Customers are important for any organisation as their satisfaction and support form the core reason for an organisation to even exist.

To be a customer-centric organisation, it is crucial to understand basic customer needs. Challenging customers can be tough to handle, but not impossible to work with. A poorly managed incident may damage the relationship with a customer.

NTUC FairPrice supermarkets serve over 500,000 customers daily and have been part of the community for the last 40 years. Striving to improve their service standards is a commitment and a continuous process.

Their efforts have seen positive results — FairPrice attained the top spot in the supermarket category in the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore this year.

Service-oriented organisations would attest that providing good service is not always easy and FairPrice supermarkets too have had their fair share of challenging customers.

Sometimes this makes the judgment call to provide good service a little less clear cut. Let us examine more closely two “golden rules” of customer service:


"The customer is always right"

Customers should be treated with every courtesy, but are they always right? A FairPrice customer purchased a pack of milk and noticed that it was bulging. He brought it back — unopened and unconsumed.

Subsequently, he changed his story and claimed that he had drunk it and demanded extreme compensation.

Does the “golden rule” apply even if a customer’s claims are fabricated? Should the organisation concede to the request because the “customer is always right”?

Customers are important but expecting good service should not empower them to abuse the goodwill of the organisation they patronise. Fortunately, most customers appreciate good service and do not exploit situations where they have some cause for complaint.

When customers make unreasonable claims as in the example above, customer-centric organisations still have a duty to treat them with professionalism. Customer service officers should perform a service recovery for that part of the complaint that is justified, for example, a product that did not meet the required quality standard.

The officers can then focus on the fabricated claims, and be patient but firm with the customers who make them. Treat each customer’s contact as a personal interaction and not a transaction.


"going the extra mile"

Many service champions go the extra mile to meet customers’ needs. But when is going the extra mile a step too far? When does one make the decision not to entertain unreasonable requests?

For example, a customer expected preferential treatment whenever she shopped at FairPrice. Once when it was raining, she insisted that the store staff push the trolley of groceries back to her home. She sheltered herself with an umbrella while leaving the staff in the rain!

Achieving customer satisfaction is crucial but there is an end-point for the “extra mile”. Service differentiation is not service bias — good service should not be restricted but it should be applied consistently for all customers.

Tried-and-tested strategies

The service journey continues for the local supermarket chain and, while there are some grey areas, three strategies that have worked for FairPrice may also help other organisations enhance their customer satisfaction levels:

Inculcate Service DNA

Companies can cultivate Service DNA so that all employees share a common understanding and expectation of what it means to deliver service excellence.

For example, in 2010, FairPrice reinforced this promise by introducing a service motto “Service from the Heart”, that is, being helpful, empathetic, attentive to details and reliable to win a customer’s trust.

Companies can try reciting a service pledge to deliver service excellence to serve as a reminder and encourage commitment.

Learning and training opportunities

Companies must properly train their staff to handle crisis situations to enhance the customer’s positive shopping experience.

Organisations must ensure that they provide the right support and “tools” for employees to uphold service excellence. FairPrice put in place training courses that were relevant to employees’ job scopes and experience. Other companies can do the same. This provides employees with experiential learning and encouragement.

Celebrate service champions

Motivating staff and celebrating their achievements encourages them to continue to serve from the heart and inspire other staff to do even better.

To celebrate service champions, companies can recognise their excellent performance through awards like the Model Employee Award. Good examples of service excellence also can be shared through internal newsletters.

To create a positive service experience, it is helpful to remember that employees who work in a great environment and feel valued, are a vital key to making customers happy.

The way forward

Customer-centric organisations place customers at the core of their operations and continuously look for ways to improve service excellence. Over time, their efforts will win customer loyalty.


Article by Jonas Kor, Director of Corporate Communications, NTUC FairPrice.