“He added that fresh graduates shun the hospitality and service industry, as they think the work is beneath them” (Hard Truths For Singapore’s Service Culture, David Leo).
It is tempting to castigate those in the hospitality industry for poor service standards, despite the strides made in recent years. Yet amidst this finger-pointing the responsibility of the customer for higher service standards in Singapore is often neglected, and – in fact – one could argue that greater respect for these individuals who toil at the frontline might shift perceptions of the nature of their profession. Mere comparisons with other countries will not do. After all, it has been pointed out by chief executive Arthur Kiong that “fresh graduates shun the hospitality and service industry, as they think the work is beneath them” (TODAY, May 29), perhaps signalling entrenched perceptions of or prejudices against those in the industry, and could to some extent explain why the criticisms persist.
And the present evidence seems to run contrary to these criticisms. Based on the findings of the Customer Service Index of Singapore – administered by the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University – the index in 2013 was at its highest since the survey started in 2007. Some critics have also pointed to the “degree of customer orientation” indicator on the World Economic Forum Competitiveness Index, stating that Singapore has not fared as well vis-à-via the other indicators measured. Yet in 2014 the county scored 5.5 out of a possible seven, when Singaporeans were asked how well companies treat their customers. In other words, most companies and their staff are responsive to customers, and consequently seek customer retention.
In this vein, what could be more revealing are perspectives service staff have of their customers they entertain, since the aforementioned studies are general views in the other direction. How do Singaporean customers differ from those around the world, and do their expectations change as they travel abroad? What is the toughest – or most disrespectful – episode that a staff has had to handle? How would they rate their customers, based on their interactions and idiosyncrasies? And beyond the work demands of long hours and disproportionate remuneration, what other problems do service staff deal with? For instance from a human resource standpoint as well, are employees empowered by training and development programmes, or given the requisite mentorship or guidance from their employers.
Mr. David Leo posits that “the honesty in accepting that service levels are not good enough marks the first step towards building a strong service culture”. It could be further argued getting customers and employers to acknowledge their complicity marks another step towards building a strong service culture.
That is not to say that all service staff are blameless, but the shaping of culture and perceptions will take time. Remember a few years ago when commuters were urged to be more considerate at the train stations, to keep to the left of elevators and to queue at the platforms – to no avail? Over time mindsets have shifted, with the realisation that there is greater convenience too. If we – as consumers – held ourselves to higher standards, treating service staff with the same respect and interactions we expect to experience, then a better service culture will not be far away.
A version of this article was published in TODAY.