(Well, tax woman actually)
As any Singapore tax resident should know, last Monday (18th) was the deadline for filing tax returns.
My particular situation has been a little complicated, partly due to a change of my terms with IPP Financial Advisers, and partly due to me finally getting around to applying for, and becoming, PR in Singapore in 2014. So I had two years of returns to go over and clarify. Trying to explain things by email (the online IRAS portal) was not particularly easy - I therefore decided to book an appointment with IRAS and go see them face to face.
What an amazing experience
I struggled for a week before writing this post, and almost didn’t because it sounds a bit, well, creepy.
My visit to the Inland Revenue Authority of Singapore was without a doubt the best experience of interaction with a government department I have had, ever. Anywhere. In comparison with a similar process I’ve been through in the UK, I can honestly say there is, umm, no comparison.
Step 1. Roy logs in at ‘myTax portal’, and via the website books an appointment the same week. I choose at 10am slot to make sure I’m not in rush.
Step 2. Next day mid-morning, Roy gets a call. It’s IRAS. A pleasant sounding lady called Joanne. Regarding my appointment on Friday, is it something she can help me with?
Me: “No probably not on the phone, it’s a bit complicated.”
“Ok, I’ll see you Friday then.”
“Sorry, you mean it’ll be you I will actually see?”
“Yes, that’s right.”
Step 3. On the appointed day, Roy arrives early. To get a ticket for the queue system, I enter my phone number at the console. Ticket duly printed. When my number comes up, the screen says ‘Go to Booth 16’. So I walk round the corner and what do I see? Not lines of counters or impersonal windows, but a typical large open plan office floor with dozens and dozens of people working in their own partitioned areas. Each labelled. I follow the signs and find ‘booth’ 16. Joanne looks up and invites me to sit down. This is going to be a conversation with a real person, at her own desk, in her own work environment. Maybe this is commonplace for some, but coming from the UK I would never ever expect such a comfortable and human interface.
Step 4. Avoiding the boring details, suffice to say that Joanee answers all my questions clearly, straightforwardly, and picks up on a few things I had missed. She gets it. Unlike many situations with officialdom I have been in, she answers my questions with the stuff I actually need to know, rather than pedantically answering the half-wrong or poorly phrased questions I verbalised. That’s the essence of great communication and client service.
Then, on a piece of paper she calculates what my giro deductions will be from May. She keeps the slip of paper for her record, and lets me take a photo of it on my camera for mine.
Step 5. Sure enough, those same figures came through on a portal email over the weekend.
Now this may seem trivial, but for many of us, sorting out tax matters is up there with divorce and moving house in terms of stress levels. And here I was clearing up two years of issues in one smooth stress-free process.
I’m not big on sweeping generalisations or country comparisons, but this experience was an example of something that Singapore has absolutely 100% right.