Want to improve service? Serve up compliments too

Want to improve service? Serve up compliments too

Late last month in his May Day message, labour chief Lim Swee Say called for a nation of better customers.

Overly demanding customers would cause even more of a strain on the labour crunch, he said.

My first reaction, like many others, was to turn defensive. I could be a better customer if I got better service, I thought.

Particularly stinging were his words: "Instead of complaining that the service standard in Singapore is still not good enough, why don't you ask yourself, 'Are the customers in Singapore good enough?'"

Comparisons between service standards here and those overseas invariably arise. A friend recounted to me his experience in Japan. He arrived at a restaurant that was full, and the owner kept bowing and apologising. In Singapore, he said, we are often left in the queue to wait our turn.

Here, I've entered shops and been ignored by staff who would rather stare at their mobile phones. Getting a friendly waiter at a restaurant seems more of the exception rather than the norm.

But perhaps we should look inwards and ask ourselves: Do we deserve the service that we get?

An article by my colleague Kezia Toh in Life! two Sundays ago highlighted some examples of bad customers.

Customers who swear and call service staff "stupid", get them to run errands and threaten to get them sacked are "all in a day's work for employees in the service industry", she wrote.

A trainee waiter at a restaurant recounted to me how a group of Singaporeans sarcastically asked him if he had to catch the fish himself, after he explained that the food would take longer to arrive because there were not enough staff.

Four other tables soon joined in the taunting and vented their frustrations on the waiter, an 18-year-old wearing a badge that stated "trainee".

We have an old mindset that looks down on people who serve, said Dr William Wan, general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement. "It is a 'demand' culture where we think money can buy everything, including good service."

Dr Guan Chong, a marketing lecturer at SIM University's School of Business noted that Singaporeans, being well-travelled, expect the same standard of service here as in other countries.

According to the Nielsen Global Survey of Consumer Confidence and Spending Intentions last year, Singaporean consumers recorded the highest level of intention globally to spend their money on holidays and vacations (49 per cent). This works out to almost one in two Singaporeans.

"South-east Asian countries like Indonesia and Thailand are common travel destinations, which shapes the comparison benchmark and service expectation," Dr Guan noted.

"However, in these countries, the high service standard is supported by an ample and affordable domestic service workforce."

Social media also helps consumers become better informed. They develop savvy buying habits as well as higher expectations, she said.

Consumers also feel more empowered, knowing that they can voice their opinion of a service provider online and that their words can actually influence their peers, she added.

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