Whine and dine

For most Singaporeans, tipping is a culture that’s baffling. Restaurants here already impose a non-discretionary service charge of 10%, so there is no incentive for customers to go above and beyond the requirement.

Not just me, but there is a common perception that most service staff here has no initiative, no product knowledge, and are generally unhelpful?

So is it fair to say that service in Singapore is bad?

comic-customer-service

It would seem so. The situation was deemed so drastic that top executives have voiced their concerns; according to them the levels of customer satisfaction in the service sector here are so low that they threaten Singapore’s competitiveness, especially in comparison with other cities like Hong Kong, Tokyo or Shanghai.

That’s why in 2010 a total of $84 million was pumped in by the GEM (Go-the-Extra-Mile-for-Service) Up committee to raise the local service standard.

Some have attributed Singapore’s poor service standards to salary. According to Jazzteee, it is “not easy to give good service when my pay is so crap” and that we should “implement tipping”.

Still, tipping has its problems. For one, it’s harder to justify giving tips to their hairdresser when they have not paid service charge in the past – unlike in a restaurant.

Also, why should only those in the service line get tips for good service? The motivation for extending quality service should be based on personal pride and passion, and not the end goal of how tips much they are going to get.

There is an increasing number of restaurants doing away with the service charge and instead opting for a tipping policy, in the hope that it will push service staff to work harder for their tips.

This idea, championed by the Restaurant Association, garnered mixed responses from industry professionals. While some have noted that Singaporeans are fast catching on the positive sides of the tipping culture, others are less optimistic as customers can be “miserly”, opting to give the bare minimum, or nothing at all even.

And this is without accounting for businesses that will implement the system of removing service charges only to attract more customers, hence giving more work to the staff but without paying them more.

And then there’s “good service. Do we know what “good service” is?

For some, it is about efficiency – how fast your order is executed or how frequently you are asked if everything is to your liking. For others, it’s about the level of attention received – is service/help anticipated and rendered? For example, is water offered to a customer before a waiter is called upon?

In some instances, some have based service on factors outside of the control of the service staff: for example, only tipping the staff if one was satisfied with the quality of the food – how could service staff be responsible for that?

I personally think it’s all about expectation.

The “customer is always right” model has put service staff in a position that makes them subservient to the customers, and that should not be the case. Customers, meanwhile, expect even the most ridiculous of demands to be granted without question.

That’s why I believe that service is a two-way street on the part of both the customers and the staff; you reap what you sow, and from a service perspective, if either the customer or service staff begins the engagement in negative tone, then the outcome is more likely be disastrous.

Aimee Chan’s Customer service in Singapore, what’s that? offers a further perspective on this topic.

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Najib A.

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