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Social enterprise says staff with special needs left 'rattled and confused' after complaints, urges customers to be patient

Social enterprise says staff with special needs left 'rattled and confused' after complaints, urges customers to be patient
PHOTO: Facebook/Mustard

Those who've worked in the service industry would've heard the slogan: "The customer is always right." 

But is that true in every case?

In a Facebook post on March 31, social enterprise Mustard Tree urged customers to show kindness to their staff with special needs

They shared an incident that recently happened at their handicraft store over at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital that also sells flowers.

A customer had picked out some daisies and asked a staff member to help with a "simple" flower wrapping.

Realising that the customer's request was more complicated than usual (placing the flowers in a plastic sleeve or standard floral wrap), the staff said they could not fulfil the request. 

Unhappy with the service, the customer dropped Mustard Tree a text message saying the staff had a bad attitude. 

"Turned out when they said 'cannot do it', they meant 'I do not know how to do it'," the social enterprise explained.

But it also said the customer's frustration was understandable because "she was standing in a shop that sold flowers", adding that it was a "matter of perspective and semantics". 

The misunderstanding was eventually cleared up, said the social enterprise, but the staff were left "rattled and confused" over the incident. 

Mustard Tree was started back in 2016 by a woman named Soek Ying for her son Ryan, who has autism.

In an interview with The Pride in 2022, she said her goal was to help her son make a self-sufficient career out of something that he is interested in (art). 

The social enterprise also aims to give differently-abled individuals in society a chance to prove their worth to others and to themselves.

Customer felt 'ignored' 

In a separate incident, the social enterprise recounted how Ryan had been sweeping the floor when a customer tried to ask him a question. 

"He was very focused on his sweeping and the customer felt 'ignored'," recounted Mustard Tree. 

Later on, they received feedback that Ryan had been "rude".

"So much to teach, so many different permutations of scenarios, which oftentimes we too failed to anticipate or even find ourselves at a loss over how to handle them," said Mustard Tree.

While the social enterprise tries to simplify ways to help its staff understand things, sometimes, they cannot process the complexities of regular social norms, quirks and cues. 

"They are just wired differently," Mustard Tree explained in their Facebook post.

Apart from this, the social enterprise urged for the public to be more patient and understanding toward those with special needs. 

"They need to be given the opportunity to learn and grow, yet, we shudder every time we step out cause we fear situations like the above," Mustard Tree said, sharing its worry about staff being mocked on social media when it holds the protection of their staff's dignity dearly. 

While Mustard Tree clarified that they have signages at their shop stating their staff have special needs, some netizens also gave suggestions on how to make it clearer to customers.

"This is to better manage the expectations of customers so they will know [whether] to patronise that establishment or not," one said. 

Several others agreed that customers should show the staff some patience, kindness and understanding.

AsiaOne has reached out to Mustard Tree for more details. 

We ought to be good customers too: Ho Ching

In a Facebook post on Monday referring to Mustard Tree's Facebook post, Ho Ching urged everyone to "be good customers too"

"The customer is not always right, just as the service provider may not always be right," she said. 

She pointed out that those with, for example, autism, may "take words literally" and we should try to understand these people. 

For example, when someone tells someone with autism: "Go and die", the special needs individual may actually do it as they understood the comment differently from an average person. 

"The innocence of autism and the innocence of literal words misunderstood," she wrote. 

ALSO READ: We're not trying to make things difficult for others, says mum of autistic boy who didn't wear mask on bus

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