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MCO Zoom Series: Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI)

Written by Carliff Rizal

· Interviews,Case Study

We are back with another episode of the MCO Zoom Series. This week, Carliff Rizal, our Chief Executive Officer, reached out to Zuhaila Sedek, the Strategic Communications Head for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI).

As the demand from the Malaysian public for faster and more efficient communication from their government, Zuhaila’s responsibility as the Head of Strategic Communications for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI) also became more demanding. We would like to find out how she’s adjusting to these new demands and how has she adjusted her role to overcome these challenges.

In our fourth interview of the MCO Zoom series, we learned the following:

  • How did Zuhaila land herself as the Head of Strategic Communications for the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI)
  • How is adjusting to the high demands of the Rakyat during the MCO period
  • How important is helping the public get info on demand during the MCO
  • The amazing work MITI has done during the MCO
  • What did Chatbot Malaysia do to help her achieve her organisations goals
  • Zuhaila's views of the future and her plans for 2020

Now, let’s find out more about Zuhaila Sedek and the wonderful team at MITI.

Hi Zuhaila, it's nice to speak to you again, how's things with you after all the chaos of the beginning of MCO?

It's better now. Now we have to focus on the new economy and the economic stimulus. So it's now about helping people survive, because a lot of people have lost their jobs. And of course, on top of that, still focusing on helping the country attract investments and helping people to continue to export.

A lot of this are important and big things, which many don't really realize, and take for granted. All this still needs to happen so the country and the people can still have jobs to go back to.

Maybe tell us a little bit about yourself, how you landed as the Strategic Communications Head at MITI, and how are things over there?

Well, I was previously a reporter. So I spent about a decade in the newsroom. And then I decided to leave journalism for a while and I thought that, you know, let's try something that I would never ever try, which is (a job in the) government sector.

But, I'm very, very happy that I made that decision, because there are a lot of things that I think the general public may not know about the government (Public) sector.

And one of the main reasons why I joined the public sector is because I want to understand how the government works, you know understand the civil servants.

Understand what are the processes involved when it comes to managing public funds for example, yeah. So only by understanding how this happens, then you can appreciate more of what's happening out there.

So, but then I actually started with the Malaysia External Trade Development Corporation (MATRADE). I was there close to five years. And then I was asked to ... I was seconded (to MITI) basically.

The good ones always are right! :)

No la, I mean, we are all one family. At MITI, we have about 10 agencies under us. So we have always been working closely.

The way I look at it is like this, you are just going to one of your other family member's house to help out.

So I joined (MITI) in February of 2020 (just when the COVID situation was about to happen) and it was a very interesting time.

What!? Really, no way!

Yes, there were two big events that took place at the same time. One, of course, was the change of government. And then of course COVID-19 followed by The Movement Control Order (MCO).

So these two big things, was really a crash-course for a lot of us in the team.

Especially for myself because I learned so much about customer service.

Especially the importance of customer service and how we could utilize technology to help navigate through all the challenges when executing efforts in customer service.

A lot of PR practitioners out there, I'm sure can vouch for this, that a good customer service platform can definitely add value and is actually brand building, and builds a brand asset for you in the long run.

So the more you invest in these (customer service), the more you get to engage the with right audience and you get to give them the right information, and speed, of course, is a very important variable at the moment. Specifically with social media, you gotta act fast!

Yes, expectations are different now, right. The public wants things faster right?

Yes, that's exactly right.

So, when you joined MITI in February, was it like, "Okay, this is what's going on, these two big events, Zuhaila, please help us!" Or was it like, "Okay you're coming in for this position", and then suddenly the events (change of government & MCO) happened. So how was it?

I was actually asked to help with APEC. Malaysia was supposed to be the host for APEC 2020 this year.

For those who may not know, APEC is The Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation, which includes 21 economies. This actually is the second time that Malaysia is to be the host. In fact, the last time we were the host was in 1998.

So it was a big thing. And we had a lot of big names coming to Malaysia. But unfortunately, with COVID-19, you know, all our plans, all our physical events had to be postponed.

I see, so your focus suddenly had to be on this emergency (MCO) that you got the handle, right? So how was that, can you tell us a little bit about that, when the MCO first happened, how was the situation?

Yeah, because this is something that's very new to everybody!

At first, it was like ... you don't know how to respond to it...

But what was important, the first thing, was to not over-react. To take a step back and look at the bigger picture and to understand how the public is feeling. Because, by doing this, then we can start to truly empathize.

So I think there's a blessing in this whole crisis because I believe that in every crisis lies opportunities.

And for us, in this case for MITI, this type of awareness that we're getting at this moment is something you can only normally capture within a few years (instead of weeks).

So let's talk about that. What do you mean, how was this a blessing?

Right, because now we are able to promote ourselves (in a positive way) without having to spend much resources (on advertising).

I see, yes ..

Unfortunately, in a very complex circumstances, you know, there's a context to it, of course. A lot of emotion involved. You know, people are worried. People are concerned, people are agitated, and they want immediate response. And it was a challenge to manage the flow of information with the shortage of manpower.

At MITI, we were responsible to manage the industries, and in Malaysia, we have a lot of industries involving products and services. And I think in Malaysia, we have close to a million SMEs and we have 1% MTCs (Mid-Tier Companies). So a lot of expectations that needs to be managed.

And every sector behaves very differently. The way F&B (Food & Beverages) behaves compared to E&E (Electrical & Electronics). These are two very different context, very different environments. So they need different things, and have different requirements.

So imagine the information that they need, like, how do I manage my factory? How do I manage my workers? How do I manage my supply chain? How do I send my cargo? How do I get my distributors? How do I manage my logistical companies with all this restrictions to our movements?

So there must be one focal point for all this information to flow from to go out to the public.

And so that responsibility fell on you right?

For MITI, and my team. Definitely. And of course, we have 10 agencies that are helping us.

But I, I believe that we also play a very important role in getting all the other ministries to have the same kind of information. I understand. In the beginning at the earliest stages of the MCO there were a number of challenges because a lot of people have different information, because of the speed that they needed to respond to the people immediately. So it was a big challenge for groups of people to have the same information.

But eventually, we landed on on a pace that everybody's comfortable with. And again, we used technology to help us ease our communication challenges.

Awesome! Can you tell us a little bit more about that, like how were you planning to use technology, what was the thinking process behind it, and how did you get connected with us at Chatbot Malaysia?

Yeah, for sure. First of all, thanks so much to Chatbot Malaysia, because you came in at a very challenging time for us.

Like, we asked you guys "Hey, can you help us?" And you said "Yeah, okay!"

You helping us as a sort of National Service. Thanks so much, because we really needed that support. Imagine at that time, we were receiving thousands and thousands of inquiries, EACH DAY! (from all channels)!

You helping us as a sort of National Service. Thanks so much Carliff, because we really needed that support. Imagine at that time, we were receiving thousands and thousands of inquiries, each day! (from all channels)!​

There's no way that we could have accommodated all of those questions, and all of the emotions by the public, without having technology to help us.

I think a lot of people need to understand that at the end of the day, human touch is the one thing that can most add value to customers.

Technology is just an enabler, the extra support, to provide you a platform to disseminate information in a more automated way.

In this case, we were working with you guys through your chatbot system which is connected to our Facebook.

And the way it works, if I can just recap, is the public will send something on our comment box, or Facebook post, or messaging, then they will immediately be directed to our inbox in Messenger, then bot will give some initial information.

Next it will ask what other information you would like to know more about. But again, this is very dependent on our FAQ, the info bank (knowledge-base).

So the better your info-Bank, the better your chatbot will be able to serve to the public.

It's all very connected. There's a supply chain here, MITI, the chatbot and the public. And then the information flow, it goes back to our chat bot. And, because what the public is asking, some could be repetitive. And some ask about things that we didn't even realize was important to them. So we really appreciate it all their questions and their feedback. Closing this information loop. And I think the public also play a very important role in helping us to serve them better, by asking great questions we would never have thought about to answer!

So the public helps you make your service to them better!

Yeah, I think that's one of the best things that we learned. That the public plays a very important role in letting us know what they really want. So that we can provide them what they want, because we obviously are not able to read their minds, so this is one way to know exactly what their concerns are.

At the end of the day, I'm sure that a lot people can do this if they are willing to just take a step back and just be in tune with the public's emotion.

Because right now, in the current environment, people remember how you make them feel!

Because organisations can say I'm providing this product, and that service, great at doing this, and have these values, bla bla ... But if people don't feel it, it doesn't mean a thing.

Exactly, yeah. And that brings us to our focus on moving forward. So tell us a little bit about what's your focus there, and what are your plans for the rest of the year?

Okay. Oh, well I think like a lot of people, we're also still trying to navigate our way forward. So we're trying to find new opportunities and we are trying to find what are the best ways to do this in this new normal.

So I think the awareness on digital communication is actually quite strong in Malaysia. It's not like people don't know all these things. But when it comes to adopting it, I think we're a bit slow in comparison, because within the SMEs sphere, there are generational businesses. So the older generation might be a little bit hesitant to try all this new technologies, whereas their children, they are a bit more open to take it on.

But I think with this crisis, they know that they might not have any choice. This is now a necessity, not an option anymore. So in a way, it has expedited a lot of changes.

So it's like a forced change right? By the environment and the market.

Yes. Yes, exactly. And I think now the challenge for companies is to find the right footing and to diversify. To diversify not only in what they offer in terms of product and services, but also the way they operate their business. That also has to be different. They have to find a lot of other ways to add value.

It's not that they have to change their whole operations entirely, but it's just finding ways to add value to the existing supply chain of their operations. They need to ask "How do I add value within this line so that I can deliver better, faster, and the quality is higher, you know".

So is that your focus right now, looking at how to add more value?

That is, of course, for MITI, and all agencies as a whole. But again, who will be informing all this to the public? Of course it will be the Comms Team, and we definitely would like to continue our learning and adopting new technology platforms.

Because of the COVID-19 crisis and the MCO, now we know how to use chatbots properly.

Because if not, we wouldn't have had the opportunity to learn this.

We now know not only how to use it (our chatbot), but also how to do it better. And normally all this, takes years to learn, but because of this crisis, we learned this within a few weeks.

We now know not only how to use it (our chatbot), but also how to do it better. And normally all this, takes years to learn, but because of this crisis, we learned this within a few weeks.

Yeah. And you guys did an awesome job. So I guess one of the reasons why we are doing this interview with you was to hear what was happening behind the scenes, what's really going on, because you also have your challenges.

So, we are almost at the end of our interview. Is there anything that you would like to say to end the session?

Well, I would like to take this opportunity to thank the public for helping us navigate our way in supporting you, and also would like apologize if there were any shortcomings from our side. But we hope that you, the public, will stay with us and keep supporting us.

And to the SMEs out there, to the media companies out there, to the manufacturers out there, I hope that you stay strong and they keep connecting with us and we look forward to engaging with all of you.

And I also would like to remind the companies to keep adopting the SOPs introduced by the government because we we still need to contain this pandemic.

Do not take things lightly. We have to keep making this new normal a habit. So I think that's about it. Thanks so much.

Thank you for your time Zuhaila. Hopefully, our collaboration will continue. And also thank you for the passion and positive energy you’ve brought to this interview!

Interested to learn more about the Ministry of International Trade and Industry of Malaysia (MITI)? Follow MITI o​n Facebook or visit them at their official website.

Would like to know more about what our other friends are up to amid MCO? You could check out our blog for the interviews with our clients and how they are managing their business amid the challenging MCO period.

Interested to find out how you could finally stop fiddling with your phone every two minutes to answer customer enquiries and FAQS?

You can visit us or get more information about the DONE FOR YOU WHATSAPP CHATBOT and get a free demo from us.

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