When it comes to service, Singapore is still not quite where it wants to be yet. That was what Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Monday in his speech at the 2015 Singapore Service Excellence Medallion awards event.
It is a message which is not new and one would recall that it was 10 years ago – in his National Day Rally speech in August 2005 – that PM Lee spoke of how service standards in Singapore needed to be improved.
Indeed, Mr Lee appointed then minister Raymond Lim to spearhead the national drive to improve service standards in Singapore.
Mr Lim, described as “Mr Good Service” by the media, said then, “We are capable of good service… but we can do more to raise standards.”
The drive to up standards in 2005, however, came on the heels of the 2001 goal of the Productivity and Standards Board (PSB) “to raise service levels in Singapore to be among the top 10 in the world by 2005.”
The Government pumped in S$150 million to achieve this then.
“Why has our customer orientation ranking declined? Have we become worse? Probably not. But because we have not moved forward enough, others have overtaken us,” said the then Minister for Trade and Industry, George Yeo.
The World Economic Forum’s “Global Competitiveness Report” had ranked Singapore 16 in 2001, four places below its previous year’s position of 12.
Fast forward to 2014 and Singapore is still stuck at number 12, out of 144 countries.
Not bad but not good enough.
So, it is no wonder that PM Lee is raising the issue again.
His concerns seem to mirror the findings of the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES) in 2014, which reported that “fewer tourists [were] satisfied with customer service in Singapore.”
And this in turn is supported by an online poll on the Straits Times website, following the remarks by Mr Lee.
A majority of more than 60 per cent of those who participated in the poll felt that service standards in Singapore has gotten worse in the last 10 years – this ironically seems to run counter to the goal set by PM Lee in 2005 for Mr Lim to raise service standards here.
But curiously, this itself seems to contradict what the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore found last March – that “customers here are the most satisfied in seven years.”
“The survey… found that the 2013 national satisfaction index stood at 70.7 points out of 100, the highest since the annual survey started in 2007,” the Straits Times reported.
It will take quite some effort to untie the various seemingly opposing survey results.
Nonetheless, what can Singapore do to achieve its goals of raising service levels and be in the top 10 of global ranking for customer satisfaction?
Spring Singapore, which has taken over the PSB as the standard bearer in this area, has its work cut out for it.
The good news, at least, is that we are not that far away from the goal of being in the top 10. But the final nudge to get into the top 10 seems to be the hardest to achieve.
Whatever it is, perhaps the more important thing to remember – and indeed to achieve – is a culture of service and understanding, rather than the pig-headed exercise to plonk ourselves into the top 10 and hail this statistical accomplishment for the sake of it.
And this is where PM Lee’s reminder is useful – that at the end of the day, it is not just how the service staff attends to us, but also how we as customers view and interact with these staff.
What makes an experience a pleasant one or not, after all, is a two-way thing.