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Friday, January 15, 2010

Good Service is Not Servility

There is a misconception that service people need to be always happy, mostly meek, generally obliging and very agreeable. I don't think so at all. And I think it is because we Singaporeans expect service staff to be servile that we get such bad service all the time.

Not a single human in the world blossoms in fulfilling ignominious role expectations. Being disrespected torments the soul in a way we probably don't really understand. Everyone performs best when they are respected for their work. So those who are confronted with a role set who unceasingly expects servile smiles and insincere grovelling can never whole-heartedly provide good service because there is no respect in that.

We should expect professionalism from service officers... not servility. And the best example I can give you is that of the French Waiter that I blogged about here.

So ironically enough, I actually think that service training should not only focus on how to please the customer, but it should also focus on how to please the customer service officer. Service officers should be taught genteel but effective ways to command respect and good treatment from customers. Service officers should also be taught how to genteelly put misbehaving people in the place so that other customers are well taken care of.

If service officers feel respected, it's easier for them to reach out and give good service to customers who are well-mannered and civilized.

I think.

But of course, the notion that the customer has the money propels many organisations to require servility from their employees. That is short-term thinking indeed. What you require does not come from the heart... and the service will be obviously insincere. Then you may as well not even bother! The trick is to set up a culture and an ethos where service officers feel proud to give service... and where service officers feel able to defend themselves (effectively and in a classy manner) when people hurl vulgarities at them. In this manner, you predispose people to giving service from the heart... and truly from the heart.


KT said...

Good service requires pride. Where there is pride, there is no servility. How many servants (no, I'm not being derogatory) in Singapore take pride in their jobs? That, plus the fact that Singaporeans *generally* are humourless, witless, lack spontaneity, hopeless at bantering, can't speak any language competently, totally don't get sarcasm . . . .

However, pride requires fuel. Where is the fuel when the pay is merely sufficient for subsistence? It is perhaps different in France. They have fantastic social security, rock solid job security and minimum wages are decent enough.

petunialee said...

I agree with you that good service requires pride. Where I would not quite agree is that money will give pride.

In France as in everywhere else, waiters are paid less then CEOs. I think that it is up to the company to instill pride in staff... in such a way that when they meet a challenging request couched in civilized language and well-mannered banter, they don't immediately interpret it as an insult.

The pride in their job protects them you see.

The problem is that the larger part of society unspeakingly expects servility (I think as a throwback from the time when servants were bondmaids) and what you did was too quickly interpreted as another demand for servile behavior. I believe that the same act, seen through French eyes would not have "traumatised" anyone.

The French did not have slavery of any sort (except in the colonies) and with the French Revolution as a defining event in their culture, people don't expect servility (because those who did got their heads chopped off). Service people expect respect from customers because the principles of equality and fraternity are part of the cultural DNA. Since they expect respect, a request such as yours would not have been so easily viewed as an insult.

At the end of the day, insecure people tend to see insults everywhere. As a society, we need to help our service staff feel secure about their worth to society and to the organisation... and money is not the only way.