Singapore Expats Forum

Customer Service in Singapore

Discuss about the latest news & interesting topics, real life experience or other out of topic discussions with locals & expatriates in Singapore.

melly
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun, 03 Feb 2008

Postby melly » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 2:00 pm

I feel relieved for not being in the minority group.

I don't think this is solely due to the lack of English skill that these wait persons have. There were a few times when I ordered my meals through waiters/waitresses who were local Singaporeans, who were able to speak good English. After all English is the national language of Singapore. I think the local or rather Asian culture is the main culprit. I'm an Australian who spent my early years in Indonesia. Asians tend to be timid thus explaining why those who work in the customer service line are often reluctant to ask questions. To some asking questions means showing weakness, to others, asking questions means questioning your customers. Whatever the reason is, they would rather make their own assumptions than asking questions.

Turtle
Regular
Regular
Posts: 74
Joined: Fri, 25 Apr 2008

Postby Turtle » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 2:18 pm

A lot of the problem is that these days, many wait staff (even in expensive restaurants) are NOT Singaporean. Many are from mainland China or other places where they will not have gone through compulsory English education. The real problem is that restaurant owners and managers see no problem with giving you a waitress who, through no fault of her own, is totally unfit for the job, and then expecting you to cough up $50 a head afterwards. I have recently given up going to a restaurant I loved, with excellent food, simply because I physically could not make an order, even by pointing at the item in the menu - the waitress could not read it and had to ask the manager to come and translate.

melly
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun, 03 Feb 2008

Postby melly » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 2:43 pm

Turtle wrote:A lot of the problem is that these days, many wait staff (even in expensive restaurants) are NOT Singaporean.


I totally agree with you. If they are going to expect truck loads of English speaking customers, then cough up the money that they have saved from exploiting these poor foreign workers to train up their language skills.

User avatar
Saint
Director
Director
Posts: 3535
Joined: Thu, 16 Jun 2005
Location: The Juban Stand, Boat Quay
Contact:

Postby Saint » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 3:52 pm

melly wrote:I feel relieved for not being in the minority group.

I don't think this is solely due to the lack of English skill that these wait persons have. There were a few times when I ordered my meals through waiters/waitresses who were local Singaporeans, who were able to speak good English. After all English is the national language of Singapore. I think the local or rather Asian culture is the main culprit. I'm an Australian who spent my early years in Indonesia. Asians tend to be timid thus explaining why those who work in the customer service line are often reluctant to ask questions. To some asking questions means showing weakness, to others, asking questions means questioning your customers. Whatever the reason is, they would rather make their own assumptions than asking questions.


English is definitely not the national language of Singapore :roll:

User avatar
Plavt
Director
Director
Posts: 4292
Joined: Wed, 18 May 2005
Location: United Kingdom

Postby Plavt » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 4:13 pm

melly wrote:I totally agree with you. If they are going to expect truck loads of English speaking customers, then cough up the money that they have saved from exploiting these poor foreign workers to train up their language skills.


That isn't going to happen; one reason for using foreign workers is to reduce cost - same thing happens in Britain.

User avatar
Strong Eagle
Moderator
Moderator
Posts: 11110
Joined: Sat, 10 Jul 2004
Location: Off The Red Dot
Contact:

Postby Strong Eagle » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 4:26 pm

Saint wrote:English is definitely not the national language of Singapore :roll:


True enough, but I think the original poster simply used the wrong descriptor to get across a point that is obvious to me.

The 'national' language of Singapore is Malay since it is the native language of Malay Singaporeans, who were the original inhabitants of the land but are now a minority due to mass ethnic Chinese immigration.

The 'official' languages of Singapore are Malay, Tamil, Mandarin, and English. Of the four, English has a special status as the language of government and the courts, and is the language of instruction in all public schools, with one hour each day devoted to a child's 'native' language, deemed to be one of the official languages only.

Thus, would could reasonably assume that Singaporeans ought to be able to speak good English.

zuluchief
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 9
Joined: Wed, 14 May 2008

Postby zuluchief » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 4:31 pm

Melly, I think its probably fair to say that they are not expecting 'truck loads' of English speaking tourists. With the opening of the IR's they are probably expecting truck loads of gambling fanatics from mainland China.

User avatar
Saint
Director
Director
Posts: 3535
Joined: Thu, 16 Jun 2005
Location: The Juban Stand, Boat Quay
Contact:

Postby Saint » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 4:40 pm

Strong Eagle wrote:
True enough, but I think the original poster simply used the wrong descriptor to get across a point that is obvious to me.


And the OP is moaning that the locals can't understand English :lol:

I need SMS's tongue in cheek pic here

Image

Strong Eagle wrote:Thus, would could reasonably assume that Singaporeans ought to be able to speak good English.


Singaporeans will only begin to speak good English when they get daily exposure to native English speakers, otherwise, as we all know, their English just remains lazy.

We found this out very quickly when Mrs S came to the UK 4 years ago and no one could understand a word she was saying in English! Within a few months of 24/7 having to converse with English speakers it improved 10 fold.

melly
Newbie
Newbie
Posts: 9
Joined: Sun, 03 Feb 2008

Postby melly » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 4:58 pm

Saint wrote:
Strong Eagle wrote:We found this out very quickly when Mrs S came to the UK 4 years ago and no one could understand a word she was saying in English! Within a few months of 24/7 having to converse with English speakers it improved 10 fold.


I think this is just a matter of adjusting the accent. I've heard many complaints about how Australians are difficult to understand. Heck even I have problems understanding some of the English accent variations like Irish, Scottish and Liverpool-ish.

User avatar
Saint
Director
Director
Posts: 3535
Joined: Thu, 16 Jun 2005
Location: The Juban Stand, Boat Quay
Contact:

Postby Saint » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 5:04 pm

melly wrote:
Saint wrote:We found this out very quickly when Mrs S came to the UK 4 years ago and no one could understand a word she was saying in English! Within a few months of 24/7 having to converse with English speakers it improved 10 fold.


I think this is just a matter of adjusting the accent. I've heard many complaints about how Australians are difficult to understand. Heck even I have problems understanding some of the English accent variations like Irish, Scottish and Liverpool-ish.


The accent was a problem, it was the Singlish!

User avatar
ozchick
Editor
Editor
Posts: 1001
Joined: Fri, 21 Sep 2007
Location: Germany

Postby ozchick » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 5:06 pm

Saint wrote:
Singaporeans will only begin to speak good English when they get daily exposure to native English speakers, otherwise, as we all know, their English just remains lazy.


Better still, I try to speak English the way that THEY do ! :wink:
This is a great, fun activity. When I want a taxi to Rail Mall, the drivers often don't get it ! I've worked out that the letter 'l' at the end of each word really throws them off scent. So now I muck around with various versions of wobbly pronunciation and more often than not, my 'Way-ow Maw' will get me where I want to go ! :D
'Are you trying to tempt me because I come from the land of plenty?'

User avatar
ukdesigner
Chatter
Chatter
Posts: 394
Joined: Sat, 10 Mar 2007
Location: Closer than you think

Postby ukdesigner » Wed, 11 Jun 2008 5:40 pm

Liverpool-ish


Made me laugh... :D :D :D
Don't p*ss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies.

hiking out
Member
Member
Posts: 28
Joined: Thu, 15 May 2008
Location: singapore

Postby hiking out » Thu, 12 Jun 2008 1:03 pm

yes humour helps and Ozchick seems to have found some great strategies


Melly,

You are certaintly not alone in feeling frustrated with customer service here, even locals often feel a little short changed. Personally I find product knowledge among sales staff, wanting.

Not sure if it is the lack of training on the part of employers or interest on the part of employees, I suspect a bit of both. Quite a few service staff do not see their jobs as careers, mainly due to the relatively poor pay whereas employers complain of high staff turnover, so it's a vicious cycle.

The Ministry of Manpower has relaxed rules on the employment of foreign workers in the service sector and because foreign workers then to be hungrier and cheaper to employ, one sees a lot more of them in the shops nowadays.

When I encounter problems, I usually summon the boss or supervisor as I hold them responsible for setting the tone and standard of service.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge

andy21
Regular
Regular
Posts: 66
Joined: Fri, 18 Apr 2008

Postby andy21 » Fri, 13 Jun 2008 11:22 am

Customer service in Singapore, another pet topic of mine. :)

Generally it's bad, mostly not atrocious. The worst thing about customer service here though is the 'I can't be bothered' attitude alot of front line staff seem to have.

"i don't know', 'that's another department's job', 'the person in charge is not here'. 'there's nothing I can do'. How often are these phrases and their like heard from customer service staff here?

Friendliness is less of an issue, I don't expect every customer service staff to greet me like an old friend, or even a friend. I don't expect plastic smiles, let alone real ones. What I do expect is that whatever issue I came in for gets resolved, preferably with as little fuss as possible. I find it quite silly that sometimes the service staff at fast food restaurants address the 10-year old kid buying an ice cream cone as sir.

Unfortunately, customer service here has put the cart before the horse. The main point of customer service here it seems is to simply keep on smiling and addressing everyone in the correct manner, yet for a lot of service staff here, their job is simply about making sure the customer turns his or her back and walks out. Job done! Whether or not the issue was resolved ends at that point.

This particular facet of customer service here boils down in large part to the general lack of an accountability culture in this country. No one wants to take responsibility for anything. Pass the buck is the creed.

We see this all the time from the very top, even when dealing with government agencies. A few years back the government decided on a very catchily named 'no closed doors' policy meaning that any enquiry to any government department if incorrectly reached, would find its way to the appropriate agency to be handled. That's all it ever was, a catchy name. No one took responsibility for implementing it at any level.

The best examply I can give is that a year back I consulted a government agency regarding some issues I had with some renovation works I intended to carry out on my (if it could even be argued as ownership) HDB property.

After much difficulty, I finally managed to extract a name I could speak to. So I went to speak with this person, or brick wall rather.

My issue was that I wanted to change the colour of my window frames througout my unit. My contractor submitted the necessary applications for me. And the excellent organization approved the changing of all the windows for the bedrooms, and left the living room ones pending. At some point in that time, some genius in HDB decided that all living room windows needed to be of a uniform colour (never mind that mine was an old block with a million different colours already!) so they duly disapproved the app for the living area.

So i spoke to this person to explain the absurdity of applying this rule to an old block like mine, and in any case, it was not reasonable of them to approve half my windows, change the rule in the meantime, and disapprove of the rest.

The conversation went along these lines:

'There's nothing I can do, I am just following instructions'.

Instructions from whom?

'There is a group of architects and building engineers who make these rules and they decided this was it'.

Who are this group of people and how do I reach them?

Repeats the whole architect and engineer nonsense to me while pointing at the ceiling the whole time and telling me the people 'above' decided so.

It is this attitude that pervades working culture in Singapore, and of course the customer service industry is no exception.

I will do just enough to get by, evrything else is not my responsibility. I will just hide behind the people 'above'.

It is this attitude I would argue is the single biggest reason why customer service tends to be bad here.

There is of course the issue of linguistic ability, especially with the ever increasing numbers of service staff coming in from China. Some are veryy good, and some are very very bad. Some are good because as a rule, alot of these lower wage foreigners tend to work alot harder, and this filters down to them always trying to improve their skills. Some are really bad because they arguably come from a culture where public and private accountability is even worse.

These foreign workers are cheaper to employ, which of course deflates wages for locals (a necessary evil it seems). It is easy to go on and on about how training will solve all customer service woes here (and it does work in many cases), but the fact remains that people as a rule are able to perform their job well only if they are paid well. It is very hard to take pride in one's job if the pay and working conditions suck.

Especially if it gets shoved into your face everyday how good you have it, and if you disagree with the fact, to be objective and recognize it as being fact, as General PP Peckham who say.

I don't think I would enjoy standing all day 6 days a week getting paid very poorly and yet still be able to give everyone a smile and attend to their every whim or need. People are not happy in their work if they get paid poorly, and it WILL show. Fact is that low wage workers in this country are getting the shortest sharpest end of the stick.

To assuage the simmering resentment of this group of people, it is important to continually impress upon them how good they have it compared to the drudges in some of ASEAN neighbours. When comparing ourselves with richer countries where the low income have a much better quality of life, it is only important to point out how much crime they have on their streets.

I would very much like to hear, 'while I can't help you, you could try option a, b or c', but sadly, we usually never get that to that point, especially if it means the customer service staff actually has to do some work!

End of long rant positioned at extreme end of spectrum as usual. :D

Turtle
Regular
Regular
Posts: 74
Joined: Fri, 25 Apr 2008

Postby Turtle » Fri, 13 Jun 2008 12:26 pm

I kind of agree, but I'd say that the reason many customer service staff don't go the extra mile to resolve things is not because they don't care or are not trained, it's because they're not allowed to. The fact is that your HDB contact probably has a list of things they're allowed to say/do, and a list of things that they aren't. Guess which list is longer...

Perhaps as a result of people not being well trained (and therefore management doesn't trust them to make decisions), there's a lot less seamlessness here than in other countries. If you ask a front line person for help, they probably have to ask someone higher up if they're allowed to, and that person probably has to get authorisation from a different department and so on... by which time you've probably stormed off.

Not because they don't care, but because the mentality is such that the big boss won't think "well you kept the customer with us, good job", they'll think "you think you're damn smart don't you, being insubordinate? are you trying to take my job, right? who do you think you are?" - so the natural tendency, as reinforced by National Service, is to cover your backside with the employee handbook so that even if the customer leaves, you still get your pay at the end of the day. Compared to countries that have good service, the striking difference is how little these staff get paid, and how little job security they have. No wonder they'd rather just cover themselves even if the company loses out.


  • Similar Topics
    Replies
    Views
    Last post

Return to “General Discussions”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 0 guests