Service with a smile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So she shouted again that I had to go to the main branch to deal with my thumbprint issue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not many people understand the power of words in mobile text messages. My deaf friend had many bad experiences in texting swimming instructors to arrange for lessons. The instructors were curt and snarky when she enquired further about the lessons. They kept calling her, which she ignored. She enlisted my help to find an instructor and a friend recommended Mr Y.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

● We welcome contributions from readers who are living with a disability of one form or anot her. Share with us experiences that are uniquely yours. Give us a glimpse of your world. E-mail your stories to Close To Heart at Contributions which are published will be paid, so please include your full name, IC number, address and telephone number.

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