You know that story: Rude customer abuses a member of StarHub’s staff at their Tiong Bahru Plaza branch. Caucasian man intervenes and gets verbally abused and spat at. Netizens praise peacemaker, later identified as Justin Farren.
What would you have done in Farren’s shoes? Should he have intervened?
Kalidass SKS, 65, managing director of Star Security Services, which provides security personnel for clubs and events, told The Pride that Farren did the right thing.
“It was very good of the Caucasian to have remained calm throughout the incident,” said the former police officer. “The right thing to do in a situation like this would be to allow the aggressor to calm down, which he did. If the aggressor continues to be violent, then security should be called in to protect the staff, and the police notified.”
We have no means of knowing if the customer’s actions were provoked, so let’s put that aside for now, along with the perennial complaint that service in Singapore is bad. What we’d like to ask is, are service staff in Singapore given due respect?
Certainly not, said human resource consultant Evan Ng, 44.
“When was the last time you saw someone looking a server in the eye and say thanks?” said the Singaporean. “When a customer at a restaurant or cafe call for the service staff, they tend to be rude. It is just a basic lack of respect for fellow human beings which we are seeing a lot these days.”
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Sean Francisco Apodaca, a 34-year-old American who has lived in Singapore for five years, agreed.
“In general, service staff in Singapore definitely do not get enough respect,” he said. He attributes this to the culture and attitude of people here, both on the part of staff and customers.
“People here appear to shun someone who works in the service industry. Add to that the attitude of entitlement on the part of customers who seem to regard service staff as an annoyance,” said Apodaca, a studio owner.
He once witnessed a drinks vendor at a food court being abused by a local customer because the vendor had served Apodaca first when, the customer insisted, she was first in line.
“She kept ranting about why she was not being served right away, leaving the vendor confused and shaking because she didn’t know who to serve first,” said Apodaca. According to the native of New Mexico, who is a man mountain at 1.94m tall, the customer even told him to go back home to his country.
“I told the vendor to give the customer her drink and be done with it, but not before telling the customer that she was rude and that this was no place to have this sort of argument in the first place,” he told The Pride.
When the rude customer finally left, Apodaca told the vendor how sorry he was for the incident even though it was none of his fault, and wished her the best for the rest of the day.
“An uncle who also worked at the food court was beside himself with laughter after the incident because he, too, felt it was so ludicrous,” added Apodaca.
But it is no laughing matter to the service staff at the receiving end of abuse. And some companies have resorted to putting up signs in service areas calling for mutual respect between clients and staff and providing fair warning that while they would do their best to provide the best possible customer experience, they would not hesitate to act in the safety of their employees.
Sentosa Development Corporation, which manages Sentosa island and its attractions, is one such company which has its share of bad customers.
“In some instances, our service staff do encounter guests who would use vulgarities when our staff are unable to accede to their requests,” said a spokesperson for Sentosa Development Corporation. It could occasionally escalate to physical abuse such as “shoving, pushing, scratching of our staff”, added the spokesperson.
“When dealing with unhappy guests, frontline executives and duty managers will act as a neutral third party to intervene and separate the guest and staff involved. The executive and duty manager involved will then assist to mediate and find an alternative resolution to the issue. Where necessary, our executives and duty managers will also follow up accordingly, depending on the incident. For example, in extreme cases, making a police report.”
Not all customers are bad, though, said the spokesperson.
“There are guests who are very understanding and amicable towards our service staff. For example during peak periods on a tourist attraction like Sentosa, we do have guests who are very willing to cooperate with our service staff to ensure the safety of all guests.”
Rachel Lum, 24, has been working in the food and beverage industry for six years and now works as a bartender in a restaurant-bar. She said that by and large, she felt that local patrons tend to give service staff like her a lot less respect than foreigners would.
“It’s the small things, like saying, ‘excuse me’ when they are trying to get our attention, or a simple, ‘thank you’, when they are served. Foreign customers seem to do that a lot more. The local patrons don’t. Instead, they’ll often go, ‘hello! hello!’ when trying to get our attention, or even snap their fingers at us,” she said.
And how would she deal with a rude, or aggressive, customer? Does the restaurant have guidelines as to how to deal with such behaviour?
“There aren’t any guidelines to follow. But when a customer is rude or aggressive to me, I just keep calm, and smile. That’s the only guideline I’ve lived by in all my life in F&B,” she said.
Do service staff need guidelines to handle difficult customers? Or should customers be given guidelines on respect? Perhaps we should discard all guidelines and consider showing basic respect to a fellow human being, whether you’re a customer or server.
Just try this: A kind word. And a smile. They’d go a long way, either way.