Monday, 6 April 2015

Customer service : East and West

Just came across this article and wish to share with you ...

After living here in Australia for more than a decade, I have kind of accepted, albeit reluctantly, the customer service culture in Australia - for the sake of keeping my sanity, that is. Recently, I returned to Malaysia for a couple of days and have been able to see and feel the vast difference in the customer service culture in the East-West divide.

In Australia today, I feel that there is a serious lack of personal touch and human connection. If you have a phone problem, try walk in to a random mobile phone shop and see if the staff there would help you. Even if he or she has nothing to do, the most likely response you will get is, "Sorry, you have to go to the shop where you bought this phone."

What if you have a problem with a service provider say, Optus, Vodafone or Telstra and you walk into one of their shops in a shopping mall? Chances are they will tell you to pick up the phone at some corner in their outlet and talk to the operator from some call center outsourced by Optus, Vodafone or Telstra to answer your questions. Can you imagine that? Walk into a store with live human beings and they tell you to go pick up the phone and talk to some one who could be physically two continents away!

In Malaysia, if I had a phone problem, all I need to do is to walk into a phone shop and the staff there will hear me out and solve that problem for me right there and then without reciting whatever BS policies their companies or my phone manufacturer has. And best of all, they will never expect me to pay for it. To them, it is their business to serve customers in need whether we are their customers or not unless of course there is a high cost involved in resolving the problem.

Once, in Melbourne, I walked into a shop browsing around looking to buy the right gift for a close friend. The attendant walked over leisurely with a sweet smile asking if there was anything she could help me with. I smiled back and said no and thanked her. Leisurely, she walked back to the counter. Minutes later, I found what I wanted and handed it to her for scanning. While she was doing the scanning, I requested that the item be wiped as there was visibly some dust on it.

Instead of obliging, her smiley face changed almost immediately as if she wanted to let it be known by me that she was not pleased with my request. Reluctantly, she took out a piece of scrap paper from the drawer, crunched it into a ball and attempted to wipe the dust off the purchased item! I just could not believe it! Even a two-and-a-half year old would know that kind of paper is not for wiping or polishing for it will scratch the surface! And yet this is a shop meant for selling gifts and collectibles!

In the end I had to stop her and asked if she has something softer. Without missing a beat she said no! No tissue paper, serviette or cloth in the entire shop??? I ended up using my own tissue paper from my pocket. I just had to give up before she start opening her mouth again not because I was afraid of upsetting her. I was just fed up with such behavior.
On another occasion, I had to collect my previously faulty lawn mover from a mower shop after it was being repaired. The owner served me, pushed out my repaired machine and asked where I had parked my car. He continued pushing that mower to my car and had some small talk with me. I could not help myself and spoke my mind there and then. I said what he was doing was extra-ordinary in Australia. In my long years of living in Australia, this is one of the rare moments where I was experiencing good old-fashioned honest and quality customer service. I told him most shops do not treat customers the way he and his staff have treated us. He corrected me by saying, "Not most, mate, ALL of Australia is this way! That's why we are falling behind in this global market place!" The shop is Burwood Mowers located in the southeastern part of Melbourne. They have been around for more than 30 years - a friendly family business with excellent service.

In Malaysia, I see people fairly obliged and willing to help even if you are not their customers. Not saying Malaysians are kinder or more generous people. It is the larger culture that determines how people behave in general. Australians are generally very helpful people, have good manners and kind hearts. But when it comes to doing business and servicing customers, they just have this Jack-is-as-good-as-his-master mentality. Why do they have to always see things in master-and-servant terms? Today you might be Jack's customer buying food from his shop. Tomorrow Jack could well be your customer getting his hair trimmed in your shop, right?

In Malaysia, even though customers are not always right, BUT service providers let them feel right nevertheless because business is about creating goodwill, building relationship and win-win situations NOT winning arguments or debates. Not so in the West. Maybe this has to do with the adversarial approach adopted in the Western courts of law.

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