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Prime Minister's National Day Rally Speech


A Vibrant Global City Called Home
An Excerpt
We do not have a natural service culture.
If you compare us with other countries, you go to Thailand, for example, whether it's a man or woman, the man will say Sawadikup or the woman will say the Sawadika.  You go to Japanese restaurant, Irrashaimasse.  Or you go to India, they say Nemeste or Varnakam. You go to Australia, they say Good Day mate!
In Singapore, they go straight to the point. ¡°How can I help you?¡± Or if you're not so lucky, ¡°What you want?¡±
There are some Singapore organisations which do have excellent service standards -- at Changi Airport, the immigration people are very good, SIA good service. Hotel, retail, food and beverages, they have good service too.
But we have a long way to go to reach world class and I hear of companies that don't really care very much about service quality.
This is the problem which has to be dealt with at three levels.  One, the companies have to have that focus. Two, the service people have to have that focus. Three, we who are served by the people have to have that culture too. 
I will give an example for each of these.
 tart with the company because they set the tone. There is one poly student who went to do a work attachment in a hotel.  It¡¯s her final year. So, guest ordered a cold drink, waiting for a friend, felt cold.  So this poly student says, I must look after the guest, served her warm water.  Got scolded: ¡°You must not serve her warm water, you must sell her a warm drink.¡±  So she gave up.  She said: ¡°I am fed up with this.  I am off.¡±
If I were her, I would straight away work for the competitor company.  But obviously, the hotel operator didn't have the sense.  But sometimes it's a service girl or boy or old person who doesn't have it.  So there are many horror stories of bad service staff.  I asked for some examples. WDA gave me fat file.  So I decided to make a training video. I will show you this video now.  It's called ¡°Tao Gay Not Enough¡±. (Playback of video)

Customer:  ¡°Auntie, two packets, less oil, no chilli, no hum¡±.

Hawker:  ¡°Neng bao, you jiou, mai hiam, mai hum¡± (in Hokkien)

Customer:  ¡°Auntie, sorry, tao gay more¡±.

Hawker:  ¡°Two packets, less oil, no chilli, no hum, more tao gay¡±.

Cook:  ¡°Tao gay Òª¶àÉÙ? (in Mandarin)¡±

Hawker:  ¡°Hwey, tao gay how many?

Customer:  ¡°More, please.¡±

Hawker:  ¡°Zuei¡± (in Hokkien).

Hawker:  ¡°Hello Miss, tao gay enough or not?¡±

Customer:  ¡°Ya.¡±

Indian customer: ¡°Three packets, thank you.¡±

Hawker:  ¡°Wait.¡±

But sometimes, the shoe is on the other foot. So I got another video to show you. This one is called ¡°Tao Gay Never Enough¡±. (Playback of video)

Customer: (on handphone) ¡°One packet¡±.

Hawker:  ¡°One packet¡±

Indian customer:  ¡°Auntie¡±

Customer:  ¡°Less oil, no chilli¡±.

Indian customer: ¡°Auntie.¡±

Customer: ¡°More tao gay¡±.

Indian customer:  ¡°Two packets¡±.

Customer 2(jumping queue):  ¡°Can tomgpang three packets?¡±

Customer:  ¡°Auntie, three more packets¡±.

Indian customer: ¡°Your friend should join the queue¡±.

Customer:  ¡°Not your business¡±.

(Hawker, looking apologetic, hands one packet of fried kway teow to Customer.  Customer refuses to take and stomps off with Customer 2.)

If you enjoy the video, I should say it was made by Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of Film and Media.  So, all three, whether it¡¯s the company, the service staff or the customers, all three have a role to play.
The companies have to show leadership. You have got to adopt service-friendly policies. You must have the system, the process. You must make it possible for your people to give good service.  Like Raffles Hotel, the tagline is At Your Service. So whatever you ask for, at your service, it will be done.
And I think we can do that.  In our hospitals, some of the hospitals, they use SMS to call patients when their queue number is up.  So you can go around, wander the shops, go somewhere else, come back in time and not miss your number. I think that improves the service quality. You have got to emphasise service training for workers, not just the frontline staff, but the managers and the senior bosses as well so that everybody knows that service is important. 
So you see, organisations like Housing Board who deal with hundreds of thousands of transactions every year, their senior staff, once a year on Service Quality Day, come down, go to the frontline, serve residents coming who have problems to deal with.  So I have heard that.  I said, that's good, that¡¯s like MPs doing Meet-the-People sessions.
Then everybody will know service is important, then the frontline staff will get the emphasis and the backing which they need. 
Next, of course, the service staff have to acquire a service mindset. You have to know that and believe that service jobs are honourable. These are not low-class jobs. You can serve with pride and professionalism and these are jobs which lead on to something.  So Ritz Carlton says, "Ladies and Gentlemen serving ladies and gentlemen¡±.  So you go on and you may begin as a hotel serving girl, you may go on to become a masseuse or if you are a hair dressing assistant, you might go on to run your own salon, become a hair stylist. 
There is a career path up. You start by serving. You learn how to please people. You can move on and that's a valuable skill. 
But, of course, you need social skills too - how to carry yourself, how to serve, how to be graceful and, therefore, make people happy. 
One of the difficulties of doing this is that in Singapore, may be life is a little bit too easy.  Why do I say that? I just give you one example.
A Singaporean air hostess arrived at a destination found that she had no passport. A commotion, the airport manager came, sorted the problem out, managed to get her admitted, scolded her, say ¡°Where is your passport? How can you as an air hostess not do this?" She says, ¡°I must go home and scold my maid because my maid packs my bag, my maid forgot to pack my passport, it's my maid's fault." 
So I think it's a little bit harder to provide good service if you are used to being looked after.  But if you look at the wealthy developed countries like America, you can get good service in the restaurants and good waiters.  So, I think we can do it provided we put ourselves to it and pay attention and improve.  And we have to reinforce this message, reminders, campaigns, all ways. 
In Hongkong, they have turned things around.  One of the things they did was to have a campaign. So Andy Lau appears on TV commercials to urge people to provide good service.  The programme is called 'A Hospitable Hongkong'. 
I think we should consider a similar campaign. Maybe we can have Taufik and Sly to do it, and we can have a GST campaign -- Greet, Smile and Thank and we will make a difference.
But the customer¡¯s attitude has also to change because if the customer treats you like dirt, you are not going to serve with pride.
And customers have to know as the actor in Tao Gay Never Enough didn't know, that just because the person is serving you, it doesn't mean he or she is a slave or a servant.  She¡¯s looking after you, it's your responsibility to be courteous, to be considerate, to thank her and to appreciate what he or she has done for you.
Good customers get good service. And that I think is something which all of us have perhaps to change. It's easier to say the serving people have to change because we all laugh at the serving people.  But I notice Tao Gay Not Enough got more laughter than Tao Gay Never Enough.  But Tao Gay Never Enough also must be fixed.
We have put on good shows before. When there's a big event, we do well. The IOC we did very well, and there are other bigger events coming.  Next year, there will be the IMF and World Bank Conference, 16,000 participants. That may be ten times the size of the International Olympic Committee Meeting earlier this year and we have to deliver the best service level so that the whole world knows Singapore is not just clean and safe but also welcoming and hospitable. So let's gear up now.
 This is an effort which we have to continue for a long time. The government agencies will get together and will promote it and I have asked Raymond Lim to be in charge of this, to make sure that we get everybody together.  I think he can do that.
It's not just for the tourists but it's also for ourselves because it's the kind of society we are.  What we are, being gracious, courteous, respectful of one another, knowing that everybody has a place, a dignified place in Singapore, everybody belongs, doing his part and excelling in his profession and serving with pride.

Full Speech

Source: Press Release 21 Aug 2005


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22 August 2005