SMRT (Singapore MRT operator) has a huge problem. No, I’m not talking about profits. As the sole operator of MRT in Singapore, they must have been reaping millions of dollars of profits. SMRT’s problem is two-fold. First, its top management has lack of empathy. Second, the organisation doesn’t know how to deal with social customers.
These fatal flaws severely damaged SMRT’s corporate image and handicapped SMRT’s ability to recover its credibility in the eyes of the Singapore public. In this blog post, I’ll talk about the first fatal flaw, i.e. the lack of empathy, and convince you that SMRT’s top management can be more empathetic, by mastering corporate storytelling to present facts. I’ll talk about the second fatal flaw in the next post.
Lack of Empathy
Many Singaporeans depend on MRT to travel. So, it’s no wonder that the public grew angrier at SMRT’s top management, especially its flamboyant CEO, Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa, 57, for failing the fix the issue quickly. Some people even call for Ms. Saw’s resignation in Singapore’s speakers corner.
But the real reason why the public are so upset is the perceived lack of empathy from the SMRT’s top management. Listen to what Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa and Mr. Goh Chee Kong says during press conference below, and you can’t help but notice their lack of empathy.
To exhibit an attitude of “business-as-usual” when crisis stuck, is bad for business. To be successful in today’s economy, organisations have to make that emotional connection with their customers. So when some screw-ups happen, don’t just say sorry and give technical explanation that no one understands.
Who cares about the third rail is misaligned with the collectors’ shoes? I don’t. In fact, I don’t give a damn! All I want to know, as a customer, is how SMRT is going to solve my problem, i.e. how SMRT is going to help me go to work or to go to some malls – to do my Christmas shopping.
Unfortunately, as you can see in the video above, Ms. Saw Phaik Hwa failed to deliver empathetic statements. Immediately after the first train disruption, she made the following cold statements, in national television:
I do know that many customers are very unhappy…there is nothing much to say except that we are very sorry for yesterday’s incident…what we can promise is that we will spare no effort in preventing such occurrence. I personally …improving our incident management…especially in the area of giving timely and better information, as well as crowd management.
Well, the train disruptions did happen again, for the second and third time in four consecutive days. No further respond from her. This may not make her a bad CEO (perhaps she had been working hard behind the scene), but this makes her statement sounds like a series of empty words. No wonder she is under intense pressure.
SMRT has to empathise with their customers! That means they need to understand how train disruptions are going to ruin Singaporeans live (the top twitter harsh tag when the incident happened was #SMRTruinslives. It was a huge hit for SMRT’s brand). They need see the problem from customers’ point of view. And tell the customers how SMRT is going to help them.
This implies, in addition to acknowledgement that the train disruption is going to cause great inconvenience to the customers’ lives, the top management has to offer contingency plan to re-assure customers that when it does happen again, SMRT can deploy cheap alternative transports for the customers – quickly and effectively.
Fortunately, SMRT does understand what needs to be done for service recovery. When the MRT broke down for the second time, the company provided free shuttle bus service for the commuters. But unfortunately, SMRT is clueless on how to present this fact. A horrible blunder.
Although, there were some delays and hiccups that upset some customers, the top management should have communicated that SMRT would provide free shuttle bus service as a contingency measure, when the first train disruption occurred. This would calm the customer and minimise damage to SMRT’s brand.
Too bad the problem and the alternative solution aren’t presented in an engaging story. Stories are the best medium to connect emotionally with the customers. SMRT’s top management has to master corporate storytelling, so that they can better project empathy to the customers.
SMRT’s top management has no other option but to master this storytelling skill. The time where top management can just present facts without stories, is over. Today’s management is about presenting facts in stories.
(To be continued…)
Do you agree that the SMRT’s top management has a lack of empathy towards the customers? What are your thoughts on this matter?
In part II of Why SMRT Has To Be More Empathetic And Be a Social Organisation, I’ll discuss SMRT’s failure in addressing the needs of a new breed of customers: the social customers. Stay tuned!