Tuesday, August 23, 2005

I missed the PM's NDay Rally speech on TV this year, but I found the transcripts and poured over them today. A number of items he touched on seems to have been things we've experienced or at least discussed over the last few days. Uncanny.

Let's begin with the call for a "service culture" here. Generally speaking, we don't have one. June went through a number of potential venues to hold her weekend celebration but turned down her #1 choice because the staff she discussed the event with had no clue about putting their customer's needs first. The ambiance may have been gorgeous; the location had some real memories for us; the menu was irresistible; but when it came to actually serving the customer, the staff went strictly by the book and refused to make allowances for a custom arrangement which was what June was asking for. June took her business elsewhere and put her money on #3 choice instead because it delivered much better service.

Some local establishments such as Robinson's and Giordano do make it a point to provide friendly service but the idea has yet to catch on. Simply put, it's having the heart to find out exactly what the customer wants and filling that need because there is a genuine desire to please the customer. As a result, customers are more than happy to spend because not only do they get what they want, they have made a new relationship in the process. What really turns people off is when shop/restaurant staff (and Management) put money first and people second: "No we don't serve ice-water. Would you like mineral water instead?"

Mike and Angela who run The Pitstop epitomize genuine service, taking the trouble to make friends first even before asking how they may be of service. The food they serve up is reasonably priced, yet prepared and delivered with care and with pride. And I'll keep going back there just because they are also animal friendly, a trait sadly missing from our me-first Singaporean culture.

Genuine innovation and enterprise likewise stem from the ability to see or even engineer human needs, then stepping in to fulfill them. It's pointless trying to do something clever and then discover that no one has a use for it. Innovating for the sake of innovation led to ice-cream pratas (yuck!) and dyed-to-a-radioactive-green nasi lemak. Who really cares? On the other hand, Osim products directly target a specific market with specific needs -- people who are tired out from work, who have aching muscles and knotted tendons -- needs met = profitable company. Of course, there are other uses for these same products that are unmentionable in these PG-rated pages, but it goes to show that throwing in 'extras' and being generous to the customer usually pays off handsomely in the end.

Then the issue of keeping the older worker employed has hit home hard. I am now 40, the stage where in theory I'll need to retrain as a toilet cleaner or a McUncle if I had to find another job; given that at present hiring preference for better-paying jobs tends to go towards the younger, healthier, better-looking applicants. This situation is a reality for June whose company is folding up and though she isn't 40 yet, she is past 35 and that's cutting things a bit too close for comfort. As our population is undeniably aging it does make sense for us old(er) people to be resilient and continue learning new tricks, but HR departments will also have to lose their chronological biases as they face the reality of getting increasingly older applicants for their job vacancies.

So the PM's telling us that we are facing some pretty serious problems right now, but we can solve them if we can make the necessary changes to our system. That means Education will have a major part to play in unlearning old habits and modi operandi that served us well in the past, and groom the next batch of little gremlins first to be more humane in their outlook on life which is the immediate need for our immediate future. Now, that'll be a new trick for us to learn.

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