Opinion

By ignoring feedback about its rebrand, Singtel has reinforced negative perceptions

Patrick D'SouzaIn this guest post, Patrick D’Souza argues that by ignoring feedback about its rebrand, Singtel – which used the grammatically incorrect slogan ‘Let’s make everyday better’ in a pledge to improve its customer service – has reinforced negative perceptions about one of Asia’s most powerful telcos.

Singtel has always been seen as something of an arrogant brand. Not acknowledging that it has made a mistake with its rebrand does not ease this notion.

A bit of corporate hubris is probably to be expected given Singtel’s origins. The love-child of Singapore’s chief investment vehicle Temasek, Singtel’s ambitions go well beyond Singapore. Given its stake in Optus (Australia), Shin Corp (Thailand), Bharti Airtel (now exited due to conflict of interest) its hopes are fairly clear – to be the regional leader in a sector that is one of the most profitable in the world.

Singtel cannot fail. 

The old Singtel logo

The old logo

When Singtel floated in 1993, only 10 per cent of shares were made available to the public. Though this helped share some of the wealth with Singaporeans, 90 per cent of the shares were retained by Temasek.

Given the size of such a stakeholding, and the impact failure could have on Brand Singapore (the legendary clarity and precision of thinking it is known for), notwithstanding the impact on the economy, and the government’s ability to spend within it, it would be extremely difficult for powers that be to allow the company to do anything but thrive.

Unfortunately, Singtel’s leadership is not only aware of this, it appears to have acted like it since floatation 22 years ago. This, rather than any evaluation of customer satisfaction with the brand’s identity and new promise to improve its service, is probably the reason it dithered with its re-brand.

But the times they are a-changing

You don’t have to be Bob Dylan to see this. You just have to travel. One visit to Australia, the place where I currently live and work, is all it will take for the Singaporean to realise that he is being shortchanged. Australia is not great for service, but it’s not embarrassing either. Singaporeans must notice when overseas that it is not necessary to queue at a shopping centre for two hours to get served.

The one thing Singtel must be commended on though, is its realisation that its current service levels (and that of the telco sector in general, including StarHub) cannot be sustained.

Singtel’s changes are not pathbreaking, even if they’re presented as such

The new-look Singtel brand ID (minus slogan)

The new-look Singtel brand ID (minus slogan)

Singtel highlights (with some pride, one suspects) that its customers can soon expect its technicians to arrive within 30 minutes of their appointment time. I read this to be a service allowance where it is acceptable for a technician to be 30 minutes late.

This might be a step-up for Singtel. But it is a kick in the shins to Brand Singapore. Singapore is known for punctuality – one of the traits its prized asset Singapore Airlines has built its business on. In trying to build its own equity, somewhat weakly, Singtel has undermined Singapore’s national carrier and country, because they are seen as inter-connected brands.

The service improvements are old, but presented as new

Services like customer call-back, which is part of Singtel’s new push to improve its service, are hardly new or innovative. Vodafone has been offering this in Australia for more than half a decade. Some countries can be cut slack for indulging the idea that they are progressing. Less so Singapore, since it is no less than Australia by way of wealth, ideas, talent, intent or ability to make things happen. Setting benchmarks so low shows a brand not fully understanding its responsibility to its customers or pushing itself as hard as it could.

“We are listening,” says Singtel’s group CEO Chua Sock Koong. But to who? When in doubt, say you’re listening. This seems to have been the advice provided by Singtel’s advisors. (Note, I haven’t been capping the T in Singtel; but how this has benefited me, I’m not sure.) But are Singtel’s leaders really listening? Not to questions about its rebrand and new brand promise, choosing instead to brush it aside.

The trouble with treating any audience as irrelevant is that before long they start to see you in the same way.

Patrick D’Souza is the founder and director of communications consultancy Insanity. He was previously the MD of OgilvyOne Malaysia, the digital director of Droga5 in Sydney and clients services director of Havas Worldwide, formerly Euro RSCG, in Singapore.

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