SME Spotlight

Singapore Mobility Corp drives ahead of competition with good service: Managing director Thomas Chia

As the transport industry undergoes major change in the face of disruptive trends, good service could well be the key to giving smaller businesses an edge over their competition. Thomas Chia, managing director of car rental firm Singapore Mobility Corporation, tells Jacqueline Woo how the company stands out from the crowd in the second of a four-part series on service excellence.

Mr Chia gave up his job as vice-president of a listed company in 2009 to enter the ground transport business, a sector he knew nothing about. But he does not regret his decision.
Mr Chia gave up his job as vice-president of a listed company in 2009 to enter the ground transport business, a sector he knew nothing about. But he does not regret his decision. ST PHOTO: AZMI ATHNI

Q What is Singapore Mobility Corp, and how did it come about?

A Singapore Mobility Corp is the exclusive franchisee for Sixt, an international car rental company, in Singapore. So we provide car rental services and specialise in limousine services.

It was 2009, and I was working as a vice-president in a Singapore-listed company. A long-time friend from the car trade, who is now my business partner, approached me with the idea of buying over Singapore Mobility Corp.

At that time, I didn't know anything about ground transport as I came from a manufacturing background. I was happy with my job then, at a company that really valued my well-being. But I was also aware that, at some point, I had to ask myself what I wanted - a stable job or to challenge myself.

It was a very tough decision, but I made it after doing a lot of research and thinking. Up till today, my friends, family and ex-colleagues still ask why I was so brave to have left such a secure and senior position. It was a roller-coaster ride in the initial years - I'm not sure if I'm able to do it again today - but I went ahead to take up the challenge because I didn't want to have regrets later.

Q Tell us about one of the toughest customers the company has had to deal with.

A There was a customer who rented a multi-purpose vehicle to travel to Malaysia with his family.

Two days later, he called from Kuala Lumpur saying the car would not start. He was very worried because he and his family were stranded overseas and it was affecting their holiday plans.

After calming him down and asking the relevant questions, our operations team realised that the gear had been set in the "drive" instead of the "park" position, which was why the car did not start.

When the customer came back, he was still upset and said we should have explained to him how to operate the car. While it was not within our procedures to explain on the use of the "park" position, we apologised for the incident as we acknowledged that the automatic gear on that particular vehicle was more unusual. We also waived his Malaysia use charges.

The customer is now a regular. We also learnt a lesson here - that a customer has to be briefed on product features, especially if he is not familiar with a certain type of car.

Q How have staff gone beyond their call of duty?

A Recently, one of our chauffeurs took an elderly woman to the airport. The passenger had requested a wheelchair at the departure gate from the airport staff so she could be wheeled into the departure hall.

But when they got there, the chauffeur realised that the wheelchair had not been arranged, due to some miscommunication.

He then offered to carry the passenger - with her consent, of course - to the check-in counter as the boarding time was already quite close, and he waited until she was done at the counter. The elderly passenger was overwhelmed by his actions and later sent us a long commendation letter about him.

But sad to say, the chauffeur received a summons for leaving his car unattended. He also suffered a sprained back. When I asked why he had gone through so much, he said that instead of waiting for someone else to assist the elderly woman, he simply decided to do it himself.

Q Why is good service so important at Singapore Mobility Corp?

A Providing good service is very important. If we do not take good care of our customers, someone else will. It's not only about providing good service, as everyone else can claim the same too, but going beyond our customers' expectations.

This is even more important in today's context, where competition doesn't come from behind you any more - it leaps ahead of you. Right now, it is car-sharing and ride-hailing. In future, it will be driverless vehicles.

To rise to these challenges, we realise there is a need to continuously evolve in our service offerings. Last year, we engaged an external consultant to help improve our customer experience processes.

We did it with help from the Government, by tapping Spring Singapore's Capability Development Grant. It was also because of this exercise that we went for Spring's Service Class Certification, where we were assessed by industry experts and certified in our service-oriented approach.

In a nutshell, we have to continuously invest in our services to be at the forefront of the competition. Customers want value, not cheap service.

Q What is the next step of growth for the company?

A Less than seven years ago, we started out with four staff. Now we have more 70 people in both Singapore and China. In terms of revenue, we've been mostly growing at a double-digit pace.

We have plans to grow in mainland China and Taiwan.

We're just starting out in China, having moved into the market two years ago, after being invited to be the general sales agent for Sixt there. China is home to the world's largest outbound traveller market, in terms of both numbers and spending.

There is a lot of growth potential there as the Chinese tend to be independent travellers and go on self-driving holidays.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 25, 2016, with the headline Singapore Mobility Corp drives ahead of competition with good service: Managing director Thomas Chia. Subscribe