Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tipping for Good Service

TippingWell, it came up again - tipping, I mean. One Alvin Gho wrote in to the Straits Times advocating the restoration of tipping as a practice to improve the service standards among our people. I can't agree more. I wrote to Today some time ago advocating the same. Some other letter writers also agreed. But I remember one who expressed horror at the suggestion. I don't understand that sentiment except that the writer is living in the past and change is a very uncomfortable thing for him.

I wouldn't have come to hold this opinion but for the fact that I have done my fair share of travelling, sometimes on pleasure and many times on business. Of course, tipping outside of Singapore is fairly common. While I would not claim that better service came along with it all the time in those countries, I learnt to appreciate the fact that it is a source of income for many of these service people. We should not begrudge a person his/her just desert if the service was performed well. I have also come across people who are generous tipsters - certainly much more generous than I - that I pale in comparison in the tipping 'department'. I blame our 'no tipping' culture for having ingrained in me an inability to reward good service well. That calculator in the head never ceases to function, if you know what I mean.

Well, the world has gotten smaller for a long time now, and if Singapore wants to join the ranks of the global city in respect of service, it is time that we learn how to reward people for good service. A service charge always sounded forced, and we never really can establish an appreciation of the service rendered or the person who rendered it. We'd always feel that the service came packaged, as a matter of course, and the person who rendered the service is collecting on behalf of the establishment he/she happens to work for. It's not personal, and therein lies the problem.

Our economic planners are bullish on the service industry. Like it has always done, it is engineering a major shift of the economy toward the service industry. But service itself cannot be merely engineered. Formulas like 10% service charge + 3% cess + 2% whatever are an anarchronism in a truly service-based industry.

How can the service industry improve if we carry on like this?

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