PUTTING OTHERS
BEFORE YOURSELF

Warmth, openness and a willingness
to put the needs of others first – on
the frontlines of customer service with
Ms Seah Gek Kiang of Singapore Customs.

“Extremely professional and polite.”
“Went out of the way to make a great impression. I’m grateful.”
“A role model for other officers.”
“Very impressed. Shall carry home very good memories of Singapore’s efficiency.”

These are just some of the heartfelt testimonials that Ms Seah, 59, has received. An Air Checkpoints Officer at Changi Airport, she’s come a long way since joining Singapore Customs five years ago.

"Before this, I was very much a behind-the-scenes person, working as an aviation screening officer. I used to be afraid of speaking to strangers! But I wanted to try something new and to push myself, so I applied for a position with Singapore Customs. One of the training courses that I took here changed my mindset entirely – I learnt to focus on others, to help them as much as possible, and make them happy."

And happy she has made them indeed. Always ready to lend a hand, Ms Seah has received three Service Excellence Awards – in 2011, 2012 and 2014 – that bear testimony to her commitment to doing the best for others. At Changi Airport, she serves on a team of 12 officers that’s on duty 24/7, in three shifts. Asked what motivates her to go the extra mile, Ms Seah says it’s all about passion.

I love what I do. As frontline officers, our job is to help others, and at Changi Airport, we get to meet and work with fellow Singaporeans from all walks of life. Here, the whole world comes to us, so our daily interactions are always interesting and varied. I feel like we’re ambassadors for Singapore.

For Ms Seah, it’s the personal touch – a smile, a ready ear – that makes all the difference. In 2013, an elderly traveller arrived at the Goods and Services Tax Refund Counter at Terminal 1 looking for the transit hotel. Tired and anxious, he was due to board a connecting flight in seven hours. Ms Seah noticed the elderly traveller and, checking his documents, discovered that his hotel was inside the Terminal 2 transit area.

Reassuring the elderly traveller, Ms Seah quickly helped him to obtain a permit in order to re-enter the transit area. Escorting him to Terminal 2, she also requested that the hotel arrange for a staff to meet the elderly traveller. She recalls his simple yet heartfelt thanks upon parting – just one moment among many that has come to distinguish her work.

It’s very satisfying when I can help someone solve a problem and make his or her day. The first step in doing this is to empathise with the person: how is he or she feeling, and how can I make things better? Putting others before yourself – that’s the most important thing.