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Singapore Nice


One thing that has completely fallen below my expectations here in Singapore is the lack of quality customer service. I mean I wasn’t expecting full out red carpet treatment every time I patronized a business, but at these extortionist prices, at least a willingness to please, a smile, and “thank you.” Perhaps a, “Have a nice day,” while they handed you your plastic bag with the smiley face on it filled with 2 for 1 goodies was anticipated. I was definitely expecting efficiency and a desire or at least a readiness to satisfy the customer. But, I’ve gotten better service in the states from the 7-11, which they have here by the dozens.

The first encounter with this was with the cleaning service my husband hired to prepare the condo for me to really clean later. (I told you I could be a touch OCD).  Now, I have never hired a cleaning service before because I actually enjoy cleaning my own space for the most part, but when I first walked into our new home, it looked like a homeless person had been living there. (I recognize that these are clearly trivial “first-world” problems, but indulge me.) He, who arrived in Singapore a month before my daughter and I, had been living like it was the end of days. Trash and papers were strewn hither and yon. Furniture was displaced. Nothing had been wiped, swept, mopped, dusted, CLEANED! And, the hair…well, I told you about that. So, yes, someone had to do the preliminary stage of cleaning.

I took a nap to recover from jet lag with my daughter in her room, which I chose to clean myself, while two young women sounded like they were moving mountains to reface my home and bring it to its supreme level of spotlessness. I woke up ready to smell lemon zest and some hint of pine and see suds and janitorial supplies; if heaven had levels, this image would be one of them for me. I expected to see the “after” picture they show on any one of those HGTV specials. Imagine my surprise and confusion when no such transformation had taken place. It looked nearly the same as it had two hours prior.

Perhaps, they started in the back and they’re working their way forward I thought as I stumbled sleepily through the main hallway to our bedroom and en suite. “Nooooo, they haven’t cleaned in here.”  Hmmm, maybe they were scouring the newly unpacked pots and pans to rid them of traveling dust. It could be contaminated you know. “Noooooo, they haven’t cleaned the kitchen either.”  The condo isn’t that big, so then I thought they must’ve cleaned the wrong one.

I asked the elder of the two what they’d done. With a widespread smile and over-zealous nod she proudly boasted, “We finished now.” Huh?! I took her on a tour and asked if she had cleaned areas as I pointed to the dirt still stained there. Each time, she’d nod profusely, smile wide and say, “Yes!” Huh?!! “Did you wipe the counter?” “Yes!” “Did you sweep up all the hair I still see on the floor?”  “Yes!”

Was there a language or cultural barrier here? I had to do something we’d both understand: the proverbial white glove test. Symbolically, with my bare finger, I scrolled along the counter while locking eyes with her. I held up my grimy finger in the air without losing eye contact. She, still smiling, cut her eyes to the dirt then back at me, then back to the very visible dirt, then back at me, “You want me clean again?” “Yes!”  This exchange happened in every room.

I wanted to think this level of service was an isolated incident, but during my first week here, I experienced multiple interactions like this. From old clumpy nail polish and cold water being used instead of the hot I requested in my pedicure, to being overcharged for the wrong meal, to the grumbling soft pretzel lady actually trying to serve us the one she dropped before scolding us when we cancelled the order! No ma’am! “Where they do that at?” Singapore, and all with a wide smile, gentle nod, and teeth grinding, “Yes!”  

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  1. I think Customer service comes only when there is direct supervision, training, and repercussions if the the person doesn’t deliver what is expected. Fortunately in Singapore, there is so much demand for labour in the service industry, that even below par performance is not frowned upon… there’s no real threat to a person in terms of appraisals… That’s just one of the problems… guess one gets used to low quality of service after a point… :). Given how comfortable the city is otherwise, these things, I don’t mind much beyond a point!

  2. Lol, this is so true. We are currently in a Serviced Apartment and the housekeeper “cleans” 6 days a week. Now, I don’t have OCD when it comes to cleaning, but when I do clean, I CLEAN. It has NEVER taken me 30min or less to clean a 2bedroom/2bathroom home so I don’t understand how day after day it takes my housekeeper 30 min or less to clean the bathrooms, clean the bedrooms, the kitchen, sweep, mop, etc. I’ll tell you why, it’s because it’s not clean. She tidies up and that’s all. It’s the same with the cleaning service at my job. Obviously, there is a dissconnect with my definition of clean and the housekeepers. As the saying goes, if you want things done right, you have to do it yourself. In this case, you have to show then what you mean by clean. Living in Singapore is a learning and teaching experience, I guess.

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