03 March 2008

Be meek and be dispossessed

Service quality is rarely good in Singapore. But bad service and bad behaviour persist partly because we ourselves don't speak up. Full essay.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yes! I had the exact feeling. One of my most hated behavior was of queue cutting and I never let one get away with it.
People taking flash photography at the night safari also deserves a good tongue lashing as its not just the animals that suffers, but everyone else within sight who're blinded. I even have this family who sent their kids to harrass the animals so that they can get a good shot with their flash. The zoo staff were quietly watching on as they feel its not right to tell a kid off.
But often, its the parents that needs a good smack on the head.

Anonymous said...

Hey Editor,

I think the "Salmon/Chicken" thingy sounds ok to me... The guy could have just rejected the salmon and ask the server to get him a chicken instead (and they hv to waste the salmon set) if he is willing to wait.. mistakes do happen.

Anonymous said...

I'm reminded by my experience at Carrefour some weeks ago... I was in a queue exclusively for POSB Everyday card where I noticed that the cashier would ask customers within hearing range if they are card members else they have to join the general queue. However, when it got to a middle-aged guy's turn, he said that he didn't have the card and insisted that he was going to pay by cash for his item. To the cashier's credit, she refused to accept the money and he threw a tantrum. When other customers backed the cashier up, the man announced that he will not buy the item and stomped off - much to the delight of other customers who were glad to see that the cashier was not bullied by a difficult customer.

Anonymous said...

It's called 'mye kay kiang'. Let sleeping dogs lie. It does tell you that the cashier is not getting much supervisory support if and when she did do her job properly. So, why 'kay kiang'?

Robert L said...

Dear YB

Thank you for this article. It would be good to see more locals speak out at the scene against bad behaviour.

Just an additional point. It would be even better if we speak out in a gentle, friendly manner against bad behaviour. I have seen this done, not in Singapore though, but it is supremely effective. And it leaves a good feeling all round.

In Singapore, all too often, people suffer in silence until, at the end, if they do speak out, it is with exasperation, approaching animosity. That loses 90% of its graciousness.

Anonymous said...

every organization in singapore, from cabinet down to hawker centres and wet markets, should hold weekly lucky draws to award prizes to people who speak up and provide feedback about the organization's quality of services; this would inculcate a culture of speaking up, give the country "buzz", promote civic society, improve opposition parties, and advance democracy...

sgsociety.com

Xtrocious said...

Somehow I feel it is cultural and also due to the fact that our government actually encourages this sort of meek behaviour...

So much so that people who choose to voice out and stand out for their rights are often labelled as trouble makers...

As someone in power once said - we have to observe the OB markers...

Anonymous said...

I would refuse to pay the 10% service charge in a restaurant if the service was sloppy and not up to expectation. It's a SERVICE charge ain't it not? The restaurant can jolly well call the cops while I take my own sweet time to enjoy my dinner. Eat first, talk later.

I would not pay the taxi fare if I have been overcharged or the devious driver had taken me for a ride before reaching my destination. I would judiciously tell him to drive me to the taxi company's head office or if closed, to the police station instead. Let him waste a few hours of his time explaining his daliance with propriety and see if cheating a few dollars is worth the time and effort or not.

Anyone who sells me a dud or tries to con me into buying something with sleigh of the hand tactics would find themselves facing a magistrate in the small claim tribunal or worse, a police investigation.

Bad maintenance by the town council would find their conservancy fees deducted. They can claim it before the small claim court. If the magistrate so judge, I shall pay up but the cycle goes on. The cost of my time to appear before His Honour is only 15 bucks. Let's see how much a manager's time with the town council is worth.

Adjunct to this topic, I will not hesitate to horn furiously if some idiotic driver were to suddenly cut into my queue or if a suicidal motorcyclist were to perform brain dead feats in front of my
drive path. Car horns are provided precisely for that purpose ain't it not?

It's easy to exhort others to be gracious but in this country if you are a wimp, you deserved to be fed to the dogs!

Sophie said...

Thank you YB for this article. Such a good insight.

I'd like to share one incident (or atleast two) when I was working at Burger King part-time as a crew while doing my polytechnic studies. Usually I'd be one of those handling the counters besides the "ah-mahs" because my diction was pretty good. So I was sort of 'in-charge' of the frontline in the absense of my manager. There was this one time during a Saturday, as you know fast food joints in town are crazily packed with back to back orders. And as service crew we do get annoyed although we try to put up a smiling face to (mostly) customers who often forget their Ps and Qs. Bearing in mind, a fast food joint, in light of the SARS incident that recently sunbsided. We're encouraged to wash our hands with disinfectant every 30 minutes. So as you know now, cleanliness is paramount. To me atleast. A Singaporean couple with a kid barely 3 years old was at my line. I noticed before that the couple while waiting for their turn in my line were heads up thinking about what to order at the same time their kid was running around them. So their turn came, and they were still, "Ummm, ummm...." So I started my greeting, seconds later their kid was sitting on the counter. I kept quiet. Sitting only what... So as I was walking about expediting their order I saw the mom promptly carried her kid and made her stand on the counter. I looked around, and no one said a thing... Not even my other staff. And I looked at the mom and said, "Excuse me, would you kindly put your kid down on the floor? We serve food on this counter." And they had this embarrased look and took the kid off the counter. And the other Singaporeans, who were queuing up said nothing, did nothing. I was the only one who was audible in that sense. So when they were leaving with their order, I swiftly took up the disinfectant spray, and wiped the whole area in which the kid had her shoe marks on. I made sure the couple saw what I did as well as the others who clearly heard me. I promptly put the cloth and spray away and smiled again to the next customer. The next day I cited this incident to my manager, she went "Nevermind lah, customer only... Just wipe after that lah". Oh yes, I forgot, the customer is always right...

Anonymous said...

Basically, this is the success of our education system, training us in groupthink, being meek and not voicing out.

S.Lim said...

Speaking up can and will make your life better and happier. Even in every day things. Start off with small stuff and soon enough, we learn to speak up against poorly thought off policies and in public forums. Something simple like this: I was at a queue for 4D and somehow, the line was in the hot afternoon sun while there was a shade at the side of the building. Everyone was lining up like sheep in the sun. I just spoke up and asked everyone to move to the side under the shade and they did. By starting off with simple acts like this, it becomes second nature after a while.

Anonymous said...

I agree the part of the problem is management failure to understand, communicate and adequately reward good service and penalise poor service. I went to WMF at Centrepoint on the direction of a WMF sales representative to purchase a fish poacher. No such item existed in the WMF product list. When I complained to the General Manager, Derek Ng, in Singapore, he promise to drive down to my apartment to personally refund me the taxi fare (amounting to $32) for the wasted trip. Two months and several text messages later - no sight or sound of my money. I then complained to the German HQ who said that the Singapore office would 'reply very carefully'. I received a long email from Derek who tells me: a) I made a mistake, I should not have promised to refund the taxi fare without first investigating the event b) it is impossible for us to know what you want unless you are in the store personally. This was copied to Germany.

Service lapses begin at the top of the organisation and poor service in Singapore means managers who just don't care. Singaporeans should have zero tolerance for such companies and their products.