Hi-tech and sleek look alone won't do

By Nedra Wickremesinghe
Acting Prime Minister of Malaysia, Abdulla Ahmad Badawi was recently reported to have said, "The new, first world thinking and work culture must be instilled in the public service so that their services could be efficient, effective and responsive with emphasis on less bureaucratic, customer-friendly service".

We could certainly echo his sentiments.

Interestingly, a few state-owned organizations have just begun to act like the private sector and the first visible changes are in their imposing buildings. We see state-of-the-art interiors with icy-cold temperatures, hi-tech sound systems and a row of elevated sleek flat screens blaring out news, views and action movies. But what of the service meted out by behind- the counter personnel, supervisors and managers? Is it upto standard? It will take some time before we see a complete transformation.

Most of the big organizations hire management gurus to train their staff in customer-relations and courteous service etc. They are relentlessly reminded about the importance of "delighting customers", told how to "wow the customers" and grilled in "excellence in service to customers". But how many telephone operators, for instance, care to announce the name of the organization on the first ring? When you want to be connected to another extension they just put you on hold with no mention of please, sorry, may I and the usual telephone jargon.

Another snag is the automated telephone voice and the option game (press one for this and two for that). The rigmarole goes on till you press zero for the operator for some connection and information. The phone queue system is a waste of time as it may seem like you are holding on forever with the occasional voice coming back in between musical interludes to assure you that someone will be with you in a minute.
If it is an urgent matter you are better off dropping by, especially if the location is close to where you live or work.

For any kind of business to survive you've got to have customers. Who is the customer? The customer is anyone who demands and pays for a product or service. The customer has choices and the decision to buy your product depends on how you handle your customer. Sadly, the services some private organisations provide are far from satisfactory.

If you walk into a shop you sometimes have to ask for help to find what you want. Then, even some of the young mini-skirted bankers in high-tech banks are far from friendly. Sometimes they forget to look you in the eye when they give you the crisp bundles of currency.

It is vital to keep in mind always that serving the customer is a relationship process. There must be mutual respect and trust. Your attitude must be that which puts service first.

Some useful tips
for good service:
Speak to people: there is nothing as nice as a cheerful word of greeting.
Smile at people
Call people by name - they love to hear the sound of their names
Be friendly and helpful
Be cordial
Be genuinely interested in people
Be generous with praise
Be considerate of the feelings of others - it will be appreciated
Be thoughtful of the opinion of others
Be alert to give service - what counts most in life is what we do for others.

Little Lavinia from the land of tulips

Almost ten years ago, a Dutch couple chose to take their wedding vows in a very special location, far away from their land of windmills and tulips.

They journeyed all the way to Sri Lanka, to celebrate their union in the old world charm of the Mount Lavinia Hotel on May 28, 1993.

"It was a beautiful day and we still think back with great respect and nice feelings.

“We had a very nice time in your hotel in what we think is one of the most beautiful countries we have visited," they wrote to the management of the Mount Lavinia Hotel.

In February, this year, the couple, Louis and Marie-Louise Ebbeling were blessed with a baby girl and perhaps with their wonderful memories in mind, they have named her Nathalie Lavinia.

Staff at the hotel meanwhile, are delighted and as proud of this new Lavinia as they are of the grand old lady.

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