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18 October 2013

All in a day’s work: The officers behind MOM’s service counters

18 October 2013

In a recent post on his FB page, Acting Minister for Manpower Mr Tan Chuan-Jin spoke about the hard work and efforts MOM officers put in when looking into each employment dispute and appeal case brought to our attention. During the process, our officers often have to go though lengthy discussions and meetings with the affected parties to better understand the situation. In this next blog post, we turn the spotlight on our colleagues from the Customer Responsiveness Department who serve at the frontline. They, too, have their fair share of ups and downs in the course of their work. However, they remain passionate and dedicated to assisting every customer who approaches them. For them, they know that as long as they (in our Acting Minister’s words) “do the right thing and do it right”, they will have the support and appreciation of the people they help, as well as the Ministry.

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Our MOM colleague, Lawrence Ang, works in air-conditioned comfort and spends most of his time on the job talking to people. Sounds like a dream job? Read on and you will probably change your mind!

Lawrence is a one of some 30 frontline officers from MOM’s Customer Responsiveness Department (CRD). They serve members of the public who visit Halls A and B of MOM Services Centre at Bendemeer, which sees 800 to 1,000 customers daily.

The MOM Services Centre is a consolidation of the ministry’s major frontline services.
The public come to MOM either to seek assistance or ask about myriad issues – employment, compensation for work injuries, and even work pass matters. The wide range of issues under MOM’s purview means Lawrence and his frontline colleagues need to keep up with policy changes and other essential information to effectively answer public queries.

“We never know what questions customers may ask at the service counters, but we will do our best to answer them,” he said.

MOM’s customer relationship managers, like other frontline officers, receive training in various matters under the purview of the ministry, from operational processes to policy guidelines. This is essential, as their credibility could take a beating if they are not aware of any issues relevant to MOM. Lawrence said, “A customer can sense when you are not confident, and they will start doubting your ability to help them.”

Dealing with difficult customers

While keeping up with the vast magnitude of information may be tough, it still isn’t the team’s greatest obstacle. “The toughest part of the job would definitely be dealing with difficult customers. My colleagues and I have all dealt with our fair share of angry customers, who may be vulgar or vent their anger on us unnecessarily,” shared Lawrence.

In fact, Lawrence recalled that there was a customer who had challenged him to a fight! “He was very agitated and was hurling vulgarities at my colleague. And when I tried to help, he refused to listen and challenged me to a fight,” he said. However, Lawrence kept his cool, stood firm, and reiterated to him how best to solve his problem. It was only after Lawrence’s explanation that the customer calmed down. Likewise, Lawrence’s colleagues have also met customers who displayed unruly behaviour and demanded to see the Minister about their complaints, without listening to the officers’ explanations.

“We need customers to relate the issues to us calmly without getting agitated or being difficult, so that we can better deal with the problems they face, rather than the anger they exhibit. They may eventually not agree totally with us, but at least they can appreciate that we are trying to address their issue, and understand that we are not making their life difficult on purpose.” he said.

And the key to calming agitated members of the public? Always lend a listening ear.

“Some of the members of public who visit us are just looking for someone to listen to the frustrations that they face. After seeing an MOM representative who is able to lend a listening ear, they would calm down and eventually understand the ministry’s point of view,” Lawrence said.

Lawrence serves customers at the triage counter and is the first line of contact that MOM has with its customers at the Services Centre.
Why a frontline position?

Given that his work sounds so challenging, and thankless at times, one wonders why Lawrence took it up in the first place. After all, the public who approach MOM are usually frustrated or unhappy about its processes or decisions. Furthermore, Lawrence’s current job is very different from his previous post as an enforcement officer with MOM’s Foreign Manpower Management Division.

While these two roles are poles apart, both are frontline jobs that require Lawrence to interact with people, he said. Lawrence added that some of the skills gained from four years of being an enforcement officer, such as active listening, maintaining eye contact, and awareness of body language, are still relevant. It makes him more intuitive to the customers’ needs.

Being a frontline officer also means that Lawrence is able to educate the public on laws that matter to them. One such law, for example, is the Employment Act. The Employment Act covers areas such as non-payment of salaries, denial of annual or medical leave and statutory claims (also known as claims covered under the law). When contraventions against such statutory requirements are established, MOM will act against errant employers to ensure that they fulfil their obligations under the Employment Act.

When employees complain about non-statutory matters (disputes over wage increment, non-contractual bonus payments, or with colleagues), MOM would not have the power to make a decision. However, officers from the customer relationship team and other relevant departments will still look at how the dispute could be addressed, and advise the worker accordingly.

“Even if the matter is something which we may not be able to help with, we will try to advise them about their possible next course of action. This will help them make an informed decision such as whether to seek a legal opinion for an employment dispute.”

Job satisfaction at the end of the day

The job of a customer relationship manager is clearly no walk in the park. But like Lawrence, our colleagues continue to do an exemplary job, with some even winning Star Service Awards for their commendable service attitudes. However, at the end of the day, what drives MOM frontline officers like Lawrence is not the possibility of winning awards – rather, it is their desire to help the customers in any way that they can.

Lawrence said: “I feel good when customers come to me with an enquiry and I manage to provide a simple and clear explanation to them. I feel that I am helping people in my own simple way.”
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