Wednesday 20 May 2015

PM Lee on service standards: Be a good customer as well

Singapore not where it wants to be yet for service culture, he says
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 19 May 2015

SINGAPORE has focused on its businesses and workers in the past decade while building a strong service culture, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

But in the next decade, Singaporeans must strive to be good customers as well, he added.

"He's looking after us and it is our responsibility to be courteous, be considerate and to thank him for his efforts to help us," he said.

PM Lee delivered this reminder in a speech at this year's Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards last night.

He also delivered a reality check: When it comes to service, Singapore is still not quite where it wants to be yet.

"Ask any tourist, or even a Singaporean, which (place in the world) has good service? And I don't think Singapore will come immediately to mind."

In Asia, most people would cite the Philippines, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong, he said. While some may have succeeded in part because of factors such as culture, places like Hong Kong did not start off that way, he added.

"Rather, they made a major national effort to transform their service industry and succeeded."

And while PM Lee does not think Singapore's culture and DNA are naturally service-oriented, the country can learn from others.

Although customers have a part to play, businesses have to set the tone by having the right corporate values and valuing their service staff, he said.

A record 16 companies and individuals were held up as role models at the award ceremony at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore yesterday.

The winners included the National Cancer Centre Singapore and nightspot Zouk Club.

PM Lee said the service industry, which contributes 70 per cent of Singapore's gross domestic product, has made progress in recent years.

About 11,000 establishments have undertaken service excellence improvement projects with the National Trades Union Congress and Spring Singapore, while the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore has risen from 67.2 points out of 100 in 2010 to 71.1 last year.

This year's ceremony was also the first time small and medium- sized enterprises (SMEs) - including cooking school Food Playground and art gallery Ode To Art - were among the organisation winners.

Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and National Development Lee Yi Shyan, who was present at the event, said this proved that service excellence for smaller firms is highly achievable.

He urged SMEs here to take advantage of the programmes offered by agencies such as the Singapore Tourism Board, which supports a service drive called Gems Up, which the awards fall under.

When asked if the current manpower crunch was a stumbling block for many companies here, he said that it was the best time for them to invest. "You have to re-engineer processes, make the job easier and empower your staff with equipment and technology so that they can do a particular job well."

At my ND Rally ten years ago, I talked about building a strong service culture. Since then we have made progress,...
Posted by Lee Hsien Loong on Monday, May 18, 2015

Social worker and friend to cancer patient
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 19 May 2015

WHEN breast cancer patient Boon Yu Feng's husband lost his job in 2009, she told social worker Gilbert Fan at a support group meeting.

The master medical social worker at National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS) started making calls to people who could help. Thanks to cancer patients who were human resource workers, her husband got a job soon after.

Mr Fan, 56, who has been with NCCS for 15 years, said Madam Boon is his most memorable patient as she was "eager to learn and grow emotionally".

"She told me that her husband had no job - it was just the natural thing for me to do," he recalled. "As social workers, if we can help lessen a patient's worries about her husband, she can better focus on her other roles as mother and daughter, and take good care of herself too."

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong held up Mr Fan's actions as an example to follow at yesterday's Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards ceremony. Mr Lee said the values of the NCCS were "embodied in their staff".

Madam Boon, who underwent a mastectomy and a year of chemotherapy, had fevers, a liver infection and low blood count, but is now cancer-free. "There was fear, there was uncertainty," the 45-year-old mother of three told The Straits Times. "He (Mr Fan) helped me, I didn't feel alone.

"He is more than just a social worker. He is a friend."

Going the extra mile to help customers
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 15 May 2015

DEPUTY service manager Tan Bee Leng regularly goes the extra mile for customers at POSB's Woodlands branch - sometimes literally.

The 46-year-old Individual Medallion award winner recalled one man who could not update his bank passbook at the kiosk near his home and refused to visit a bank outlet to do so.

"The customer was very demanding," she said. "In the end we went to his house, took his passbook, updated it for him and delivered it back."

The customer even refused to answer his door for 20 minutes when they arrived because he had a guest at home.

Another time, an angry customer started banging the counter at Ms Tan's outlet, demanding that the staff clear up a misunderstanding about credit card charges.

She managed to calm her down, got approval to waive charges, and asked the customer to contact her personally if she had any other concerns.

The mother of one, who has worked at POSB for 25 years, tries to put herself in the customer's shoes.

"From there, I try to listen and understand, and think of what the customer might want," she said, adding that in the face of difficult customers, her goal is to "turn a nasty customer into a loyal customer". "I want to make sure this customer comes back to look for me on the next visit."

Winning the award has given her a sense of achievement. "Now I know I am doing the right thing. It's nice to have your effort and hard work recognised."

Bus captain greets commuters by name
By Jessica Lim, The Straits Times, 15 May 2015

IF YOU board the feeder bus service 913 at Woodlands interchange regularly, chances are that bus driver D. Suppiramaniam greets you by name.

The 50-year-old SMRT chief bus captain has been a bus driver for 15 years.

The most challenging time for him, he said, are weekday morning peak hours, when buses are crammed with impatient passengers going to work.

"I will always stand up and ask passengers to move to the rear. At the same time, I will ask boarding passengers to be patient," said the veteran bus driver, who earns about $3,000 a month and works 10 hours a day.

The most memorable incident in Mr Suppiramaniam's time on the job was when he had to comfort a crying child who was on board a bus he was driving.

The girl, who was in her school uniform and was about seven years old, said she was lost. "I told her, don't cry, you have lots of friends here," he said, referring to the other passengers on the bus.

Mr Suppiramaniam then promised to take her home safely after he finished with the route. However, he did not have to - the girl's grandmother was waiting for her at the last stop.

Said Mr Suppiramaniam, a father of five: "I love meeting people and talking to them." He added that he is proud to win the Individual Medallion award. He said: "This means a lot to me."

Innovative ideas score for quality service
Record 16 firms, individuals to be honoured, held up as role models
By Jessica Lim, Consumer Correspondent, The Straits Times, 15 May 2015

MANY businesses in the service industry have been hit by the manpower crunch, but a number of them are refusing to let that drag down the quality of their customer service.

Sixteen companies and individuals - a record number - were held up as role models at the Singapore Service Excellence Medallion 2015 Awards media briefing yesterday. The award ceremony will be held on Monday.

At Canon Singapore, for example, an innovative idea means every technician will get a tablet PC by the middle of this year.

This will give them real-time information on the glitches they are fixing, enabling them to bring the right tools and parts to their clients.

"This helps them cut down multiple trips, respond quicker and finish up their jobs more efficiently," said Mr Melvyn Ho, Canon Singapore's senior vice-president.

The company, which hires more than 500 staff here, also holds at least one dialogue a month between staff and the company's chief executive.

The firm tracks response time and customer satisfaction levels religiously. Sixty-four per cent of its service staff, said Mr Ho, have been with the firm for more than a decade.

Canon Singapore won the Service Excellence Medallion for its strong service leadership and workforce cultures, and for its innovative service systems.

Other winners include cooking school Food Playground and the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).

The awards are part of Gems Up, a service drive supported by multiple agencies: the Institute of Service Excellence at Singapore Management University, National Trades Union Congress, Spring Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Workforce Development Agency.

It is also the first time that small and medium-sized enterprises were among the organisation winners since the awards were introduced in 2011.

At Food Playground, which has 11 staff, customers can book and pay for their cooking classes online.

To improve service, NCCS, part of SingHealth's cluster of healthcare services, created the role of patient relation officer.

The officers are stationed at the six NCCS clinics and treatment departments to welcome and guide patients through registration and other procedures.

They also take care of the patients while they wait in line.

NCCS also launched a system that sends patients SMS reminders 30 minutes before their chemotherapy appointments.

Among the winners were four individuals who went the extra mile for customers: senior library officer Idah Mariyani from the National Library Board; chief bus captain D. Suppiramaniam from SMRT Corporation; deputy service manager Tan Bee Leng from POSB Woodlands branch; and senior manager Lynette Low from Canon Singapore.

Professor Cham Tao Soon, chairman of the award's judging panel, said that many service staff here lack knowledge on how to deliver good service, such as giving food recommendations to diners.

Wages, he said, also need to go up, and companies must invest in staff training.

"We hope to see more businesses and organisations adopting these ideas and concepts into their own service practices and systems," he said, referring to the initiatives taken by the award winners.

Service levels here still not up to scratch: Experts
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Straits Times, 20 May 2015

SERVICE levels in Singapore have not made much progress in recent years and still leave much to be desired, experts and business associations have told The Straits Times.

The sector's unpopular image, the labour crunch and complacency are among the obstacles in its way.

While the overall Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore rose from 67.2 points out of 100 in 2010 to 71.1 last year, the jump mainly came in areas such as finance and insurance.

Customer satisfaction levels slipped in retail, food and beverage (F&B) and tourism.

A big part of the problem stems from Singapore's tight labour market and reliance on foreign front-line staff.

"The turnover is quite high, even for foreigners. This affects the service continuity," said Orchard Road Business Association executive director Steven Goh.

"We have not reached the level where staff are able to multi-task effectively. It's still a struggle."

Many locals also see retail and F&B jobs as part-time jobs, according to Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim.

"For retail and food and beverage, service levels are very inconsistent. We still have a long way to go," she said.

Dr Marcus Lee, academic director of the Institute of Service Excellence at Singapore Management University, described Singapore's service improvement as "spotty".

"You still see a sizeable number of companies that are not convinced that service is essential to their long-term survival," he said.

Pointing to the labour crunch, he warned against complacency.

"Before, if you had an inefficient process, you could throw more staff at the problem and get away with it. Now you can't."

On Monday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "Ask any tourist, or even a Singaporean, which (place in the world) has good service? And I don't think Singapore will come immediately to mind."

About 11,000 establishments have undertaken service excellence improvement projects with the National Trades Union Congress and Spring Singapore, while the Singapore Workforce Development Agency has trained more than 200,000 workers in service excellence.

One way to improve on this front is to practise peer regulation, said Dr Lee.

"If we see service staff abused, we should be brave enough to speak up. If there is bad service, other employees should step in and realise that all they need is one bad apple and it affects their pay cheques too."

Ms Lim suggested focusing efforts on changing the mindset towards service jobs. "Companies should make their staff feel they have a proper career, not a last resort. It's not just the pay. It's the training, the recognition and their welfare."

At Royal Plaza on Scotts, remuneration also comes in the form of trust for the hotel's staff. For example, its employees need not present medical certificates if they are sick for only a day.

"You want them happy. Only then can they make the guests feel happy too," said Mr Patrick Fiat, 62, its general manager.

For Ms Jackie Condat, 33, assistant manager at Bukit Timah eatery Little Diner, little things like getting to know customers by name and writing them personalised birthday messages should also be part of the job. "You want to make them feel like this is their home. That's when they will keep coming back."

Additional reporting by Rei Kurohi and Timothy Goh

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