Sabisu Featured in BlogTV: The ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ about Singapore’s Service Standards Monday, Jul 8 2013 

Following is a feature on BlogTV, where Sabisu was initially invited to be a guest for the topic on service in Singapore. As an alternative to been unable to attend the filming, an article was published instead.


The ‘Good’ and ‘Bad’ about Singapore’s Service Standards

It all started with the escalator etiquette, which many Singaporeans seem oblivious to; I had a local question me why it has to be the left side when I walked up the right of the escalator behind him, & said “excuse me.”

Interestingly, shortly after that, this issue was mentioned in one of the speeches by our PM. After that, the proper escalator etiquette seemed more noticeable, especially at Raffles Place & Tanjong Pagar MRT stations.

Based on Hofstede, our culture is characterized by a reluctance to speak up (high PDI), but I believe that would actually perpetuate the bad habits even if we do not do it ourselves.

A huge gap in this effort to improve ourselves, was the almost ubiquitous lack of recognition & encouragement of good service and etiquette.

Thus, I started Sabisu, with both types of experiences… though I guess with more entries on positive experiences, which isn’t too common.

Here’s an excerpt from my own experience with Singapore’s service standards:

Eating at Newton used to be quite an adventure in the past, when touting was prevalent, and fights as common as seafood there. This was especially true past midnight, with the main mix of post-party clubbers of varying soberness and bar/club staff going for supper after work. The government has since ‘cleaned up’ the place, even physically (a major renovation took place in 2007).

Just recently, I was there for dinner, and looked for my regular store and friendly guy to order from. Incidentally, we order from store No. 53, Guan Kee Seafood, and our friendly Din is pictured here. His service is prompt and sincere, and he’s quite hard-working (runs around like woody woodpecker). He actually remembers how you prefer some of your favourite dishes done after you’ve ordered from him a couple of times.

While we waited a short while for our dishes, we were observing all the tension and competition as different networks of seafood stores lurked around like vultures waiting for the tables to be vacated, while at the same time securing their new customers by ‘helping’ them find seats, whereby the latter could look at the former’s menu while they waited. Of course, you’re told you that can order from any store, but through their non-verbal body language for instance when they’re surrounding you. They seem especially excited about Caucasian customers, I wonder why…

Another funny thing to share about our Newton friend Din – he actually gave us some coins once when we didn’t have any and wanted to go to the washroom. And at our dinner recently, he helped us make up for a few cents in the bill so that we don’t have to bother with waiting for change if we used a $50 bill. If you’re looking for him, it shouldn’t be too hard. Just don’t hunt him down like a hawk!


‘Psychic’ Service Professional!! Sunday, Jan 30 2011 

A good hospitality establishment with high quality service is such a rare gem, it could often be more paramount to the food. Unfortunately, consistency and longevity of such service professionals is often transient, such as the case of Ootoya Orchard Central. Now imagine a place where the service is good, AND the food is distinctly superior, consistently!

Yes, the service team is good, but among them, a soft-spoken gentleman has been most impressionable. On several occasions he had consistently been sensitive to our needs, while not being intrusive in any way. He was even alert when we were seated behind screens/partitions, surprising me with the menu JUST as I was about to raise my hands to request for it!

‘Psychic’ service, this, together with really good sushi (they use a special type of rice), is truly a wonderful experience highly recommended. Such sublime service & food, now, that is hospitality.


Tomi Sushi

Level 3, Parco at Millenia Walk

We don’t need to travel too far for good service! Monday, Nov 22 2010 

It’s good to have a pleasant service experience, and one from a nation not too far off. Redzuan, a service professional at Prints Design, at the CitiLink Mall branch, is service to be proud of. He is attentive yet not intrusive, and warmly offered to help us find out the availability of a product at the other outlets.

Increasing number of service staff, particularly from Philippines and Nepal, does reflect Singaporeans’ dwindling considerations of service as a career. The afore-mentioned nationalities, at least, were reputed for their warm service and loyalty.

Perhaps what we really need is to offer more recognition and respect for all professions. And to invest in more staff, and better compensate them? Unsure of the latter, but TWG Cafe at Ion Orchard evidently had a high ratio of staff to guests, and business seems good. Hopefully this is the spark for the Singapore service industry…

Invitation to CNA to discuss service Sunday, May 2 2010 

A short while back, I was invited by a ChannelNews Asia producer to go on their live program (BlogTV) about current affairs in Singapore. Apparently blogs which include compliments about service experience are somewhat rare, Sabisu being the only one that they came across thus far. Prior commitments prevented my attendance, thus contributed with some extracts of stuff from Sabisu.

As I often share with friends, one of the keys to improvements and excellence, is constructive feedback and effective use of this knowledge by the recipient. Singaporeans tend not to do that, and only complain among themselves. To me, this attitude may inadvertently ‘perpetuate the problem.’

In addition, condescending customers probably reflects issues with their self-esteem. Customers are not always right. Mutual respect is important, and should be earned. It is always intriguing to discover the underlying motivations behind the purchasing process.

Further, I believe praise is essential to further encourage those rare talents suited to the service profession. It would be great if business owners and managers would explore ways to improve service, perhaps like mystery shoppers, but involving the community of it’s fans. It would be authentic, and build engagement. I would be most interested in such endeavours!

Japanese Apology in Hospitality Sunday, May 2 2010 

Dinner at a new Japanese ramen place – Nantsuttei, was abruptly disrupted by a bottle of beer spilled over me… The nervous waitress just stared as the beer kept spilling over me!

After a somehow long 25 seconds, the Chinese supervisor came to apologize, somewhat coldly, while another staff passed me some cloth. After I returned from the washroom, struggling to clean beer stain over half my outfit, a Japanese, I believe the chef, came over to apologize profusely.

My share of the meal was waived, while $20 was given as a reimbursement for laundry costs. When we left, the Japanese chef and his clumsy waitress both came to the entrance and apologize again, with deep bows. This was impressionable, to say the least!

Overall, it would have been better if they had reacted much more promptly, and with sincerity. It would have helped if the whole meal was waived, since everyone at the table was affected by the incident. Further, there was only 3 of us.

On the side, the ramen was not bad, though the rich broth was a tad saltish. Was a try still. Be wary of beer bottles on trays!

Consumer Revenge on Horrible Service from United Airlines Wednesday, Jul 29 2009 

Lost Items in Cab: Beware! Thursday, Jun 26 2008 

The following is a recent experience, which I could only describe as Emotional Blackmail, unethical and unprofessional. Understand that the recommended practice is for the driver to remind the passengers to check if they’ve forgotten their items when alighting, and that it’s recommended to let the Lost & Found department handle the items unless the customer managed to contact the driver very shortly after alighting.

Another incident described in a recent article shows a further extreme of dishonesty. Of course these incidents does NOT mean all cab drivers in Singapore are bad. In fact, I’ve met several professional and polite ones. The important thing is to help build up as much feedback as possible for a clearer picture of the state of the whole taxi industry, so that with the better awareness, we become part of the improvement/solution, rather than keeping quiet and becoming part of the problem, in a way perpetuating it.

Emotional Blackmail & Threatening Behaviour Incident:

After alighting from the cab, a few minutes later we realized we’d dropped a mobile phone in it. Upon calling, the cab driver said that he’s on the way to Bedok with another customer, and will return the phone in about 10-15 minutes. However, he states that our only choice was to pay the meter fare from Bedok back to our location.

When he arrived, he states that if we do not compensate him for the trip to return the phone, he would simply bring it back to he’s company Lost & Found instead. The driver handed over the phone to my partner, leaning against the driver’s door with cigarette in hand, demanding payment.

My partner was exasperated, and felt the emotional blackmail. As she was preparing the payment, she questioned the driver if this is the official practice, charging the return trip to the owner of lost items. (this was never the case with all our previous experiences, including those experiences shared by our peers. In fact, without asking, the cab drivers are compensated as a gesture of thanks.)

The driver started raising he’s voice and pointed at her in an aggressive manner, ‘reasoning’ that it was the customer after us that found the phone. Despite the fact that he answered the phone, he maintained that since he was not the one who found it, he was not obliged to return it if we did not pay him.

At this point I stepped in and firmly requested him to back off, and to made it known that his threatening attitude was criminal. My partner’s father came out of the house to protect he’s daughter, and informed the driver that he was going to call the police. At this point, the driver took the money and drove off

Incident Details
Licence Plate: SHC 542C
Date: 13 June, Friday
Time: 645am
Location: Jalan Tua Kong (boarded cab at Changi Airport Terminal 3)

The Company’s Official Response (3 days later):

Our ref: CCPL/2008063590

I refer to the report lodged against the said driver dated 13 June 2008. I wish to extend sincere apologies for the unpleasant incident.

We have conducted an investigation on the matter and fully agreed that the driver’s attitude is unacceptable. This is a poor service. In this case, we have penalised the said driver with a stern warning on this incident. The complaint has been included in his service record for us to monitor his performance closely.

Once again, we offer our sincerest apologies for the distress which you and your partner were put through in this incident. We will continue to reinforce communication and training efforts to educate our drivers on the importance of service quality.

Should you have any queries, please do not hesitate to contact our Customer Service hotline at 6552 4525 or by this email for assistance.

Yours sincerely
Agnes Aw
Customer Service Officer
Customer Service Centre
Comfort Transportation Pte Ltd
CityCab Pte Ltd

Some Other Negative Behaviour of Note:

> “We don’t bring customer all the way up to higher floors of multi-storey carparks. We’re only obliged to bring customer to ground floor of location,” (This was a cab driver’s ‘reason’ when I requested to go to the 4th level of a multi-storey carpark as I’d heavy items.)
> When I called for a cab to a multi-storey carpark location due to many heavy items to transport, the driver did not turn up. Only 20mins after the driver was supposed to turn up, a phone call to the company revealed that the cab driver had simply come & left without even informing me. The reason: the cab had a rooftop ad that would prevent entry into the carpark according to the height limit warning. (though my carpark height limit had not presented any problems with countless past cabs with rooftop ads

INFAMOUS BAD Service at SGH Wednesday, Apr 23 2008 

The following is an account of a friend’s experience at Singapore General Hospital.

– despite 10am appointment, EIGHT <8> Hours were wasted before final admission to hospital & bed given!

– intent for day surgery, but surgeon in charge only appeared about 56 Hours later, And said he’s too busy to take the case! (*Case subsequently passed to another doctor, who, luckily, was infinitely more efficient)

– in the period from arrival at hospital on tuesday 10am till doctor appeared on thursday 4pm, the admin & nursing staff made several promises that the doctor would turn up, till eventually they dare not answer when asked when is the doctor going to turn up…

The following is in fact a feedback letter sent to them on 15 April by one of the daughters to the patient:

My dad was requested to be admitted to SGH by a doctor today, 15 April 2008. As requested, we arrived at SGH at 10am and proceeded to Block 3, Room 17 of Clinic A only to realize that there were no beds available for B2 class. We were then informed that there will only be one bed available at 2pm.

After waiting for 4 hours, we were required to register for admission. The queue number at 210pm was 54 and my dad’s queue number was 75. At that time, only one counter was serving. After 20 mins or so, another counter was opened. And after half an hr, 4 counters were opened. All in all, we waited for 1.5hrs to get my dad registered.

By then, it was 335pm. After such a long day, we were received by a senior nurse asking a whole lot of routine questions. Some questions were repeatedly asked though we are sure dad had answered quite clearly. At the same time, we had at least 6 to 8 trainee nurses standing around my dad’s bed. My dad had collected his urine in a cup provided by the trainees. A trainee brought it away and when the senior nurse came by, she did not know where it was brought to and commented to dad that this is the result of passing the urine sample to trainees.

And while this senior nurse was going through that series of questions with my dad, trainees were doing measurements and tests for dad at the same time. At one point after dad had measured his weight, the senior nurse who was in doubt of dad’s weight measured by the trainees, said that it will be done again tomorrow just to be sure. Though I appreciate the essence of learning and training, but there should be an appropriate time.

We had wasted 8 hrs today and we do not need to further time wasted on unproductive processes like this. If the trainees are not good enough, we expect them to be guided through by senior nurses. They are there to teach them, not the patients.

There had been lots said of the service in Singapore hospitals and definitely lots of complains on the time wasted on waiting. If Singapore wish to become a major medical hub, I do not see how it can be done with such poor efficiency, service and lack of pride in one’s job.

Just to be admitted and to see the doctor, we had waited 8 hours. And what’s worse is that dad had admitted with the thought that there will be a surgery TODAY, but there was none to speak of. Even up to now, we are not sure if the minor operation were to be done tomorrow or will it be done at all. If no tests, no operation was done today, what is the purpose of the admission?

Was there no communication among doctors and departments prior to requesting my dad’s admission? Are we to be paying for the admission just because of your lousy operations?

It’s been a very frustrating day. If SGH were to live with such service standards just because you think you are a government hospital and if you have the mentality that if we can afford to pay for better service we should jolly well head to private hospitals, it should not continue selling its service internationally because in terms of service, processes and efficiency, you are no where near there.

by 5pf

Location: Singapore General Hospital

Date & Time: 15 April 10am 2008

Ewan’s Recommendations: Music for the Soul… MAGIC! Monday, Mar 24 2008 

Would like to recommend a great service professional who is VERY good at his job – Ewan at Gramaphone. For a subject where words may often fail us, Ewan is most eloquent in understanding your musical tastes and thresholds. Evidently passionate, especially when asked to help recommend some music/artists, Ewan have also proven that many good artists do not have the budget for a good CD cover design.

Ewan has good knowledge of quite a wide range of music genres, which he’d demonstrated efficiently since several years ago at the Paragon outlet of Gramaphone where we’d first encountered he’s wonderful service & passion. Ewan impresses you with an intuitive feel for the right kind of music for the person/situation when words loses you. In fact, I believe he could even explore careers whereby he’d recommend the right sound for the visuals (movies, commercials, etc.).

Here you’d find his recent recommendations for 5pf (who Very Happily bought!), which included a sound not of the typical genres that 5pf favours (Robert Plant/Alisan Krauss). This is what I meant about Ewan’s talent in grasping your “vibe” and pushing the thresholds of your musical tastes.

If you find your experience searching for CDs with Ewan’s help as wonderful as we do, I implore you to spread the word. Of course, do let him know if you appreciate him, and most importantly feedback to their management on the impressive quality of the service professional Gramaphone has in their team.

We should play our part to motivate those who are fantastic at their jobs, shouldn’t we? =D

p.s. we do NOT work for Gramaphone, and are in NO way related to them in anyway!

Date & Time: 22 March 2008, Saturday; around 4pm

Location: The Cathay, Gramaphone music store, #01-21

Rude Service @ Sim Lim Square Wednesday, Feb 27 2008 

This experience was shared by a friend, a service professional for more than 15 years herself. Last December she went to Sim Lim Square to shop for a consumer electronic product. Upon enquiring about the origins of an unfamiliar brand with the staff of one of the shops, the salesgirl replied that it was from China. When a request was made to be shown other brands, the salesgirl snapped, “Why?! You look down on China stuff?!!”

Even with further patient explanations that that was not the case, the salesgirl continued with her rude attitude. After it was discovered that the salesgirl was from China, and a student at SMU, the whole rude experience seemed even more appalling.

This was a most regretful experience, considering the salesgirl was an educated young student.

Location: Sim Lim Square electronics store

Date & Time: 16 December 2007, afternoon

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