Let's fine uncivil shoppers.
AS the Prime Minister himself said in his National Day
Rally speech: "In India people say namaste or vanekum,
in Australia, they say 'G'day mate'. But in Singapore, if
you are lucky, they ask, 'What you want?'"
Something has gone quite wrong here. Singapore, thanks to Singapore Airlines
has become an icon of good service to the rest of the world.
Perhaps it's a cultural thing. We've come to expect good hawkers to be grumpy
and taxi drivers not to know where we want to go. That's sad.
It seems as if we only put on a good front for foreigners and revert to our
nasty brutish selves when they go home.
Or perhaps good service only comes about with economic necessity. Our airlines
and hotels provide world-class service. Most of their business depends on tourists
who demand good service.
Besides, these are industries where there is very little difference in the physical
product. Say what you like, but one hotel room looks pretty much like any other.
At the end of the day, it is service that makes the real difference between the
six-star and a five-star hotel.
On the other hand, there's no need for a hawker to pamper you. Don't like his
char kway teow? Then don't eat it. A good hawker has ten other people waiting
and willing to endure his grumpiness if you won't.
Good service for a hawker means serving you good food at affordable prices — nothing
more and nothing less. Unlike the hotel business, there is a noticeable difference
in the end product.
To be fair to customer service professionals, Singaporeans are horrible customers.
For every horror story about bad customer service, there are an equally horrific
number of stories about bad customers.
A representative of a fashion department store once noted that people returned
perfectly good clothes with their scent on them, after wearing the clothes for
a week for free (they had a one-week warranty). It's hard to smile at people
What can be done? For a start, more competition is needed within industries.
This should bring the products on par with each other. Once this happens, service
will become a defining factor.
Look at the Yellow Pages. When it was the primary source of information, the
directories could be placed at collection points and people would collect them.
Thanks to competition from online search engines, Yellow Pages is providing services
such as doorstep delivery of some of its directories.
This also occurs in the business-to-business sector. Goldbell Engineering — the
distributor of Mitsubishi Fuso trucks — recently established a lounge for
truck drivers to shower and watch TV while they wait for their trucks to be serviced.
These drivers are not the final customers for Goldbell Engineering. But by setting
up the lounge, the company added value to stakeholders and indirectly, its customers.
Once the basic products and services become similar in an industry, companies
will invent ways to add value through better service.
As for creating good customers, perhaps a course on being a good customer should
be added into our civics and moral education.
The lesson of "do unto others what you want done to you", should be
drilled into our young. It's easier for customer service personnel to react pleasantly
when faced with pleasant people.
Service orientation is part of being a gracious society. Recently, the national
movement to develop a culture of service excellence — Go the Extra Mile
for Service (Gems) — was launched.
Perhaps, it is also time for the Government to look into the cost of being ungracious
and pass it on to the ungracious. Just as the Government has looked into the
cost of social ills such as smoking and littering and passed on the costs to
consumers by way of higher taxes and fines, perhaps the same could be done for
Since courtesy campaigns have obviously not been as effective as we would like,
perhaps we should contemplate fines and taxes to make people more polite and
pleasant to each other.
Tang Li - The writer is a