Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Running a business in Thailand Part 2: The Personal Touch

It's been half a year since my first post on this series, and it's really time for me to write my second post. There are a lot of things to share on this topic, especially since I had been busy running my current business and also starting a brand new business in Thailand during the last 6 months.

Having worked in Singapore for 4 years before I embarked my journey to Thailand, I got used to using emails for almost all my important work-related correspondences. Emails were fast, free, reliable and records are kept forever, so what's not to love? Sadly, it became easy to over-rely on emails and neglect the one important aspect that Thai people appreciate - The Personal Touch.

  1. For customers:

    I cannot speak for all industries, but specifically for mine, which deals with owners of traditional businesses like hardware shops/regional equipment wholesalers etc., my old working style in Singapore was rendered completely obsolete the moment I came. Most of them, even the educated younger generation, are not active on their emails at all, at least for work.

    Doing business became a different game. From receiving 30-80 emails a day in Singapore, I started to receive less than 10 a day. This reduced workload on the emailing front came with consequences. Customers appreciated the personal touch. They like speaking face-to-face with you, or at least hear your voice. Many made their orders through fax, or even called you to tell you the details item by item. Time spent on the computer became even more time spent on the road during customer visits or on phone conversations. If you had visited me before, you might not believe it as I don't seem very busy on the phone, but that is only because I do not speak Thai, if I did, then I wouldn't even have time to speak with you during office hours.

    There are rewards though. As a result of more personal interaction, stronger bonds are built. I have become great friends with many customers, and doing business has already become a natural after-thought when we communicate.

    This might not apply to all industries, but I am sure this trait and preference runs through all locals, so be prepared for this change in mindset when you decide to do business here.
  2. For colleagues:

    The incident that left the deepest impression was with my first ever sales manager 4 years ago, not long after I came to Thailand.

    I was on a week-long business trip in Singapore when I could not locate my sales manager during office hours. I was then told by my accountant that he frequently came late for work or did not come at all, without reason. Me being me, I could not wait a week to express how I felt face-to-face, so I sent a polite email (all my directors read it and said it was TOO polite) to remind him that I expected more discipline and communication during office hours. The only response I got was not a reply email, but a resignation letter on my table.

    This was really shocking to me, because with the tone I wrote, it would not have caused much friction in Singapore, and will most definitely not be a trigger to an abrupt resignation. My gentle 'reminder' might have been interpreted as a petty complaint. I subsequently invited him back for a chat and we parted with a hug and have remained friends since. On hindsight, I really should have done that in the first place, even if the result would be the same.

    This incident taught me a lot, and changed the way I treated my colleagues completely. I now do all my appraisals and conversations face-to-face. Even when someone makes a mistake or does something very disrespectful, I have learnt not to express myself when I am most angry. Instead, I will go home, cool down, then chat with them calmly the next day. This has reduced a lot of friction, and I believe my colleagues respect me more because of it.
Thailand is not the Land of Smiles for no reason. The locals are generally kind but very sensitive though they might not show it. Respect also needs to be earned, especially when your are younger than most of your correspondents in the industry. 

The extra effort to offer your personal touch will reap unbelievable rewards.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let's have enough memories to last forever

19-month-old Noah
Dear Noah

2 nights ago, out of nowhere, you spouted your first "I LOVE YOU", complete with actions, almost directly pointing at me with your fingers at the end. Whether or not you meant it for me, or even meant it at all, my heart welled with delight and hugged you tightly for the longest time. It was perhaps the first time you joined 3 words together, and boy was it a good first ever sentence!

I remember a few weeks ago, Mummy wrote me a message telling me her SD card failed again. She was very upset. You did not understand what was going on and kept trying to 'disturb' her while she was working on her computer, finding all means to salvage your lost pictures and videos. I, too, did not realise the gravity of the situation until she hugged you and said, "Give Mummy a bit of time ok? I am trying to save memories of you."

I was reminded to cherish every moment spent with you and Mummy, that though I can do my best to increase our time spent together, every instant is unique and will never come back.

That is what I will do, son, to not only spend quality time with you and Mummy, but to spend quantity time with you and Mummy. Moments will never come back, but let's have many moments, many many moments, so many moments that we will have enough memories to last forever.


Friday, September 13, 2013

4 years in Thailand, 1st time in Phuket

The captivating view at the lobby of Pullman Arcadia Phuket

It's almost unbelievable that after 4 long years in Thailand, I finally made my 1st trip to Phuket, and it was actually initiated by work. Don't ask me why, but I am sure my friends in Singapore/Malaysia must have been here many more times than me!

In spite of the pretty boring Central Festival Shopping Mall and sky high taxi prices (I recommend you find a good resort and stay there for most of your trip), I must say that the short staycation I had there with Li Li and Noah after my meeting proved just why after so many years, Phuket is still one of the hottest destinations on the globe.

Noah preparing yet another plane ride, this chap is taking planes at a much higher frequency than taking a bus!

Trusting the recommendation of my potential client based in Phuket, we spent our weekend soaking in the newly-open Pullman Arcadia Resort located along the not-so-crowded Naithong Beach. Built on a steep hill, it boasts breath-taking views over the beach and close proximity to the forests, the best of both worlds for a family residing in urban Bangkok. One thing to note though, is that because of its terrain, it is not easy to walk from your room to the lobby or the beach, especially if you have elderly or small children, so you will need to prepare ample time waiting for the buggy service to bring you around. You are on a relaxing holiday anyway, so just be patient and let the concierge do their stuff!

Cosy room with sofa and bed facing directly at the sea, though not easy to capture on the camera

Noah enjoying himself with Pooky on the comfy bed
Father and son making a fool of themselves during breakfast

Having been in Thailand for so long, cultural shows, night market and street food no longer interest us, so spending all our time at a resort seemed the best way to go, especially in Phuket where it easily costs at least 15USD to go anywhere. We were lucky enough to find a place which is peaceful, beautiful and serves a decent spread for breakfast. In almost all our previous trips to new locations, Li Li and I would always spend 80% of our awake time out of our hotel, exploring as many new things as possible. I guess as we grow older (and especially after having Noah) we are starting to enjoy this new way of leisure, to just forget about time and let the world pass us by.

This trip, though relatively uneventful, was not without its interesting parts. At least, it told us that Noah is really not a waterboy (very much like his Dad). It was very amusing experience bringing him to the beach, where he spent half his time pointing to his feet full of sand screaming "DIRTY! DIRTY!", then into the pool, where he spent all the time trying to get out. I guess it's time to bring him to the pool more often!

Dirty..... My feet are sooo dirty................
For the first time in my life, I carried Noah hands-free with no external help... MAGIC!
Noah then stuck to me like glue for ages after leaving the pool, saying "NICE!" many times, what bliss!

Looks like the Stranger in Bangkok and his family are starting to get used to this kind of sabai-sabai (Thai for relaxing) enjoyment. What's more important than spending quality time together with your family anyway?

Till next time Phuket, we will be back!

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