Cover Story: Customer Service in the Public Sector

By A. Jeyaraj, Joshua Jacob and Khaleeja Suhaimi

In Issue 277 of Ipoh Echo we discussed customer service in retail and F&B outlets. In this issue we are discussing customer service in the public sector. The government as well as most businesses provide services to the public. This is a wide sector and we will concentrate on government departments and businesses where the majority of the people go to get things done.

Good customer service means helping customers efficiently resolve problems in a timely and friendly manner.

It is essential to be able to handle issues for customers and do one’s best to ensure they are satisfied. Providing good service is one of the most important things that can set a business apart from the others of its kind. However, when we’re dealing with government departments where there is no competition and hence not enough emphasis is placed on customer service we often encounter rude or lackadaisical service. Here we shall endeavour to look at some of these.

Road Transport and Immigration Departments

The two government departments where most people go to are the Road Transport and Immigration Departments. The quality of customer service in government departments has come a long way. In the past, staff manning the front desk used to keep poker faced and filled with arrogance earning them the sobriquet of “Little Napoleons”.

Things have changed now and most of the front desk staff are friendly and can speak English. They try to be helpful. There are a number of counters open and no necessity to wait long. Most of the counters display a sign saying senyum or smile. Government rules are rigid and the staff have no authority to bypass them and they have to follow the rules. This may cause some arguments. In Urban Transformation Centre (UTC), the government departments are open up to 10pm daily and this is very convenient for the public.

For 23-year-old Constance Chi, the services provided in UTC are very efficient and meets her expectations.

“I was going to renew my passport at UTC the other day and I was most impressed as they were quick with what they do. I only had to wait the exact length of time they told me to. The staff were friendly too, better than the ones in Jelapang that I have experienced,” she said.

“Their service is good but I still find some of the staff lacking in friendliness. Some are friendly without a doubt but others talk to me as if it wasn’t their job,” said Fatwa En Nadia who was there to redo her lost identity card (IC).

Ipoh City Council (MBI)

MBI carries out most of our daily needs like collecting garbage, grass cutting and drain cleaning. It is the place we go to complain about stray dogs and cattle, dilapidated houses and many more. Complaints can be made online by e-Aduan MBI and also by telephone. You can call the general number 05 208 3333 and ask the operator to connect you to the department you want. The people who attend the calls are courteous.

 Many people go to MBI office personally to make complaints or enquire about their services. The staff at the Information Counter are courteous, helpful and issue a complaint report, but whether action is taken is another matter. They direct customers to the right department to get their problems solved. There is also a One-Stop-Counter mainly for businesses. The counter staff do their part of the job.

Every first Tuesday of the month, MBI holds a session for the public to issue complaints. The session takes place from 9am till 12pm on the second floor of UTC. A long table will be set up, with respective staffs of each department concerned to listen to the complaints accordingly and work out an appropriate solution.

“Most of the issues raised are regarding the drainage system and illegal garbage dumps. The public needs to understand that there are two types of actions; technical and non-technical. Technical refers to actions that need approval or paperwork. This may take up to seven days or more. Non-technical refers to immediate actions, where we can assign our workers to collect rubbish or clean a certain area as soon as possible,” said Mohd Syahril Zakaria, under the Corporate and Public Relations Department.

Pos Malaysia

While more people are paying bills online, some still pay at counters. Nearly all bills can be paid at Pos Malaysia. There are many branches as well as mini post offices, making it convenient to pay bills. Most of the staff are helpful and will guide the public on how to deliver parcels or carry out other operations.

“I pay my bills here all the time but once when I wanted to collect my parcel, I found them being pretty disorganised. They notified me, saying I could collect it the next day so I drove all the way, only to find it closed as it was the first Saturday of the month,” remarked Naleenaa Rubinee.

In addition to paying bills at respective offices, certain bills can also be paid at 7-Eleven outlets. Some of them are U-Mobile, Astro, Telekom Malaysia and electricity bills. All one has to do is bring the bill or account number to the cashier and payment can be made via cash only. Thus, people can pay their bills at any time of the day.

“I’ve paid my Astro bill here once and it was a fast process. Being a 24-hour convenience store, it’s a smart choice that bill payments can be made here,” expressed Chua Yen Ying.


Customer service is important to banks like it is to other public sectors. Although many may overlook it, banks value solid communication skills amongst their staff to ensure that their clients are well looked after.

The problem many have in banks, however, is that they have to queue up, whether to use ATMs or to consult a staff. The introduction of online banking has reduced this problem, to an extent.

Many banks have apps that their clients can download to carry out daily transactions. This allows customers to transfer money without having to go to the bank. However, these apps have their limitations. These apps only allow transactions up to a certain amount and clients would have to go to the bank if their transaction exceeds the limit set.

So how do banks ensure the comfort of their clients? Banks like OCBC always ensures that they have enough manpower to serve the large number of clients that enter the bank daily. They also monitor their system to maintain its functionality. Through this, the burden of having to wait is lessened.

ETS Ticketing Counter at Ipoh Railway Station

The inter-city Electric Train Service (ETS) provided by Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTMB) is a service that is often used by citizens. Many residents from Ipoh use the ETS to travel to cities like Butterworth or Kuala Lumpur as it is time-saving and comfortable.

The ticketing counters at the Ipoh Railway Station however, are not efficient. It is not unusual for customers to wait up to 40 minutes to buy a ticket and then be told that the tickets are sold out. However, many have utilised the e-ticketing service provided by KTMB which enables customers to purchase tickets online either through their website, or through their app which can be downloaded.

Charlie Ooi, who regularly uses the ETS to visit friends and family, says he prefers the ETS over other modes of transport because it is quicker and safer.

“I buy my tickets through their app. This way, I get to avoid queuing up to buy my tickets. It can be quite frustrating as the app is not very consistent. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t,” he said expressing his dissatisfaction.


The police are part of law enforcement and play an important role in upholding the quality of life in communities. Every day, citizens go to police stations to make reports on accidents, loss of items, thefts, complaints or to pay summonses.

It is therefore important that the police maintain quality and efficiency in their services. Unfortunately, there is a negative perception of the police amongst the public. Many feel that their officers are not polite or efficient when carrying out their duties.

A resident from Ipoh who wishes to remain anonymous spoke to Ipoh Echo about her experience with the police. After receiving a phone call scam, she went to the police station to make a report.

“I told them what happened and provided them with all the details, including the phone number and time the call was made. To my horror, the officer in charge dismissed it saying that it’s a common occurrence and that there was nothing to report. Another officer then said that it was pointless making a report as they wouldn’t take any action,” she said.

Upon telling the officers that she would report the both of them, only then did they decide to issue her report.

“How are you supposed to protect the citizens when you say you’re not going to do anything about it? How are we supposed to trust you? It’s your duty and you should carry it out well,” she explained lividly.


Some of us may have regular visits to clinics, whether to check on blood tests or to collect medicines and to check up on physical health. Here are some of the services provided in respective clinics.

Our reporter, A. Jeyaraj, goes to the Buntong Clinic twice a month to collect his medicine and sees the doctor once every three or four months. According to him, the pharmacy staff begin work before 8am and explains in detail on how to take each medication as advised during the dispensing of medicine. The staff also explain in Chinese and Tamil to ensure that the patients understand.

A. Pushpam, a retired teacher said she has been going to Jelapang Clinic for blood tests, collection of medicine and ailments like cough and cold. She said the staff who collect blood start work before 8am and are very helpful. During collection of medicine, the counter staff often encounter problems with senior citizens who have difficulty understanding the instructions being given and therefore take up extra time.

While there may be problems with infrastructure in government clinics, the services provided are generally adequate. In a government clinic, one may be seeing a new doctor every time. Most of the doctors are young, friendly and listen to the patients well. The doctors have a lot of patience with patients who are not familiar with their standard procedures and try their best to explain as well as they can. We must also understand that doctors are normal human beings and are dealing with a lot of patients; some of whom are problematic.

Major Service Providers

There are many service providers, some of the major ones being TM, TNB and Astro. These companies have centralised customer service departments in Kuala Lumpur for customers to call. Often, a caller is kept on hold for half an hour before being able to talk to the person in charge. Their standard reply is, “We will attend to your problem within 48 hours.” This can often be frustrating.

 However, if you go to their office in person, you can talk to the staff and they are helpful. They make an effort to call back to inform the status of a specific problem.

One common complaint to TNB is that of street lights not working. They are efficient and if you make a call at 8am, the workers will come by 10.30am.


We deal with customer service on a daily basis, be it at a supermarket, restaurant, when taking the bus and more. It is generally a wide scope and covers a lot on many areas. Therefore, people working in these industries should already know by now that their services are essential to everyone. The only key is to be nice and attend well to customers, no matter what race or age.

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