Many Singaporeans probably have tales to tell of organisations, particularly large ones, with shockingly bad internet interfaces. A “wired nation” we are not. Worse is when even the telephonic interface does not work. The organisation is effectively deaf to the world.
Earlier this month, my frustration was with SBS Transit, the larger of the two bus companies in Singapore. Their Lost and Found Department must be lost in deep space. There was no practical way I could lodge a report of a lost item. The item itself was not a big deal, but the frustrating experience magnified the vexation many times over.
It was a tote bag containing a shirt and a soft cap, though it hurt that it was a brand new shirt that I had just collected from an alteration tailor. I realised that I had left the bag behind in my hurry to alight from the bus some 5 – 10 minutes after I stepped off; by which time it was too late.
Back home that evening, I went to SBS Transit’s website and found:
- A hotline 1800-2872727 that is only available during office hours;
- A Lost and Found phone number 63837211 that is supposed to be available while buses are operating;
- An online form for reporting a lost item.
Since it was not particularly urgent, I tried using the online form. Although basic, it was adequate, until I got to the “Submit” button – which gave no indication that it worked.
Now, I have designed online forms before, and I know that it is essential to build a subsequent page that says something along these lines: “Thank you for lodging a report; it has been registered within our system and an officer will contact you at the earliest opportunity.” As soon as the Submit button is clicked, the user is given this Thank you/acknowledgement page. With SBS, nothing happens when you click Submit. It’s as unresponsive as knocking on tombstones; I have no way of knowing whether the report was sent or not.
In the slim chance that the report was sent (but the idiot who designed the form did not create an acknowledgement page), I waited several days for an email acknowledgement – checking my Spam Box too, just in case. You can guess what I am going to say next – nothing came.
The following day, during working hours, I tried both the phone numbers provided. Repeatedly. Both of them kept me on hold, with a recorded voice chiming in every 20 – 30 seconds telling me I could leave a message if I wished. After about 3 or 4 minutes, the system simply disconnected the call.
Trying the online form once more produced no happier result. The Submit button was still dead.
Then I chanced upon another page on SBS Transit’s website. It said:
All recovered articles that are unclaimed will be kept by SBS Transit for three months before they are donated to the charities. Prior to the donation, a notice of the recovered property will be posted on this website for seven (7) calendar days.
This page had a link to another page that listed all the items they had collected (over the last 3 months?) and were about to give away to the nominated charities. I wish that I had taken a screenshot of it because now that I want to show it to you, that page is gone. Probably, the 7-day notification period had expired and the stuff has been transferred to charity.
Why do I now regret I hadn’t taken a screenshot of it? Because it was a stunning list. Based on my recollection, it listed well over a hundred (a few hundred?) mobile phones and a surprisingly large number of laptops, in addition to smaller items like sunglasses. I can’t remember the exact numbers, but I most certainly remember how amazed I was at the quantity.
You would think that most people who lost a mobile phone or laptop would make an effort to find it. A laptop-user, for instance, would be tech-savvy enough to search the SBS Transit’s website and lodge a report. How is it then that SBS never matched the hundreds of recovered items with owners?
1. Reports were lodged and received by SBS, but whichever human it was who was tasked to do this job, wasn’t doing the job (and management was totally oblivious); or
2. Reports could not be lodged at all. As far as SBS was concerned – totally unaware, of course, that neither its phone lines nor its Lost & Found webpage worked – nobody in Singapore cared to report lost phones or computers. And management remained in happy-happy la-la land.
What does this example tell us about Singapore’s aspiration to be a World-Class City?