No more ‘take it or leave it’ service mentality in Macau
by Desmond Lam

No more ‘take it or leave it’ service mentality in Macau by Desmond Lam

I have just returned to Macau after two years of absence and found myself in a slightly different environment. With ballooning gaming revenue, improved amenities, and thousands of tourists each day particularly coming from mainland China, Macau appears on track to be a top international tourist destination.

While service quality at immigration checkpoints and some government offices seems to have improved, those in some shops and restaurants frequented by tourists are still undesirably poor by any international standard. An under-par service quality provided to our visitors can seriously tarnish Macau’s international reputation and discourage repeat visitorship.

For instance, during one of my recent visits to a respectable retail store operating within a major mall frequented by many tourists, I witnessed an ‘almost’ discriminatory treatment to a mainland Chinese tourist. This tourist’s innocent and polite question about a shirt was met with a loud and disrespectful reply from one of the sales ladies at the store.

“Do you have an XL for this shirt?” she asked in perfect Mandarin. The sales lady replied in Mandarin but with a strong Cantonese accent, “Xiao jie, they are all here!”
“So, do you have XL?” asked the tourist again politely and the sales lady shouted back with a glare, “Tell you…all here…all here…see, all here…you understand me…all here.”
Interestingly, moments ago I actually approached the same sale lady and asked (in good Cantonese) if there was an L size for my shirt. She smiled and happily searched one for me.

A few weeks later, I had dim sum lunch in a restaurant at the same mall. Two well-dressed young mainland Chinese tourists sat on a table just next to me. As they read through the menu, one of them waved for a waitress. “I want to order” said the young tourist in Mandarin. The waitress gave her a cold, grim look, “You need to write on the paper to order, ok”. The young tourist replied back, “Yes, I know. But there is no paper and pen on this table”. The waitress now appeared frustrated, took a paper menu from her pocket, placed it on the table, and then hurried away. Then, when their food came, the tourists asked for some vinegar to go with their shanghai dumplings. The waitress told them to wait and walked to serve another table. But she did not return. The tourists later found out that there was a small bottle containing vinegar on their table.

That afternoon, I met with a few mainland Chinese visitors and had a chat. I asked them about their impression of Macau and its casinos, knowing they are eager gamblers. The first thing they mentioned was the service attitude of our casino dealers. ‘They don’t seem to care or like their job!’ said one guy and another guy added, “They don’t smile and one of them was rude to us. It’s very bad!”

I am sure many readers have their own personal experiences with regards to poor customer services in Macau. The fact is: There is still a lot to be done to make Macau a truly international tourist destination. Today, the willingness and ability of our service personnel (e.g. in retail stores, restaurants, and casinos) to respond to changes in modern Chinese consumption patterns will likely determine the fate of their companies. On the basis of good customer service quality, our relationship with our tourists can be forged and sustain over time.

Service companies in Macau, therefore, need to connect better with our main tourism sources, particularly our mainland Chinese visitors. At present, this connection is still lacking. There is a significant gap between expected and perceived service quality. There are many reasons for this. In some cases, the level of Mandarin proficiency among Macau service personnel is simply not good enough. Poor language skills lead to miscommunication and service delivery failure. In other cases, our service personnel are simply over-worked due to understaffing and/or overwhelmingly large crowds of patrons.

In many cases, there is a lack of cultural sensitivity (i.e. an understanding of the mainland Chinese tourists). Just because they are Chinese does not make them the same as any Macanese or Hong Kong Chinese. The fact is that their values and purchase behaviour can differ substantially from us. Often, it is the lack of interest to serve our mainland Chinese customers better that bestowed our service personnel; a matter of mind, beliefs and attitude.

Occasionally, we despise our mainland Chinese visitors and neighbours; many whom we view as less educated, loud, rude, backward, less civic-minded, and cocky. We have developed a psychological ‘love-hate’ imbalance within us that affects our service mentality; we hate their attitude/manners but like them to spend. However, our mindset has to change.

Needless to say, many studies have showed that there is a positive relationship between service quality, customer satisfaction, and customer purchase intentions. There are five dimensions to service quality as defined by SERVQUAL:
1. Reliability – our ability to provide what was promised, dependably and accurately.
2. Assurance – the knowledge and courtesy of our employees, and their ability to convey trust and confidence in our customers.
3. Tangibles – our physical facilities and equipment, and the appearance of our personnel.
4. Empathy – the degree of caring and individual attention provided to our customers.
5. Responsiveness – our willingness to help our customers and provide prompt service to them.

The ability to do well in each one of these dimensions can potentially enhance Chinese customer perceived service quality. In some studies on Chinese patrons, Reliability and Assurance were found to drive satisfaction. Empathy and Responsiveness are also important factors in determining Chinese customer perceptions of service quality. Depending on the context, Tangible is often found to be the least important.

Put it in simple terms: Our ability to deliver what we promise, to convey trust and confidence, and to care, respect and help our mainland Chinese customers are key elements in building a strong service industry within Macau; one that is unbiased, eager, and on par with other international destinations. This is what service companies and their personnel in Macau should strive to achieve so as to propel Macau into a world-class tourist destination.

* This article was originally published in Macau Daily Times (http://www.macaudailytimes.com.mo/opinion/17403-more-take-leave-service-mentality-Macau.html), 30th Sept, pp. 4.

Date Posted: 07-Oct-2010

Desmond Lam is an associate professor of marketing at the University of Macau. He can be contacted at DesmondL@umac.mo.

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