When Ms Sivajothi Elangovan was nine, she had a high fever which caused her to lose 75 per cent of the hearing in her left ear.
But the 27-year-old did not let her disability deter her from becoming a customer service executive at City Square Mall who excels in enhancing the retail experience of shoppers.
On Thursday, she received the top award at the Singapore Retailers Association (SRA) Service Excellence Awards 2013 presentation ceremony, which honoured more than 2,500 retail professionals who have delivered quality service.
Her job has made her more confident in talking to people, Ms Sivajothi said. "Because of my hearing problem, I used to be very reserved and didn't really communicate with people."
Irate shoppers sometimes get upset with her, especially when they speak too fast or too softly and she cannot hear them. But she takes these challenges in her stride. "Some shoppers just have a bad day," she said. "I just stay calm and patient because I know that they're not angry with me, but with the situation."
Ms Sivajothi beat three other finalists for the Service SuperStar award. They were French book consultant Cecile Collineau from Kinokuniya, Watson's store manager Nazimunnisa Mohd Haniff and assistant personal shopper with Wing Tai Clothing Siti Nadirah Abdullah.
At 23, Ms Siti is also the youngest finalist since the Service SuperStar award was introduced in 2011. She joined the retail sector when she was 16. "Retail is very interesting. It's not just about the hours or workload," she said. "If you love what you're doing, you'll enjoy everything that comes together with the job."
At the ceremony at the Kallang Theatre, SRA president Jannie Chan said service standards here have improved over the years. An SRA programme, which sends mystery shoppers to retail outlets to assess service standards, found that overall service levels have improved from 63.8 per cent in 2006 - when the programme first started - to 73.2 per cent today.
But Dr Chan also said that the retail industry is facing several key challenges even as it strives to enhance service standards.
"Within Singapore, we grapple with the high cost of operations, small market size, discerning consumers who are among the most well-travelled people in the world, international online retailers and an extremely tight labour market."
Still, retailers here are resilient and it is their staff "who provide the service that can make or break our businesses".
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