Agencies must be empathetic to citizens’ needs, Chuah Kee Heng, Managing Director of SP Services – Singapore’s utility provider – told government officials at Innovation Labs World.

“Empathy is crucial to customer engagement,” he said. Chuah was speaking at a session on Citizen-Centric Services at GovInsider’s event, run in partnership with Fuji Xerox.

SP Services is re-training its staff to serve customers better, Chuah said. “We are embarking on developing customised training for all our call agents”.

This is because citizens’ expectations are changing, with demands for quicker responses, he added. “The speed of interactions are fast and instantaneous.”

“Customers tend to demand more through social media. We need to be able to mitigate any negative experience at the point of contact before it goes viral,” he said.

SP Services is taking a new approach to engage its customers digitally. “We need to create user-friendly interface on the web, with ready self-help tools, live chats, and even deploy analytical tools”, he said. “We need to constantly review and change the way we operate.”

Social media, for example, has empowered people to give instant feedback. “Positive experiences can augment the brand’s positioning”, but “negative experiences can spread through like wildfire”, he said.

SP Service’s officials get separate training to deal with particularly demanding customers. “All our customer-facing staff are required to attend mandatory courses on handling difficult customers,” he said.

The company has also set strict targets for staff to respond to phone enquiries: “Our call centre picks up a ringing phone within 30 seconds, and customers are being served within minutes at our customer service counter.”

SP Services is also encouraging citizen to do their part by using behavioural sciences. It has launched a mobile app “to drive energy and cost savings behaviour”, he said. Users can set targets to save on their bills and the app gives them feedback on how well they are doing. They can also compare their spending on water, electricity and gas with their neighbours’.

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