Singapore has focused on its businesses and workers in the past decade while building a strong service culture, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
But in the next decade, Singaporeans must strive to be good customers as well, he added.
"If the customer treats the service staff like dirt, it makes it much harder to serve with pride and give good service. Just because a person is serving us, does not mean he is a servant or, even worse, a slave," he said yesterday.
"He's looking after us and it is our responsibility to be courteous, be considerate and to thank him for his efforts to help us," he said.
PM Lee delivered this reminder in a speech at this year's Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards last night.
He also delivered a reality check: When it comes to service, Singapore is still not quite where it wants to be yet.
"Ask any tourist, or even a Singaporean, which (place in the world) has good service? And I don't think Singapore will come immediately to mind."
In Asia, most people would cite the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, he said. While some may have succeeded in part because of factors such as culture, places like Hong Kong did not start off that way, he added.
"Rather, they made a major national effort to transform their service industry and succeeded."
And while PM Lee does not think Singapore's culture and DNA are naturally service-oriented, the country can learn from others.
Although customers have a part to play, businesses have to set the tone by having the right corporate values and valuing their service staff, he said.
A record 16 companies and individuals were held up as role models at the award ceremony at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore yesterday.
The winners included the National Cancer Centre Singapore and nightspot Zouk Club.
PM Lee said the service industry, which contributes 70 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product, has made progress in recent years.
About 11,000 establishments have undertaken service excellence improvement projects with the National Trades Union Congress and Spring Singapore, while the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore has risen from 67.2 points out of 100 in 2010 to 71.1 last year.
This year's ceremony was also the first time small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) - including cooking school Food Playground and art gallery Ode To Art - were among the organisation winners.
Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan, who was present at the event, said this proved that service excellence for smaller firms is highly achievable.
He urged SMEs here to take advantage of the programmes offered by agencies such as the Singapore Tourism Board, which supports a service drive called Gems Up, which the awards fall under.
When asked if the current manpower crunch was a stumbling block for many companies here, he said that it was the best time for them to invest. "You have to re-engineer processes, make the job easier and empower your staff with equipment and technology so that they can do a particular job well."
This article was first published on May 19, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.