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ECONOMY | Contributed Content, Singapore
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Antonio Acunzo

Singapore and the race for best in class

BY ANTONIO ACUNZO

Singapore shows a passion for being the best in class at everything, and it shows.

The race to use superlatives to describe the latest addition or service in the Lion City, is becoming a regular trend today to the point that I do wonder if someone really cares or it is more of an ordinary marketing expedient to promote the place or service, or charge an additional premium.

Let’s have a quick look at some of these superlatives: world’s largest observation wheel (Singapore Flyer), world’s biggest acquarium (S.E.A. Acquarium at Resorts World Sentosa), world’s best business class seat (Singapore Airlines), world’s best airport (Changi airport), world’s highest alfresco bar (Altitude at the 63rd floor of One Raffles Place), world’s highest swimming pool (on the 55th floor at Marina Bay Sands’ skypark), tallest building in town (One Raffles Place tied with UOB Plaza One and Republic Plaza, all 3 at 280 meters of height and not taller due to height restrictions in the CBD), tallest residential condo in town (The Sail @ Marina Bay, at 245 meters of height), world’s most expensive building (the integrated resort of the Marina Bay Sands, at US$5.5 billion), and the list can continue.

Granting that all these listed superlatives are real and effective, and Singaporeans can be well proud that their city can showcase all these best in class, let me get a definition of best in class from the Cambridge dictionary: “if something is best in class, it is the best of its kind”.

And an online search gets the following definition: “the highest current performance level in an industry, used as a standard or benchmark to be equaled or exceeded”.

In brief if you want to be the best you have to show you really are the best.

And this takes me to a question: do I get the best service if I book, select, use, enjoy a facility or service that is being promoted as best in class?

Unfortunately best in class and best service is not an equation and it’s becoming a rarity to experience outstanding customer service especially in places which are promoted as best in their class.

A residential condo may be marketed for promotional purposes as 5-6-7 stars luxury living which means that if you are searching for an apartment for rent your expectations are in line with the promotional motto.

But what happens when your real estate agent only tells you that the condo is more expensive than others because it is closer to the Marina Bay Sands, or you can enjoy a better view of the 6th of August fireworks?

Good points for sure, but shouldn’t the agent highlight the unique aspects that makes the condo a real heaven of 5-6-7 stars lifestyle?

The epitome is reached when you are being shown a master bedroom and the room features a double bed with one side right next to one of the room walls because there is not sufficient space to walk around, or the living room features 2 sofas of different color and style that does not match at all between them and with the interior concept, or worse when you are shown a couple of coffee mugs and dinner plates from Ikea (excellent product, nothing to say against Ikea for its brilliant design and innovation), and you do not expect Ikea products in a 5-6-7 star condo apartment, especially when the rent is in the range of ten+ thousand dollars.

You try to  express your dismay and in return you get a disappointing look from the agent asking you to sign few papers or leave the place because there is another viewing appointment 5 minutes after yours.

Is this customer service?

In brief zero personal interaction, no understanding of customer’s needs, and the kind of approach like “hey, you are a western expat, you have to stay here for 1 or 2 years so just sign, pay, and get your shelter, what else you want?”

Well, luxury has standards, and anyone who wants to deal with luxury, or pretend to present or promote a place as luxury lifestyle, must comply at least with the minimum basic requirements that define a place within the luxury arena.

What I expect is simply called a good or great customer experience that matches the expectations with the brand.

If the brand is capable of delivering an outstanding, authentic, genuine customer service, the customer gets completely conquered and becomes the most loyal ambassador of that brand.

Is this so difficult to understand?

Unfortunately it seems that in particular companies from 4 specific sectors – Hospitality, including hotels and restaurants, Retail, Bank services, Telco services - pretend to promote themselves as best in class but deliver poor service to the point of getting more and more frustrated customers due to disappointing experiences.

There is an interesting survey made by Ipsos Singapore on bad customer service where the results show that 2 out of 3 Singapore residents experienced at least one occasion of dissatisfactory service in the past 6 months, with a 42% likely to use less if not at all that specific brand where they experienced the negative service, and a 31% sharing the negative experience with family, friends, or colleagues.

In today’s competitive business world it is mandatory to maintain the relevance and sustainability of luxury brands, and there is not a second chance to make a first impression.

Service must be memorable in the sense that it has to delight guests and clients and the first impression is essential to the point that this must be a wow moment.

Talking about hospitality, The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company has a wonderful "Credo Card" featuring the motto: "We are Ladies and Gentlemen, serving ladies and Gentlemen," and listing the core principles of great customer service.

The principles of the Ritz-Carlton legendary service has been a source of inspiration for many companies worldwide, and not only from within the hospitality industry, and indeed the hotel company, which was also the first company to win the prestigious Malcolm Baldridge national quality award in the service category, did raise the bar of customer service.

Recently during a dinner at a well-known star-chef restaurant in Singapore we selected a bottle of a great Chianti Classico red wine which was priced over S$100 (but in line with the place and expected service). The bottle arrived warm, not even at room temperature, and when I complained (because according to the place I was expecting proper presentation) about the temperature the waiter could only say that to solve the issue he would bring a wine cooler!!!

Is this a joke? Placing a bottle of Chianti Classico in a wine cooler?

Well those of you who are reading this, and have a passion and culture for wine, do understand the inappropriateness of the waiter’s solution which does not require any further comments.

In brief we complained and left the restaurant and I guess the restaurant manager is still wondering why we left!!!

I’m, yes, willing to pay a premium price but the experience must be in line with the standard of the brand, and the expectations of a great experience with a brand that promotes itself as the best in class.

I give for granted that in a supposed fine dining restaurant it is a must to have waiters well trained to understand what wine is and how to serve it properly.

In the end it’s really proper training and getting motivated people that can contribute in understanding the path for delivering customer service, and if these people show passion for their job, endorse the company culture and make it as part of their way of doing their job, we have an additional element contributing to deliver great customer service.

After all, as the epitome of Asian grace and hospitality, Singapore Airlines has always been an enduring provider of impeccable service standards to the point that even other airlines (and passengers as well) talk about the great level of service.

The views expressed in this column are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect this publication's view, and this article is not edited by Singapore Business Review. The author was not remunerated for this article.

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Antonio Acunzo

Antonio Acunzo

Antonio Acunzo is the Chief Executive Officer at MTW Group-Marketing that Works!, a market-entry strategy and brand marketing advisory firm founded in Florida, and with Asia-Pacific office in Singapore. He brings with him over 15 years of experience in international business in the US and Asian markets focused on the Luxury and THL industries, and is a regular speaker at marketing and international business events.

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