Coronavirus pandemic

Firms made over 150,000 queries on safe distancing to call centre

Companies made more than 150,000 queries regarding safe distancing measures and guidelines between April 3 and Monday, government agency Enterprise Singapore (ESG) said yesterday.

Of these, 110,000 were phone calls to ESG's information hotline, while about 45,000 were made through e-mail.

Speaking to reporters after a visit to ESG's dedicated call centre in Tai Seng yesterday, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing said that the centre's operations will now focus on helping businesses reopen safely in phase two, which begins on Friday.

The centre previously focused on helping businesses understand if they could operate safely or at all, he added.

As a next step, the centre will help companies adapt and transform some of their business models to serve new customers, Mr Chan said, noting that the centre is expected to continue operating in the coming months.

The agents at the call centre do not just address companies' problems and queries, but also facilitate a "two-way" communication between businesses and government agencies, the minister added.

"From the questions that businesses ask, we also get a good sense of the pulse (on the ground), the pain points, the opportunities, and it helps us refine some of the rules that we implement," said Mr Chan.

The call centre was set up in April when circuit breaker measures were announced, with close to 800 volunteers from 48 government agencies manning the Enterprise Infoline during the period of heightened safe distancing measures. Currently, around 50 to 60 call centre agents answer phone queries daily.

Agents at the ESG call centre include workers who have been redeployed from companies badly hit by the coronavirus pandemic, operators hired through recruitment agencies, volunteers from other government agencies and ESG staff.

Among those manning the lines is Mr Louis Loo, 70, who worked as a tour guide and a part-timer doing customer service at the Singapore Tourism Board's visitor centre after retiring in 2017.

As tourism suffered massively from the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, he joined the centre as his "interest is in meeting and talking to people".

Several businesses were frustrated when calling in, as their registered primary activities were not on the list of essential services allowed to operate, he said, but such instances were where "soft-skills training kicked in".

"Subsequently, after listening to them and... letting them throw out their frustrations, they would eventually cool down and accept what you're telling them," Mr Loo said.

Mr Chan said that trade associations and chambers have also played an active role in designing and developing measures for particular industries.

The Singapore Business Federation's CovidBiz Helpline, which helps businesses navigate government advisories and updates, received about 960 inquiries from more than 600 companies between April 6 and Monday.

In addition, the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry has engaged more than 1,100 companies through means such as industry group discussions and webinars, while the Singapore Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry has negotiated preferential interest rates with banks and private financial institutions for its members and Singaporean Indian businesses to address cash flow concerns.

Said Mr Chan: "We hope that in many of the industries, we will be able to set new benchmarks on how we can do (things), not just for ourselves, but also to demonstrate to the... regional market how we can resume activities in a sustainable way."