Lessons in CX: A trip to South East Asia - Part 2 – Not
taking a stroll around Kuala Lumpur.
If Singapore is a city seemingly built from the ground up to
be as effortless as possible to both inhabit and visit,
Kuala Lumpur is a very different experience.
The Malaysian capital was our second stop on a two-week tour
of South East Asia. A tour that aimed to share our
observations about global Customer Experience trends and
discuss how organisations in the region are affected by
changing customer needs across a diverse market. And we were
lucky enough to be hosted by leading national and
international businesses in every country, each a household
As it had been in Singapore, it felt important to
interpret our experience of the city and how this
potentially shaped the companies we were visiting, many of
them originating in Malaysia and head-quartered in Kuala
An airport in the forest. A microcosm of Malaysian
We arrived at Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA) on a
weekday evening. The bustle of this enormous transport hub
– the international gateway to Malaysia – was
noticeable compared to the more serene Singapore Changi
airport we’d departed just an hour earlier.
KLIA is an impressive feat of construction. Like Changi, it
was constructed to be environmentally friendly, built to the
concept of “an airport in the forest and a forest in
the airport”, representing the tropical splendour of
Kuala Lumpur’s natural resources. And it certainly
fulfils the brief, surrounding travellers with a pleasant,
green environment as they pass through its terminals.
But ground-breaking architectural concepts aside, KLIA knows
it’s a passenger’s toilet experience that lives
long in their memory and after a week in Singapore we were
used to being asked to once again rate ours.
As well as showcasing the country’s unique
environment, the airport plays its role in presenting
Malaysia as an open, progressive nation. In September this
year KLIA launched HIMPUN, a month-long showcase of the best
of the country’s fashion, craft and food products.
An airport is often seen as a microcosm of a nation. KLIA
has taken this literally by actively bringing the richness
of the Malaysian landscape and culture into the airport, at
the same time creating a positive and unique experience for
travellers arriving in the country.
Profiting from perambulation. The drive to improve
Kuala Lumpur is a city that is heavily reliant on the car.
Reportedly, only 20% of inhabitants use the city’s
public transport network. This was immediately apparent as
we joined a congested highway to drive the 50 km from KLIA
to our hotel in the downtown area of Kuala Lumpur, nicknamed
‘The Golden Triangle’.
And when we naively tried to venture out of our hotel to
explore our surroundings on foot (and find a bar to toast
our arrival in country two of our three-country tour) a lack
of pavements to separate us from the busy network of
surrounding roads forced us into a prompt retreat.
Kuala Lumpur is not a city designed for perambulation.
Although that’s changing. To avoid evolving into an
urban (pavement-less) dystopia the Malaysian government has
been working on major development programmes to make
downtown Kuala Lumpur more pedestrian friendly, realising
that they need to balance economic and physical growth with
a sustainable city that people enjoy living in and visiting.
No doubt with an eye of the success of their neighbours,
Singapore, Kuala Lumpur’s Executive Director of
Planning, Mahadi Ngah has alluded to future measures to
drive public transport usage, including imposing
restrictions on vehicle usage.
And City Hall has realised that walkability of the city is a
key driver of public transport usage. In 2012 the River of
Life project was launched, redeveloping Kuala Lumpur’s
riverside to create promenades, parks and retail spaces
– and seemingly mandatory for every city we visited in
South East Asia, a night-time light show spectacular in the
heart of the city to delight visitors.
Bringing the outside in. Driving employee
Our first meeting in Kuala Lumpur was with a
Telecommunications company in a business park on the
outskirts of the city. A familiar office façade hid a
unique environment inside. In the lobby large videos screens
hung above an oasis of calming, low level water pools. At
the open-air rear of the building a small waterfall trickled
down a natural rock face. Echoing Kuala Lumpur
Airport’s celebration of the natural environment of
Malaysia, in the design of their headquarters this company
had consciously brought the outside in.
The video screen in front of us wasn’t advertising the
company to visitors but talking directly to its own
employees. Senior Directors were being interviewed about
internal company initiatives, interspersed with news of
money raised at a recent charity day and the results of the
latest company fussball tournament.
Or maybe this content was for visitors, showcasing a vibrant
and unique company culture, whilst at the same time driving
a sense of togetherness and employee empowerment – a
recognition of the fact that, despite advancements in
technology and AI, it is still front-line employees that
ultimately drive the experience a company delivers to its
Crowded, messy and authentic. A culinary
That evening we visited Jalan Alor, one of Kuala
Lumpur’s most famous and vibrant street markets
– a seemingly endless row of plastic tables and chairs
spilling out from pavement cafes, butting up against
colourful fresh food stalls wok-frying noodles and grilling
skewered meats. The noise, sights and smells combined to
create a rich, multi-sensory experience.
In contrast to Singapore’s largely orderly streets,
Jalan Alor is crowded, messy and authentic. As a result, we
felt like we were experiencing the ‘real’ Kuala
Lumpur and Malaysia’s ethnically diverse culture
through its cooking.
By the time we’d fought our way through the dense
crowd of locals and tourists to the other end of the street
we were desperate to sample this cooking with a cold beer.
No wonder both tasted so good.
“You’ll need gloves.” A theatrical
We had one more culinary experience before we left Kuala
Lumpur for Hong Kong. As our hosts sat us down in a local
Durian café and handed us some plastic gloves they
tittered at our collective bafflement.
A Durian (we learned) is an intensely pungent, bittersweet
fruit with an otherworldly appearance. Due to its
overpowering smell, it’s been banned on public
transport across South East Asia. In Singapore we’d
even noticed signs in our hotel stipulating Durians were not
allowed on the premises.
To attract tourists intrigued by its unique taste, Durian
cafes in Kuala Lumpur have created a bit of culinary
theatre. Asked to pick one of the large, spikey fruits from
the display shelf, our server wielded a large knife and
chopped it into quarters in the middle of the table before
handing us a piece each.
Our consumption of the Durian resulted in facial expressions
that were apparently photo worthy. The sweet yet savoury,
creamy yet cheesy taste that would stay with us all the way
to Hong Kong.
We’d fast run out of time to see Kuala Lumpur’s
iconic 88-storey Petronas twin towers. According to Prime
Minister, Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s, the landmark was
conceived and designed in 1993 to explicitly represent
Malaysia’s aspirations to be a ‘global
player’ on the world stage – the sentiment of a
city keen to attract business and showcase its diversity
whilst working hard to improve the living standards of its
When we asked our hosts what the best way to view the towers
was we should have anticipated the reply, “We could
drive around them?”
Note: This article is written by Eliot Sykes, Head of
Customer Experience at Ethology, a sister company of Splash.
Eliot and his team were on a 2 week visit of Asia,
introducing the Ethology offering to Clients of ours.