Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A customer service revolution is needed.

I'm over it! Can't handle it! And I want to know how it can be fixed! Customer service in Malaysia and Thailand, the vain of my existence. Utterly diabolic! 

Don't get me wrong, I absolutely love Southeast Asia, the people, the culture, the history and the politics. It is a diverse, complex and intriguing part of the world. However there is something that irks me, significantly. The lack of good customer service. I am not pretentious or pompous, desiring ‘red carpet’ service, I just want service that is friendly and attentive, or put another way, helpful. Yes, horrible customer service is endemic everywhere, however customer service in some Southeast Asian counties is absolutely shocking. It also far from represents tourism advertising campaigns the likes of Thailand and Malaysia promote, demonstrating delightful customer service staff. I definitely do not ‘discover Thainess’ (the slogan used by the Thai tourism authorities) when at the airport or a shopping mall in Thailand! 

As I write this I sit in White Town Coffee at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, slowly sipping a well boiled latte, that if finished, will most likely result in me falling into a diabetic coma. Whilst I sip, I am watching 9 poorly presented staff members randomly walk around the small cafe in a somewhat zombie-like state, with occasional chatter amongst themselves. Two young men sit behind the register, one on Facebook and the other watching You Tube clips of what I am presuming is K-Pop. A Japanese gentleman walks up to the register, stands patiently for 20 seconds, makes a deliberate cough, thus gaining the attention of the register clerk, who then stares at the customer waiting for order directions. 

Before my overly burnt coffee, I visited the Malaysian Airlines desk to ask when check-in opens. I walk up to the information desk, the airline representative with her head down continues typing on her computer, I speak, “excuse me”, her head rises and she abruptly responds, “yes!”. It was obvious I was disturbing the Malaysian Airlines employee, a CUSTOMER SERVICE ATTENDANT, as she was certainly not impressed by me. For an airline that is restructuring due to deep financial issues, they might want to concentrate on their service standards.  

This experience reconfirms my belief that Southeast Asia is in dire need of a customer service revolution. More specifically Thailand and Malaysia. There is a complete lack of understanding in customer service, ranging from food outlets and restaurants, retail stores and department stores, and most notorious, airlines. The worst experiences I have ever had in the world of custom service is with both Thai Airways and Air Asia, both having staff who have no regard what so ever for customer service or customer satisfaction. With Thai Airways also in a dire economic position, you would think senior management would want to concentrate on how staff interact with customers. 

In my opinion there are three potential reasons for this lack of service. A complete lack of training, a distain for ones own job or no appreciation for a job, or they are simply overworked. I understand wages in the majority of customer service related positions are not high, however this does not provide reason for certain actions and behaviours, and plain-right rudeness. Although there are some staff who are exceptional, (a big shout-out to Singapore Airlines staff) the vast majority are rude and completely uninterested in both their jobs and their customers. A common site, especially in restaurants, is that of staff playing around on their mobile devices, in view of the customer or loudly chatting amongst themselves. 

Other than the grumpy, careless and ‘simply can not be bothered’ staff member, there is also the ‘follow you around the store' staff member. These staff members constantly try and talk, not in a polite or interesting manner, but in a way that is annoying/irritating, in their attempt to sell you products you are only browsing at or passing by. Last week at Swatch I even informed the staff member I was only browsing, however he insisted in continuing to follow me, standing less than one meter away from me the whole time. I could even tell he recently had coffee, due to his coffee breath that was suffocating.  Even if a customer shows little or no interest in interacting with the staff member, they continue to follow them around the store, having no ability to determine the customers attitudes or desires, or displaying tact. To me, this is incredibly off-putting and irritating. 

Yesterday I walked up to the Boost Juice counter at the Air Asia KLIA2 terminal, I stand in front of the counter and wait for the staff to finish what seems to be a funny conversation. A young lady then makes brief eye contact with me, stands at the register, waiting of me to give my order. There was no acknowledgement other than the brief moment our eyes connected. I proceeded to give my order, she took the money, and placed the change firmly on the counter. No word was yet to be spoken. I thanked her and smiled, yet still no response. 

I return to paragraph one and the White Town Coffee shop I am currently sitting in. The conversation amongst staff has now become animated and loud, with lots of laughing. It is obvious customers are annoyed, as the banter is obnoxious, disturbing the peace the airport terminal has to offer. 

In contrast to the severely lacking customer service skills found in Thailand and Malaysia, Indonesia is a bastion of good customer service. Indonesian customer service representatives offer warmth and a genuine understanding of good customer service. Indonesia is often seen as years behind that of Thailand and Malaysia in regards to development, however this argument is becoming increasingly redundant, demonstrated through numerous aspects, including service standard levels. From hotels, retail stories, taxis and airport staff, there is a real sense of friendliness. I tested this both yesterday and today, entered 12 stores at two large Jakarta malls, and was greeted with a smile and genuine friendliness that is rarely found in other Southeast Asian countries. They did not follow me around, however they were polite and there ready to help me if need be. People also seem to be enjoying their jobs, not matter what their position is. 

Again, I am not pompous or desiring high maintenance service, I just WANT service or someone who understands service. I do not know about you, but I find it incredibly depressing when a customer service representative is rude, bored and has no interest whatsoever in their job. Of course I am generalising and good service can be found throughout Thailand and Malaysia, however in general, it sucks, and serious attention needs to be directed towards enhancing service training. Start with the airlines, as it is there the problem is most obvious. A customer service revolution is necessary!

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