Service Without a Smile

A common cliché we hear about Hong Kong is that it’s a shopper’s haven.

But when it comes to serving the shoppers, it’s another matter. So when the survey conducted by Mystery Shoper Service Association was unveiled, it came as no surprise that Hong Kong was at the lower end of the spectrum when using a metric called “smile index” which measures tendency to smile, greet and offer add-on sales assistance.

The Association says the program aims to  anonymously evaluate customer service, operations, employee integrity, merchandising, and product quality.

Based on the latest report, the city has sunk even to its lowest last year, when it ranked at the bottom among 37 countries and territories. Hong Kong was ranked third last in 2014.

We wonder why Hong Kong scored only an index of 48, far below the global average of 83. Ireland shopkeepers smile and greet the most, as the survey implied, as it retained its first place position for the second straight year.

What could have contributed to the city shop staff’s sullen attitude towards customers?

The sheer amount of work to be done.
Shops especially in prime commercial districts can be too crowded and staff could get overwhelmed with people to accommodate. So when customers ask for more details of a product or compare with another item, they might get that scowl from staff who might offer them a different product just to close the deal as soon as possible.

The economic condition.
The year-on-year retail sales has fallen 13.3% in the first two months of the year, the lowest since 1999. This might have taken a toll on frontline staff who may be anxious about rumors on depressing economic conditions and possible job cuts in the retail sector.

The high cost of property rent.
Business owners and staff deal with skyrocketing shop leases and are at the mercy of landlords. With a large chunk of operating expenses going to shop lease, salaries could get sacrificed. If only tips were a common practice here.

The customers with no manners.
Customers who become unreasonable could easily upset an otherwise helpful attendant.

The influence from society.
Throw a smile at a stranger and you might get a smirk back. People don’t open doors for others and don’t clean up after eating at fastfood. We see mugging at Legislative Council. So it appears acceptable to behave in a rude way to customers. After all, as long as service is genuine or goods are not fake, nobody’s shortchanged.

In a city renowned for shopping, Hong Kong shopkeepers might have in mind that every customer that enters the shop is bound to buy, with few or no questions asked. Stall owners in Mong Kok, for instance, are pretty well versed with the haggling tactics tourists employ on them that a slight attempt to bargain may result in an unpleasant experience.

It seems that smiles or cheerful attitude from Hong Kong shop keepers are the most expensive commodity to buy.

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