Change your Customer Behavior

Much has been said about the appalling state of customer service these days.

A friend was lamenting how he has often found it necessary to tell waiters and waitresses how to do their job.

“They ought to be doing this,” he complained, “they ought to be doing that.”

“They should make recommendations instead of just dumping a menu on my lap,” he said.

To be honest, customer service works both ways.

Waiters and waitresses are neither omniscient nor prescient. They gather information from the customer, and even use prior customer behavior and choices (if available) to make necessary recommendations. Of course some customers refused to be “led” by wait staff. The conundrum is when wait staff do not engage in small talk, they may be accused of being inattentive or stupid, but when they make suggestions, they can appear to be pushy or trying to sell food that is expiring soon.

Few will accept the fact that the relationship between a waiter and a customer is not an equal one.

There is asymmetry of knowledge and restaurateurs are in a business you have zero knowledge about, so, enlightened customers should keep an open mind.

You may have money to spend but the restaurateur’s expertise is F & B and his start-up capital costs many times more than the most expensive dish you’ll be buying during your visit.

Frankly speaking, customers are in no position to tell restauranteurs how they should practice their trade. But being on the receiving end of the waiter-customer equation, customers do have the right of comment on how much attention as well as emotive “care” they feel they have received from the waiter, but to call waiters stupid or worse, “brain dead” as my friend tends to do, is a bit too much, isn’t it?

I understand that it is difficult to feel cared for if the exchange is dehumanized, with the customer watching the waiter behaving like a robot, with few words exchanged and little eye contact.

The atmosphere can be tense and impersonal, and it certainly does not help if the customer is already hungry or anxious.

But don’t you need to manage your own expectations too? If you are paying a mere three bucks for a bowl of noodle at a coffee shop, aren’t you being unrealistic expecting to be served food of Michelin-starred restaurant quality? Do you expect the char kway teow hawker to dish out the same level of service as the finest French restaurants in the world?

Seriously, if you are complaining that your char kway teow is not served on Royal Copenhagen Flora Danica, you need to get a grip.

It also doesn’t help if you behave like a bully and make all kinds of threats. Too many stupid boors are walking around with smart phones threatening to upload videos of perceived wrongs on social media. You have to play your part as a customer and remember to treat others the same way you want to be treated. Often waiters and waitresses are unable to fulfill your expectations simply because they are not mind readers.

Similarly, if you were hospitalized, as a patient, you would be mindful that judgment calls by doctors and nurses cannot be exact and accurate all the time. Very much depends on what the patient says, observable symptoms and results from tests.

Certain medication and forms of treatment may work better for some than others. No two patients are alike. Doctors may need more time to see the afflicting cause more clearly. Thus, we, as patients, and our family members – who often seem to know best despite not being medically-trained – must cooperate to let this process take its course before we can be cured. Healing takes time. Another thing: I’ve done my rounds at hospitals and wonder why people stay all day with their hospitalized relatives – unless they are keeping vigil over a rapidly deteriorating patient they should let the sick rest or take them home to nurse them if they want to be with them all day. By hanging around hospitals all day, they end up interfering with what doctors and nurses are trying to do for their relatives and in the end, they may dispense more harm than good.

My world seems to be one filled with chronic complainers so I told my friend if he is always having problems with restaurants to hire a private chef, similarly if you are unhappy how your relatives are being treated in the hospital, you can always hire a private nurse. You are not the only customer a restaurant has to serve and your relative is not the only patient a hospital has to care for.

I hear that some car sharing services like Uber enables their drivers to rate their passengers and they will not be penalized for declining to accept booking requests from passengers with poor ratings.

I propose restaurants and hospitals do the same.

This, I’m sure will change the behavior of many of us who are customers and users of various services.