Midnight Delivery: Taking Extraordinary Steps To Delight Customers

Mr Toh Boon Yi, Chief of Strategic Development and Marketing for Sport Singapore, recounts the extraordinary steps taken to placate unhappy customers after an operational hiccup at the SEA Games closing ceremony.
Deliver A Fun Pack At Midnight

It was supposed to be the climax of his three-year journey in organising the 28th South East Asian (SEA) Games. And he had been looking forward to a night of celebrations after the final volley of fireworks had gone off at the closing ceremony.

Instead Mr Toh Boon Yi – along with more than 50 Sport Singapore (SportSG) colleagues – spent a sleepless night at the SEA Games operations centre dealing with the aftermath of what the media described as “chaos” at the start of the show.

Hundreds of ticket-holders were unable to enter the National Stadium after organisers closed the gates temporarily for safety reasons. Unhappy and confused, they took to social media to air their frustrations.

Mr Toh, who was in charge of ticketing, and his colleague Mr Lai Chin Kwang, in charge of venues, wasted no time in drawing up a “service recovery plan”. Based on their piecing together of what had happened, a media statement was sent out and staff began replying to the emails that had streamed in, with profuse apologies.

Sincerity wins the day

The first two days went by in a blur as staff fielded queries and began collating a database of affected spectators. By the third day, Mr Toh, Mr Lai and some staff were out delivering cash refunds and fun packs (with refreshments and a supporter’s medallion).

Both Mr Toh and Mr Lai, who is Chief of ActiveSG, the national movement for sport, felt it was important to reach the spectators quickly and in a personal way.

“People asked me, ‘What’s a good time [to get the refund]?’ I told them, ‘What’s your good time?’” said Mr Toh, who once waited outside someone’s home for an hour and a half past midnight to deliver a fun pack.

Ms Delphine Fong, SportSG’s Director for Safety Management, shared: “I had a customer who agreed with the time but was not home on two occasions. I was only able to deliver it to him on the third attempt and after knocking his door for 20 minutes as he was having his bath.”

We were driven by the clear belief that, in keeping with the SEA Games theme (‘Celebrate the Extraordinary’), when circumstances don’t favour us, it’s how we deal with it that makes us extraordinary.

Their efforts surprised many, including a pleased Ms Clarice Teo, who described on Facebook how a “tired and perspiring” Mr Toh had listened to her patiently after delivering the fun pack at night. Her post – widely shared and picked up by the media – earned praise for the SportSG team.

“We were driven by the clear belief that, in keeping with the SEA Games theme (‘Celebrate the Extraordinary’), when circumstances don’t favour us, it’s how we deal with it that makes us extraordinary,” said Mr Toh, who later added that a colleague even delivered a fun pack to Malaysia.

Being open about what had happened was important too. “A lot of the time, they were unhappy because they did not know what happened,” said Mr Toh, referring to the irate spectators. “They deserved an explanation – it’s important for closure.”

Know thy purpose well

As many as 80 SportSG staff chipped in to help at one time, many doing so after office hours and some cancelling their leave.

Among them was Mr Mark Richmond, a former radio deejay. “Some wondered if SportSG had paid me money for a special surprise delivery, not knowing I had volunteered and was working full time here. They were very appreciative … because they had expected delivery to come from dispatch services,” said Mr Richmond, Deputy Director of SportSG’s Strategic Development and Marketing Group.

Although few had customer service experience, Mr Toh and Mr Lai were confident of their colleagues. They were briefed on the facts, the refund procedures, and how to deal with customers, but were not given a “script” on what to say or how to engage each individual. “Once you understand your core purpose and organisational values, everything else falls in place,” said Mr Toh.

He added: “Our people were sincerely imbued with the intent to delight the customer – the spectator in this case – so when they went out there, they were very genuine.” Most, he observed, took the opportunity to talk about sports and the importance of an active lifestyle – the raison d’être of SportSG.

My boss has my back

Although they managed to please “99%” of the affected spectators, the refund process was less than straightforward.

Mr Toh and Mr Lai took it upon themselves to resolve the most complex cases, such as those who had bought their tickets from touts or had not retained their ticket stubs but insisted on cash refunds. They had to investigate and deliberate over each case.

“We might have made some wrong judgements along the way, but we’ll never know,” said Mr Toh.

Having a clear understanding of the situation – how different types of tickets were sold or given away to sponsors, for instance – helped them to make the best-possible decision.

But most importantly, it was “knowing that my boss trusts my judgement, that even if my judgement is wrong he can live with it” that empowered him and Mr Lai to make the call.

With customer emails continuing to stream in weeks after, the team managed to conclude the entire refund process only a month later.

Notwithstanding the additional workload and late nights spent delivering fun packs, Mr Toh has been able to see the bright side of things: “I got to know my customers better.”

For him, these “customers” are not just spectators who missed a show but “beyond the SEA Games, they are our stakeholders whom we are trying to encourage to have an active lifestyle.”

    Sep 2, 2015
    Bridgette See
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