January 11th, 2016

The heart of communication

There is one thing technology cannot replace and it's called the human touch.

I AM surprised that some readers of this column write to me and begin with an apology about intruding into my busy schedule. But they learn soon enough that I am never too busy to reply.

The way I see it, if I include an e-mail address to my column, then I must expect, and respond to mail received.

I am glad that every column I have written has elicited feedback. And some are so touching that I am much blessed in return.

Since I became a regular columnist, I have received many thoughtful e-mails and letters from people near and far. They have gone the extra mile to pen those words to me, and so my response is to do likewise.

People click when there is genuine communication, not because it is being forced onto them. And these moments are remembered.

Let me share what I wrote in Monday Starters back in April 25, 2011 entitled “Technology can never replace the human touch”.

“Back in 1996, during the great national blackout, I observed how the Tenaga Nasional Bhd (TNB) staff worked non-stop to restore power.

“When they came to my neighbourhood, one person angrily told them that the food in his fridge had gone bad, he could not watch TV, and that it was too hot to stay indoors.

“One of the workers replied, ‘Sorry for the inconvenience, but I have not even had the chance to go home and see my family for the past 48 hours.’

“That effectively silenced the whiner and we all gave the TNB crew a round of applause after they finished their work.

“I subsequently wrote an e-mail to the then TNB CEO Tan Sri Dr Ahmad Tajuddin Ali, thanking him for all the hard work his staff had put in. Those were the early days of the Internet and there were no Blackberries and iPhones that connected such senior people to the masses, so I wasn’t expecting a reply.

“But I did get a reply. A really personal reply where he expressed his thanks that he finally got one positive e-mail from the slew of thousands of angry e-mails and phone calls, especially from VIPs demanding their power be restored first. I was just an ordinary consumer saying thanks but the information was conveyed at the right time and at the right moment, and so it made a difference.

“So, to those who want to communicate, be it to millions of people at any one time, or to just that one special person, remember that there is one thing that technology can never replace. It is called the human touch.”

I have never met Ahmad Tajuddin in person, but when this article came out, he wrote back to me to say he has not forgotten about this episode, which he treasures vividly.

With the rise of social media, personalised letters are becoming rare. Most people find it more convenient to bring issues into the public domain first, in the hope that it will trigger a response.

But I still hold firm to the belief that some things are best done in a quiet, personal way. While Ahmad Tajuddin took time to respond, it does not always happen as top people in any company tend to be too busy to respond to anyone they do not personally know.

I once wrote to the general manager of a top hotel in the Bukit Bintang area to commend his car park attendant. This guy was simply amazing in the way he directed traffic in the basement. I have never seen anyone that chirpy and passionate about working as a car park attendant.

I went up to him and asked for his name, and said he was doing a fantastic job, which was the essence of my letter to the GM. But I never got a reply.

Some time later, I asked the attendant if he got a commendation or a pat on the back from the boss, and he said he didn’t, which probably meant the letter, which was handed over at the reception, had been ignored.

In the busyness of life, it is easy to overlook people who deserve a response from us, but the choice is really ours.

Will you go out of the way to seize opportunities to make a difference, or will you go about business as usual focused only on your own needs and wants?

Executive editor Soo Ewe Jin is thankful that the postman does not deliver just bills to him, but also lovely cards and letters from family, friends and fans.

Soo Ewe Jin The STAR Home Opinion Columnists Sunday Starters Sunday, 10 January 2016