I’M WILLING to bet my last dollar that you have probably experienced the poor levels of service in Singapore’s food & beverage industry at some point.
Yet, according to recent figures released in the Customer Satisfaction Index for 2013, Singapore achieved its highest mark in seven years at 70.7 out of 100, lagging behind countries like South Korea and the United States.
The index tracks a cross-section of other service sectors such as finance, info communications, education, tourism and hotels and for the most part, Singapore gets a relatively high score due to its (mainly) skilled workforce.
But therein lies the problem.
Singaporeans tend to shun frontline jobs such as those in the food & beverage, retail and even health-care sectors.
They aspire to better-paying office jobs and management positions that carry prestige and grant them strong purchasing power to acquire material wealth, which then enables them to climb up the social ladder.
This phenomenon is responsible for the acute shortage of workers for frontline jobs, and employers have little choice but to fill these positions with part-timers (often students) and less picky foreigners.
These groups usually take on these jobs with a short-term view and thus we can understand how the transient nature of such roles often translates into poor service.
This can be remedied with training. But companies are reluctant to invest resources to train part-time employees or foreign workers.
It is a chicken-and-egg situation and, while I do empathise, employee training and development must absolutely be the top priority.
Your customer is your bread and butter. And your frontline employees represent one of the most important touch points between your company and your customer.
Deliver exceptional service and you are likely to enjoy repeat business from a paying individual. Disappoint a customer with lousy service and you have lost him for life.
While there may be genuine cost considerations, it is imperative that companies make employee training and development a priority. Knowledge builds confidence and helps to improve efficiency of service delivery, which ultimately raises the levels of service excellence and customer satisfaction.
Central to such training programmes should be a focus on instilling the ethos of service excellence as a key pillar of the corporate culture, and developing initiatives to motivate frontline staff to take greater pride in their jobs.
In dealing with customers, your employees’ soft skills come into focus. They make all the difference between giving poor service that turns a customer off and delivering a great experience that keeps him coming back for more.
“Hard skills” refer to specific, trainable abilities necessary to carry out the professional or technical requirements of a job or occupation. In a restaurant, for instance, your customer would expect your staff to note down the food orders accurately and bring the right dishes to their table. This is a basic competency and the type of hard skills training that most businesses provide their employees.
“Soft skills”, however, relate to a collection of personal, positive attributes and competencies that enhance an individual’s relationships, job performance, and value to the market.
Also known as “people skills”, they include an ability to listen well, communicate effectively, be positive, handle conflict, accept responsibility, show respect, build trust, work well with others, manage time effectively, give feedback, accept criticism, work under pressure, solve problems, be likable, and demonstrate good manners.
These attributes are harder to observe, quantify, and measure than hard skills and are certainly much more difficult to instil in people, if such qualities are not a natural part of their DNA.
By equipping your service staff with soft skills, they will be better able to relate to your customers and anticipate their needs and wants.
When faced with an irate customer, the soft skills most needed in your employee are perhaps empathy and emotional intelligence to help him or her more effectively defuse the situation.
Most important of all, your employees need to have excellent communication skills. Are they able to really listen well and understand the emotional undercurrents behind a customer’s complaint?
Is their communication style effective and are they able to adapt their style to the different personalities of customers they deal with on a day-to-day basis?
It is an unfortunate fact of life that most of these soft skills do not come naturally to many people and must be honed through training and development.
Not correcting this deficiency, when compounded over time, could put you out of business.
Article by Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services, a human resource consultancy based in Singapore with a growing regional reach. It provides a comprehensive suite of recruitment services across a wide range of positions, functions and industries in the Asia-Pacific region. For more information, call (65) 6222-3310, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.primestaff.com.sg. This article was originally published in Singapore Business Review.