud and a classic response in crisis communication. But will Starhub’s actions be enough to placate and retain its slighted customers?

I’m not mad about soccer, so I’m the least bothered by the whole fracas. However, as a loyal Starhub subscriber myself, I can appreciate why many are literally up in arms over this.

Starhub should have asked itself whether its Euro 2012 segment marketing drive might be perceived to be discriminatory and could erode the trust of its large subscriber base of Singaporeans. Online chats and coffee shop talk often touch on Singapore’s wide open-door policy that makes it relatively easy for foreigners, skilled or unskilled, to get jobs.

If you’re puzzled over the link between Starhub’s Euro 2012 promotion and prevalent sentiment over Singapore’s foreign worker population,  take this into context - Starhub need only reflect on news reports and be aware of coffee shop talk and netizens’ unhappiness over jobs lost to foreigners, about overcrowded trains, food courts and public infrastructure barely coping with the rise in numbers of foreigners living and working in Singapore.

Example 2: Floral Designers Society Singapore (FDSS)

Facebook marketing backfired for the FDSS, when the photo of a model in a red Taoist ceremonial robe and carrying a Taoist religious item as a fashion accessory was posted on its Facebook page by society members who are also designers specializing in floral arrangements. Taoist Federation secretary-general Master Chung Kwang Tong who was alerted to the photos reportedly left comments on FDSS’s Facebook page. In response, the FDSS’ administrator was said to have deleted the photos! More Taoist Federation members are said to have lodged police reports against the FDSS.

The FDSS case followed a similar one in the same week where a police report was made against an event organizer who put up insensitive ads deemed offensive to Catholics. The organizer had posted Facebook photos of two scantily dressed young models in a nun’s headgear and miniskirts to promote a party planned for the Easter weekend. The photos were taken down, the event cancelled and an apology was made to the Church.

A case of creativity gone too far, or are we being hyper-sensitive?

Companies know but often fail to respect the communities in which they operate. At the very basic level, they know the drill about keeping us, their customers, happy. Why then, do they keep making blunders they can’t afford?

Because companies are run by humans. And humans make mistakes. Mistakes cost. Whether you claim ignorance or oversight for your mistakes, as in the case of the FDSS and the event organizer, or in Starhub’s case,  whether you buy its explanation of segment marketing, it all points to one thing.

Customers expect respect. People do accept and forgive mistakes, but when these are seen to show lack of thought and respect, and the consequent action is short of their expectations, they get pissed. And we all know how hard it is to win back pissed customers. You and I have been pissed off before, so go figure!

Companies can tell us in as many ways how important their patronage is to us, and apologize all they want when they are the headline.  It’s the action they take to put things right that makes us stick by them – or walk away forever. And don't forget the respect bit. We know you need to make money.

Up to now, I haven’t touched on the frequent MRT breakdowns, which have caused its CEO to resign. Observers of Singapore must wonder what is happening to this progressive city-state reputed for running like clockwork. Jim Rogers, the American investor currently residing in Singapore, once said in an interview with CNN’s Richard Quest that he likes living in Singapore  because “everything works here.”

No doubt when things break down, routines are disrupted and trust is in question, a company’s reputation - and in the MRT breakdown case, Singapore’s image and reputation - take a beating.

I'm sure neither Starhub nor the train operators and event organisers set out to deliberately disrupt, discriminate or mock.

Yet the public outrcry tells us otherwise. 

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