Going the Extra Mile

by Marianne Tan
Photography by Chino Sardea, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Grooming by Jace Ang using NARS and Osis
Shot on location at Centurion Haus
11 Jan 2023

When it comes to delivering exceptional customer service, American Express’ Singapore Country Manager Marlin Brown believes empathy – for customers and amongst employees – is key.

They say you don’t forget your firsts, and that adage certainly rings true for Marlin Brown.

The new Singapore Country Manager for American Express, Brown’s first encounter with the company happened almost two decades before he joined. Unbeknownst to him then, that encounter would leave an indelible mark that when he – in a full circle moment – joined the company in 2011, it would continue to be the benchmark that he holds service standards of American Express to.

“When I first joined American Express as a card member in 1993, I lost my wallet on a trip to Canada. I called the concierge to send me a replacement card, and they asked if I needed cash along with it. That ‘above and beyond’ attitude left such an impression on me,” he recalls.

“I loved how the brand treated me as a card member, and I want to bring that same level of service to our American Express customers today.” 

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For most, the American Express name is one synonymous with status and its famed concierge service. Stories of sometimes outlandish requests fulfilled by its concierge service are part of popular Internet lore.

But whether you believe online comments about the lengths to which the concierge would supposedly go to fulfil a request from an American Express cardholder, there is little doubt that exceptional customer service is very much part of American Express’ brand identity – and one that the company actively fosters.

For example, when pandemic restrictions put a dampener on travel and entertainment spending, American Express provided credits for spending at local retailers, restaurants, and grocers, with offers designed for people working from home, such as those for online shopping and deliveries. More crucially, it continued to provide access to exclusive events, albeit in virtual forms.

“This included a virtual meet-and-greet with Jason Mraz, where Platinum card members were able to request songs from the singer directly; and a Facebook Live session with Joanna Dong to celebrate Mothers’ Day,” Brown explains.

“We wanted to make sure our card members continued to get value from their cards during this period.”


Constantly Evolving

According to The Wealth Report by real estate advisory Knight Frank, Singapore’s population of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs), defined as those with net assets of US$30 million, is set to increase by 268 percent by 2026. Other reports back the data, with one finding that the number of millionaires in Singapore rose by 9.3 percent in the same year to a staggering 526,000 high-net-worth individuals (HNWIs).

This means opportunities abound for American Express, an ideal time for it to relook its engagement strategy as this affluent base reconsiders what it deems important and meaningful.

From American Express’ own findings and observations of its Platinum and Centurion card members, Brown believes there will be a seismic shift towards local spending, and in particular, local experiences that are unique and exclusive. And when card members do travel overseas, they are also looking at “smaller, culturally interesting places” like Fiji, Copenhagen, and Montenegro, in addition to typically popular destinations like Paris and Sydney.

Naturally, American Express’ offerings will follow suit. Brown says Platinum cardholders will soon enjoy a revamped set of benefits that include global and local dining, entertainment, lifestyle experiences, in addition to its signature travel benefits.

As for Centurion cardholders, they can expect even more, which includes access to the Centurion Haus, a members-only space, fashioned after a Prohibition Era speakeasy at Raffles Hotel. As Brown summarily describes: “Centurion card members won’t just be dining at Michelin-starred restaurants; they will also be doing meet-and-greets with renowned chefs of these restaurants, like Alain Ducasse and Anne-Sophie Pic.”

It’s a customer service ethos that he describes as: “Always [being] on a journey to meet our card members where they are and listen to them.”

“At the core of our strategy is building long-term relationships with our customers and evolving with them – both of which are important in this increasingly transactional and impersonal world.”


Doing Right by People

As UHNWIs and HNWIs become even more involved in philanthropy as a means of succession planning, they also expect brands and companies they associate with to operate in a way that aligns with their personal values and philanthropic ideals.

To this end, Brown says American Express has introduced a roadmap that lays out its global Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) strategy according to three core priorities: Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I); advance climate solutions; and build financial confidence.

To date, the company has exceeded US$1 billion spending towards DE&I initiatives, committed to net-zero emissions by 2035, and set a goal to have most plastic cards issued be made of at least 70 percent recycled or reclaimed plastic by the end of 2024. In Singapore, about 700 secondary school students are supported under its partnership with Junior Achievement Singapore, a non-profit which provides youths with financial literacy education and training.

While it makes business sense for companies to do right by the communities they operate in, socially responsible companies are also good for employee morale and productivity. In American Express’ case, it has also reinforced a workplace culture centered around staff who “treat each other with empathy and kindness”, which, more crucially, forms the backbone of the company’s customer service.

Elaborates Brown: “At the heart of our exceptional customer experience is empathy. It’s about understanding and even anticipating what our card members need, and what they want solved. This empathy starts with our culture.”

“If we treat each other well, our customers will feel it,” he says. He cites the quote “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” - most frequently associated with poet Maya Angelou - as his guiding principle in life and work.

This means that many cardholders, he reveals, have come to rely on American Express’ concierge team for advice – even for matters unrelated to product issues. Brown himself is no exception, that reassurance he felt from his very first American Express experience all those years ago having formed a deep and enduring trust.

“Last April, I was flying back to Thailand from Houston. At that time, travel rules were constantly changing. At check-in, I didn’t have a document they asked for, and was prevented from boarding my flight. Worried about missing my flight, I called American Express, and was reassured that with the latest change in travel rules, I was not required to present the document, and would be able to board the flight. How I felt in that moment, going from worried to confident, is invaluable.”