There’s an ongoing discussion in the Straits Times Forum section, on customer service. Some Singaporeans complained that white people get better treatment. However, two white men wrote in separately to say that they treat sales staff with respect unlike the locals, and they also get charged more. Touche.
Anyway, I’m sure we’ve all had our vexing moments with sales staff in Singapore.
A few weeks ago, I was in Funan Centre (now renamed ‘Digitalife Mall’) and saw a stall selling Samsung phones, with lots of pamphlets on each phone. Remembering that my father was interested in a model which had won the Phone of the Year award, I approached the lone salesman and asked which was the award-winning phone. He said he didn’t know, and didn’t seem interested in finding out. As he turned his back on me, I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it help his sales if he could tell his customers this was rated the best phone?”
A few years ago, I was in Sim Lim with a friend, and asked a salesman what was the difference between the Palm and Windows OS for handheld devices. His reply – “Just different lor”. He refused to elaborate further. We asked if a particular Palm model could play games. He said yes, whipped out that model, and started a game on it. Thinking that he was going to provide a demonstration for us, we craned our necks to see the screen. However, after a minute or two we realised the salesman was actually playing the game on his own, and wasn’t at all interested in showing us the device. We left him with his head still bowed down, playing his game behind the counter.
At work, we’ve encountered vendors who can barely be contacted at times, who don’t return calls, don’t respond quickly in emergencies, aren’t interested in updating their skills (eg learning Web standards and CSS), don’t think about usability or accessibility when designing websites. These ‘extras’ are becoming the norm in more ‘developed’ countries such as the US and UK. We’ve a long way to go.
As customers, though, we can show respect to service staff by treating them like human beings. Good attitudes are inculcated at home. I was disturbed once, when a number of us were planning a trip to Cebu in the Philippines. A teenager remarked, ‘What is the Philippines good for, except for producing maids?” Having worked in that country just a few months prior to that, I was disappointed that some of us had de-humanised other people’s culture and heritage based on a narrow perspective.
And, coming to think of it, how often do you hear Singaporeans praising their maids? More often than not, you’d hear housewives complaining about the latest mistake their maids committed. If our bosses gave us the same treatment, do you think we’d reply meekly with a “Yes, Ma’am, sorry ma’am?” We’d grumble to our colleagues, friends and family, and start looking for a new job.
And when overseas, how many of us actually adjust our practices to the new service culture? While living as students in the UK, it was customary to leave a tip for waiters. However, not all Singaporean students felt they should leave a tip, even though the service was decent. This naturally implied to the waiter that they weren’t happy with something. Sometimes, to avoid embarassment, a more generous friend would ‘top up’ the amount and I recall doing that myself on one occasion. Leaving less than a 10% tip has a visible effect on waiters. They would sometimes come up to our table and ask if we weren’t happy with the service. Things get worse when they’re told that the service is fine! It demoralises them – and just because someone wanted to save a couple of quid.
But to be fair, we Singaporeans do recognise outstanding service (maybe because it isn’t always the norm back home). One of the few places I’ve never had problems with, is Robinson’s – and look at the massive public reaction to fears that the store might change hands and service standards would drop! Hopefully, there will be more such companies in future which create such strong bonds with their customers. I also agree with one Forum writer that Giordano has good service.
And I still patronise That CD Shop for its superior selection of music, although the turnover of sales staff has made shopping there more impersonal for me. Previously, there’d be least one staff in each branch who’d know my preferences so I wouldn’t have to describe them. Now when a new salesperson approaches me, the conversation goes like this:
Salesperson: Have you tried this? (picks up a Costes CD)
Me: Yes, I have that one. Actually I have everything in the Costes series except the ‘Best Of’ because I don’t need it.
Salesperson: How about this? (picks up one of the fashion catwalk CDs)
Me: I have it. I also have volume 2.
Salesperson: How about Blue Bar? Very good, and limited edition.
Me: I have it. I also have the second box.
Salesperson: How about our in-house series?
Me: I have a few of those. Don’t really like the rest.
Salesperson: How about this? (whips out a particular Claude-Challe CD, which I tried listening to and really dislike)
Me: I don’t like it!
And so forth…
But I can’t fault them for trying so persistently. And sometimes, one of them does suggest something new which I haven’t heard before. On two occasions, they’ve also stayed open past 11pm, playing all their recommended CDs to me. When I tried to excuse myself saying I was sleepy, they served me fresh coffee! Needless to say, after all that pampering it’s really difficult not to buy something.
Acmabooks is another local company I’m keeping my eye on. During our recent feedback session, I told them to improve the website so it worked more like Amazon.com. I’m already starting to notice some changes (e.g. the addition of a five-star rating system for each item). Things are looking good…