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  • The Storyteller

Communication Mishaps

Two incidents to share, observed in the past week.

Incident 1:

While taking the local train (MRT), I overheard a tourist asking two fellow passengers the directions to Chinatown.

Tourist: We would like to get to Smith Street in Chinatown, where there are lots of local shops

and eateries along the street. Should we get off at the Marina Bay station?

Local: Ah, Lau Pa Sat has a lot of local food stalls too.

Tourist: Is that in Chinatown?

Local: It is.....not exactly there, but not very far. You can get off the next stop.

Tourist: Thank you!


I am not sure if the recommended Lau Pa Sat is what the tourist is looking for. We do not know the needs of the tourist, whether he needs to be at Smith Street for a specific purpose/s. Somehow, the local person assumed it was all about food, about having a selection of local food.

Is he recommending it because it is much better than Smith Street - and if so, how different?

Or is it because he himself doesn't know (about) Smith Street and jumped on the wagon because he heard the words "local eateries"?

The tourist had also mentioned "local shops". Is he looking for a specific shop, or some items to purchase in that area?

While I am sure the local had good intentions to help, and perhaps the tourist ended up being very happy with Lau Pa Sat, hopefully, one could also note that the tourist's interest in getting to Smith Street was completely ignored. It would have been different if the question had been, "Do you recommend going to Smith Street for its local food?"

Besides, what does "It is not exactly there, but not very far" mean? A taxi duration of 15 minutes or a walk of 30 minutes? This sentence does not add value or provide clarity to someone not familiar with both these places.

Incident 2:

A man entered the Clarks shoe shop and asked the sales person:

"Hello, I bought this pair of sneakers less than one month ago from this shop. However, I am surprised the stitches have already come off. Is there a cobbler you can recommend that your shop usually works with?"

All well and clear.

The response from the employee:

"Ah, our policy here is no refund.....and we don't have a in-house cobbler."


How would you feel if you were the customer?

This employee heard but did not listen properly to what was said. Instead of being empathetic, the first thing he sprouted was one of full defense and in fact, sounded rather accusatory. It had no bearing on what the customer's request was at all. I was not surprised when the customer replied with measured patience, stating, "I am not asking for a refund....I was just asking if......"

Shortly after, the store supervisor took over and apologised for the inconvenience and she agreed it was unusual that the stitches had come loose after few wears, given the high quality of their footwear. She swiftly provided the solution by informing that they would send it to their regular cobbler and if the repair cost was less than $30, the shop would absorb it. Anything above and beyond, the customer would pay the difference. She assured the customer that if the cost was higher than $30, she would first give him a call to advise of the quote before proceeding.

This is what I call a professional service and effective handling of the situation. If only the service between the two were more consistent...

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