LAST Wednesday, the online edition of The Mirror, a British newspaper, reported that a post office in Wales has decided not to take any nonsense from customers, opting to throw a £10 (RM54) charge at them if they behave in a manner that is “grumpy, irritable or plain rude”.
Customers at this post office would be greeted by a sign with words in capital letters that say, “If you are grounchy, irritable, or just plain rude, there will be a £10 charge for putting up with you.” Unsurprisingly, the stern sign was met with mixed reactions.
While some people might regard it as a humorous way of dealing with the stresses of putting up with members of the public, others did not like the idea of being punished for being in a bad mood.
The report reminds me of several signs that I have created and displayed on my taxis.
I drove cabs full-time from 2000 to 2003, and part-time until 2010 while managing a tourism school, then as general manager while setting up a car rental business and later a golf tour company.
The first sticker that I displayed was on a premier taxi that I drove from 2000.
It was a custom-built taxi based on the Renault Espace chassis with a two-litre engine running solely on natural gas for vehicles (NGV) and named Enviro 2000.
Both the front doors had a sticker each with the words “This taxi is free for nice people”.
When parked, passersby, especially foreign tourists, would stop and take photos.
Fellow taxi drivers wondered whether I refused to collect fares and offered free rides.
But at the end of every trip, none of my passengers requested the taxi ride to be free and most paid more than the fare shown on the meter, with the extra meant for tips. Obviously, everyone was happy.
Few people realise that the word free is not necessarily free-of-charge.
It could also mean I was available and not servicing another customer.
If someone nice wished to ride in my taxi, I would be available to provide the service.
For those who were nasty, I could tell them that I was not free. However, I did not cherry-pick passengers or trips.
In fact, I have picked up many foreign workers that were shunned by budget taxi drivers for various reasons.
Although my premier taxi fare cost 50% more, it was better for them not to wait and chance upon passing policemen.
I could safely do so as there was a partition between me and the passenger compartment. There was no front passenger seat. Instead, the space was used for luggage.
I was secure inside the driver’s cabin as I could unlock the rear passenger doors without unlocking the front doors.
In 2002, I switched to another brand-new Enviro 2000, also running solely on NGV.
On the rear windscreen, I placed a sticker with the words “Nice people enrich my life more than money can”, which touched the hearts of many.
But people tend to stereotype and many passengers took a dim view of taxi drivers.
Tired of being asked negative questions before boarding or during the trip, I had written answers ready by placing stickers on top of the partition so that passengers could easily read it while seated.
The words were “I don’t like being asked or told to use the meter. I always use the meter and don’t select passengers or trips”.
“Please tell me your favourite route or deduct RM1 if you think I have driven an extra kilometre.”
“If you don’t have enough money, you can pay me later or just donate the money to charity on my behalf.”
The above words were not concocted by me when writing this piece.
In fact, they were published in the back page of a local English daily 20 years ago on April 16, 2002, under the header “Taxi driver with a ‘heart’ proves a hit” written by non-other than PC Shivadas.
From 2004, I drove a Proton Iswara budget taxi and I had to choose passengers and trips, not for cherry-picking, but to ensure I would not be robbed, injured or killed.
Therefore, it was only wise to refuse passengers who were drunk, high on drugs, appeared aggressive or dangerous.
I displayed a sticker on the dashboard declaring that “I speak, read, write and dream in English”.
It was meant to assure foreigners that I could communicate well in this international language and it was well received.
But an ultranationalist took exception and questioned my motive.
Interestingly, I wrote a published letter in 2017 under another pseudonym with the header “World-class service at Desa Pandan post office”.
This came after I received poor service when trying to renew my car’s road tax at a Road Transport Department office and another post office.
The staff that provided the service was a man named Saiful.
He still worked there when I returned to the Desa Pandan office recently to renew a road tax.
However, the woman counter staff that provided me the service this time was pleasant, and so was the woman manager I met in 2017.
Before that, I had praised a staff by the name of Afifah, who was working at a Tenaga Nasional office at Dua Sentral in Brickfields, Kuala Lumpur, which was published by a local English daily under the header “Good manners a sign of excellent upbringing” on Oct 31, 2015.
In 2016, I attended a three-week course with participants from other Asean countries and became qualified as an Asean Tourism Master Trainer.
In May 2017, I joined a “One-day Training Programme Delivering Five-Star Customer Service Experience” to observe the effectiveness of such training.
I was disappointed to find that it was just another ineffective training programme offered in the market, as they were more on briefing than training.
The trainer enjoyed himself immensely by having a syiok sendiri exercise whenever he shared incidents of his past experience.
Instead of revealing impressive information just to amaze the trainees and expecting them to remember a long list of dos and don’ts, lecture notes or points could have been prepared and forwarded in advance so that interested trainees could study and prepare before the course.
During training, participants would be invited to speak on what they have known previously, or learned recently, and seek clarification or ask questions on the notes given.
The trainer could then confirm what was rightly said, correct the wrongs and strengthen, or improve, where necessary.
While briefing or lecturing is monologuing, training should be a group dialogue, highly interactive and interesting to be effective.
All trainees are required to share their best and worst customer service experiences and how to do better next time, so that everyone learns together.
It is vital for everyone to master interpersonal communication skills by learning the importance of visual, vocal and verbal communication.
It is good to use the correct choice of words, but the tone is even more important as the same word said differently can have an opposing meaning.
Although some could cover it up with a measured tone and make it appear to be nice, sooner or later a slip would reveal their true colours.
When communicating face-to-face, visual communication and clues are more important than vocal and verbal combined.
There are two levels of customer service, one by the organisation and the other by the staff.
For example, a truly caring establishment would not only allow the public easy access to its website, email address, emergency hotline or toll-free number, but also a mobile number.
This would allow the public and customers to forward texts, photos or videos over WhatsApp with a record of when it was sent.
On the other hand, a phone conversation could be gone with the wind if no action was taken.
It would be too difficult to trace and bothersome to repeat the process.
Apart from providing effective training, the overall level of customer service is also determined by organisational leadership, corporate culture, monitoring service delivery and follow-up measures.
The quality would vary according to the mindset and attitude of individual staff.
In any case, without showing courtesy, there is no customer service.
Although it is one of the five principles of the Rukun Negara, our national policy, courtesy has been given only lip service by many.
Hence, we may get customer service at times and disservice at other times.
YS Chan is master trainer for Mesra Malaysia and Travel and Tours Enhancement Course, and an Asean Tourism Master Trainer. He is also a tourism and transport business consultant. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org