20 mins with: Glenn Ong and Chris Glaessel!

 

Having been a radio presenter for the past 19 years, Glenn Ong is now looking forward to not having to wake up at 4.45 every morning to man the morning show. It was (in his words) a “hellish experience” having to rise at these hours everyday.

I met up with Glenn to find out a little bit more about his directions, post-MediaCorp.

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Changing the landscape of service

Teaming up with Chris Glaessel of hospitality company Cir Vis, Glenn looks set to realise his ambition of lifting the standards of service in Singapore.

“I’ve been talking a lot about this, now its time for action. Every time I go on air and do something that’s topical, I can’t tell you how many times we’ve covered the subject of customer service in Singapore over the years and now its time for me to join forces with this guy and make a difference,” he said.

And it was most opportune time. Just last week, the chief of Banyan Tree Holdings, Ho Kwon Ping criticised hospitality students for lacking in social skills and EQs to deal with culturally complex situations which often arise in the hospitality trade.

We’ve been known to be efficient with management and operations, but are we lacking the human touch, the eye contact…are we meeting the high expectations of hospitality which sets this industry apart from others?

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“The reason why in terms of customer service is going down is because of the lack of leadership, everyone is taking the easy way out. If we continue to go down this path, everyone’s expectation will be so low!” remarked Glenn about the state of service in Singapore.

It is a people business and it is the people that will make your business work.

“Too many people are looking for the ‘best’ staff. There is rarely such a thing, what you can find is the ‘right’ staff to do the particular job,” revealed Chris Glaessel.

“If a business has 3 vacancies. It is highly likely the first 3 candidates that come for the interview will be hired. No selection, no profiling, no critical thinking. And why? People think they’re so desperate!”

It is a fact that many companies today are struggling to cope with labour tightening. Work is abundant, but manpower is scarce. Salaries are competitive, foreign recruitment is becoming increasingly difficult and with unemployment rate at only 2%, the hiring pool is generally smaller.

“Now if someone tells you how much money they’re loosing because of lack of staff, try and calculate how much you’ll lose if you hire the wrong staff” warned Chris.

 

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Service isn’t something you can write into an SOP. It needs a certain type of character to deliver good service. You need to partner with staff to create (good) memories for the customer and there just isn’t a cookie cutter model for this.

There is just too much of the “i’ll-just-need-to-get-rid-of-you-as-soon-as-possible” experience in our establishments.

I drew Glenn and Chris’ attention to a headline I read in the Singapore Business Review that read: “60% of Singaporeans don’t complain about bad service”, but what about the reverse? Do we compliment as readily?

“People experience good service, but they don’t compliment. (Employees) don’t get encouraged as a result of that. People need to know that when they put out good service, they are appreciated”, said Glenn.

 CG & GO @ MHS

It really is all about people.

Customers are people. Staff are also people. And people remain the core of your business. Organisations, retail places, restaurants and even airlines have to start thinking about their people.

“A lot of the time we forget about the people and that is going to be the downfall if everyone continues to work like that” warned Glenn. “If it’s profit all the time, if everything is only about “budget”…the moment you forget (business is about) the people then i’m sorry…”

“What about tipping?” I said. “Should we start a tipping culture… to get staff to provide better service?”

“Firstly, I don’t see any reason against tipping if one gets good service. At the same time, neither do i think customers should be the only ones bearing the costs of motivating staff” said Chris. “It should be the business owners to incentives their staff”.

In Singapore, we also have to understand the purpose of the service charge. Most people don’t realise the 10% service charge usually doesn’t go to the staff.

“…what we used to do, is we took some of the service charge and apportioned some of it into salary,” Chris shared. “It was amazing to see how the employees reacted when they saw how one month we were not doing as well, and they went home with less. Another month they did a fantastic job as one company, one brand, one restaurant and they had 100% more than their basic salary!”

As the bolts on foreign labour tightens, the government is disbursing funds into technology to smooth the transition. This is the reason why these days, when you enter a restaurant, it is quite likely you will place your order via iPad.

 

On the subject of gadgets in hospitality.

Does technology contribute to productivity, but cause an erosion in satisfaction?

“It depends on what kind of restaurant it is and the concept”, explained Glenn. “For example Japanese restaurants, they have the screens and you order that’s fine. If you’re talking about sushi belts i can take that. But if I go to a fine Italian restaurant I won’t want an iPad. I want good old fashioned table service, someone who has good relation skills like the best wait staff and that shouldn’t change.”

With more than 300 different types of incentives subsidies and grants out there, an applicant company has to know how to make sense of it. Technology has to be integrated and contextualised specifically for your business. One cannot simply just plug it in and hope it’ll play.

Hospitality has a tradition through hundreds, if not thousands of years of tradition. Ultimately, we’re there to experience human service.

“…there are some companies who do not know how to contextualise this technology and it’s sitting there like a white elephant. Highly likey then productivity sinks even more because they don’t know what to do with it” said Chris.

 

Valuing your worker.

“You know, I once went to a cafe and observed that the staff were working in fear. They were mumbling things like “if we don’t do this, we going to kena from management”.” The staff looked miserable, their faces were glum…and evidently, their customers were few,” I said.

“But just next door, was another cafe… the staff were laughing, being cheerful and it was an air of good energy…the cafe was packed!” What I wanted to know was this – does a culture of playing, joking and happiness result in profit?

“As a customer, energy is very important to me”, said Glenn.

“I go to a restaurant and the staff are cheerful, the staff look like they’re having fun, they have a nice conversation with me.Service is as important as the quality of food. I go to places, where i know the food is ok..but because of that relationship i have with the staff, i go back over and over again. That is how important that relationship is between customer and the wait staff”

Chris generally agreed. He observes that a lot of inexperienced managers manage by fear. If someone in their junior years experiences management by the big stick, they will continue this culture of fear. Once they reach the level of management they will do the same thing.

“Unfortunately many junior staff will reach the level of management too fast. Why? Because turnover is so high. The manager they have today might not be there tomorrow simply because they get an offer for $200 tomorrow and they leave” said Chris.

So what do these hospitality people eat when they’re not evaluating fine dining and sipping exotic wines?

“It’s Yong Tau Fu for me,” said Glen. “i like that ampang yong tau fu by the way… I go to East Coast for Ampang Yong Tau Fu. As i grow older my taste in local food had changed. I haven’t had Char Kway Teow in 5 years! i do crave for it, but i also know it’s not that good for me. i don’t eat that often but i do crave for it. i try and eat healthy these days, no spring chicken already.”

“…and I like a very good Char Kway Teow and I’m also a big fan of one satay stall at satay by the bay,” said Chris.

 

Chris & Glenn Small

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About the author

Benjamin Chiang

Benjamin Chiang is an enthusiast of good advertising, deep thinking, labour issues and chocolate. He writes also at www.rangosteen.com and occasionally on Yahoo!

The views expressed are his own.

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