I headed to the neighborhood coffee shop to buy lunch. After a quick decision of the choice of food, I approached the stall vendor that sells fish bee hoon (rice vermicelli). It was the umpteenth time that I had ordered from her, and be greeted with a smile and enthusiasm. I gave her the usual courtesy and told her what I wanted to buy.

“What size of the bee hoon do you want?” she asked.

I paused a bit, because usually I would buy the medium size one and add another dish. But this time, I felt that I could just settle for one dish.

“What options are available?” I asked.

It was only then did I notice that the familiar vendor had not been smiling at all from the first time I saw her today. She was not her usual self. Without a change in expression, she looked at me for a while and monotonously replied, “Big, medium or small.”

Well yes, why did I even have to ask?

“Uhm okay, let’s go for the large one.”

She disappeared into the kitchen without a word and I moved to the side of the coffee shop to wait for my food.

Around that time, another of the stall’s staff was moving some plates of food around. She was going to carry two plates of food across to another of their work tables. Just then, a customer nonchalantly stepped in between her and the table. The staff had to abruptly stop in her tracks and keeping the dishes from spilling.

There was not a word of apology or even an acknowledgement from the customer who sauntered off to wherever she was going to.

I recalled a thought about netizens complaining about the lack of customer service in Singapore. Some argued that customer service is owed to customers by businesses, whereby staff of said businesses must take great effort to wow them – the customers – and to adhere to all their needs (which includes their whims and fancies). Others argued that customer service must first begin from the customer, in order to motivate business vendors to go beyond the call of duty. And of course, there are more views on top of these.

At the end of it, the impression I got from these arguments is that the commentors are implying that customer service is owed. Someone owes the other something, and that leads to customer service (which definition seems to defer from each groups’ viewpoint) needing to be delivered.

I can agree that if I find myself paying for top dollar service, and when I do not get it, I must make this shortchange come to the attention of the business. But on most times, I am simply buying packet lunch or dinner from the coffee shops.

Adult Business Commerce Cook by Clem Onojeghuo (https://www.pexels.com/photo/adult-business-commerce-cook-375889/)

While it is largely to be delivered from the businesses, customers ourselves have a big part to play. If customers think that they have needs, frankly, so do businesses. The customers paying for the goods and services are human beings, and really, so are the vendors at the businesses.

I pondered on this thought, Maybe customer service is not owed by businesses, neither is it owed by the customer. While it is expected and hoped for, it cannot be demanded for. Customer service should come as an intrinsic attitude. Not everybody are made to deliver great customer service, and even those who seem born for this, they aren’t at the top of their game every single day.

However, perhaps what would be much better for us to do is not obsess about that term, but instead remember to be civilized social human beings. This should include a natural desire to be kind and peaceable to one another, with no over the top focus on outperforming in this area. All we need is kindness that is enough to make someone’s day nice.

And when that fails, the effects would be natural. Customers who are not satisfied with services are not likely to return anyway. The business will feel the impact, and hopefully correct course. If not, it is not unusual that they will have to wind up due to the lack of customers.

The vendor whom I placed my order with never appeared again. Another staff from the stall eventually came out and asked if I had ordered the fish bee hoon. After I replied yes, she did not take the food to me, but instead beckoned me to pick it up from another of their work table. It was only then did one of the cooks pick up the packet of food and brought it to me. I paid for my food and said thank you to the cook, and left.

I know that I would mind this lack of service on other days, but today, I decided to just forget about demanding for it. However, I did want to make sure that despite of the lack of the desired treatment, I would do my part to at least not be a rude customer. And frankly perhaps, I would hesitate in making another order from that stall again in a long time.