Sunday September 9, 2012
Rigid and unfriendly
Culture Cul De Sac
By JACQUELINE PEREIRA
When service staff stick to rules so they can wave off customers, there is no room for creativity or genuine interaction.
IN the past two weeks a random series of events got me thinking. Cause for concern arose from several seemingly simple incidents that anyone could encounter in their daily lives. In my case, these triggered a disconcerting thought: Is something going on in our society?
It is often said that Malaysians like to break the rules as we see fit – especially when we are in our cars, when we can’t hold on to time, or when we need to part with our money. This, despite acknowledging that rules and regulations, aided by law, ensure that processes run smoothly.
Defiantly we still double-park, arrive for appointments late and defer paying our taxes. In the spirit of bending the rules, with a little grovelling accompanied by well-meaning apologies, we usually get away with these misdemeanours.
But, with this series of incidents I was dismayed to observe that some of us follow rules to a ‘T’ without allowing for some flexing of the stiffer regulations. Everything seems black and white. I used to enjoy the grey areas without breaking any rules, but with enough blurring to get by.
Take this instance. A neighbourhood restaurant in Petaling Jaya refused to serve us coffee and cake for dessert because they close at 9pm. Since there was no one else dining in there that night, you would expect the restaurant to stay open a little longer. With mounds of creamy cakes having to remain uneaten for another night, wouldn’t you expect the earphone-plugged server to extend the closing time, at least to add to his quiet till?
Next was the wrangle with our cable TV provider. In addition to the poor reception of some existing channels we subscribe to, a new package now suffers the same problems. After the usual rigmarole of the big organisation attending to its customer, I was assured that in seven to 10 days their out-sourced installer would assess and rectify the problem.
More than 10 days pass. Daunted by the task of explaining everything again, including my relationship with the holder of the account, I called the provider once again. The customer service lady had no answer for the delay.
When I refused to call the installer, as it was the provider’s job to do so, she said she would do it. She also promised to call me back that same day. No call from her, but the next day I did receive one from a disgruntled installer saying he had previously been given the wrong number.
Although the rules were waived slightly here, as well as my fee for the additional package for non-viewing days, this unsatisfactory experience shows a serious lack of concern for the customer.
Another phone call set me on the path of this week’s column. A current writing project requires me to call an inordinate number of people. In asking for the necessary information and photographs, I had to slip past myriad gatekeepers, like a hyperactive child manoeuvring her way through a minefield.
At one establishment, after I had explained my intent, I was asked five times to spell the name of the magazine I was representing – as well as help with pronouncing it. After almost 10 minutes of explaining over and over again what I wanted, in the end the assistant refused to give me the name or number of the right person to contact.
Instead, he directed me to their website and asked me to e-mail my request. He didn’t sound Malaysian – not that that should matter. Perhaps their policy is not to reveal contact details to random strangers. But, if I spend time spelling and helping him pronounce the magazine I am writing for, I have to be for real, no?
There were other incidents. The lines are clearly demarcated: a hotel cafe that doesn’t serve alcohol but whose staff think nothing of directing us across the lobby to their club where half-dressed, gyrating women perform their routine to loud music.
Abdication of responsibility: it is always someone else in charge or at fault, never the person you call. All they usually want to know is: “Who gave you my number?”
But what’s scary in these instances is the lack of a grey area. The examples, at least to me, suggest a feeling of being boxed in, categorised accordingly and acting as prescribed. Without any questions or room for creativity, and without any provision for genuine interaction.
It is as if we are constantly being herded into convenient compartments, to be tagged and disposed of as soon as a transaction ends. All with minimal fuss.
Lastly, after my current bank’s poor performance in serving its customer, I popped into another in the hope of opening a new account. The bold and brazen regional bank seemed to fit the bill, I thought. Until I heard the woman next to me going on about the below-par service.
“Is it that bad?” I had to ask.
She replied: “It’s their system, just like everything else in Malaysia.”
A series of random occurrences? Or indications of a gradually crumbling system?
> Delighting in dead ends, Jacqueline Pereira seeks unexpected encounters to counter the outmoded. Find her on Facebook at Jacqueline-Pereira-Writing-on.