Calling Bluff.

Cold weather inspires me.

A couple of weeks ago, I walked out of the cinema a little past 12 midnight after watching The Hobbit (Desolution of Smaug) and into the post-rain Orchard Road with the chilly breeze making me shiver while I walked to the taxi stand. The awe I felt from the very epic movie hadn’t left me yet, and the rather empty street left me very pensive. Moments like this make me want to write.

This is an edited version of my initial draft from that night.

Well fret not, for this is not one of those lengthy movie review posts. This was me at home being slightly refreshed after a shower but feeling like my brain was foggy and ready to slip into a coma, yet my thoughts were still running like clockwork and my fingers found their places on the keyboard quite naturally as they spewed the stuff going in my head.

I’d like to address something that’s been on my mind recently. There was one evening not too long ago when I met with a friend who said that someone very experienced in the hotel industry told him that the GM of a hotel should take all the s**t so that everyone else is happy. Well, I’m calling bluff on that statement because it perpetuates the culture of “the customer is always right” and does not take into account the evolution of humankind and society in general. Also, it undermines the level of respect & professionalism people in hospitality so deserve acknowledgement of.

Just a little disclaimer here, I’m discussing a trend that I personally observe through personal experience in the business so far and my reflections are confined to what I see in my work in Singapore and also from what I read in all industry commentaries, blogs, publications etc. I may or may not be accurate in trying to apply the same trend across the entire industry regionally and you are free to point out areas that do not apply in your area.

First, a little background…

When travel exploded and the lodging business became an enormous industry complete with standard rooms and mini bars, finding qualified service professionals became a challenge due to the rapid growth of hotel companies and therefore, just like a factory line, jobs were simplified and it became easier to fill positions that required little or no formal training. Taking the restaurant maître d’ position, these days in most fine dining places I would call them, at most, host or hostesses because they just lack the finesse one would expect of the person who has the power to fill a restaurant properly (and therefore is responsible for how profitable each business day turns out) or not. Instead, we have table management systems that robotically classify and record the customer. Anyone who knows how to operate a PC or tablet can stand in the hostess position. Or maybe some better ones who know what they’re doing will show discretion when doing table planning according to confirmed reservations.

Some places are bit conscientious with customer relationship management (CRM) and make better use of guest history data, and there are some great examples of how digital marketing has helped making personalized communication with individual customers more easily executed. However, when it comes to face to face customer interactions, the service level has become either obligatory with a sense of entitlement in the form of tips, or non-existent where the tipping culture is not common and worst, when service charges are not duly shared with the service team (as seen in many restaurants and hotels in Singapore). But I digress.

Back to the hospitality career, the truth is you won’t need to rise through the ranks over years of training starting from busing tables to earn that position anymore. So, due to the lack in skill and therefore empowerment for people who are supposed to have that skill to make certain decisions, hospitality “professionals” are now more often than not merely a unit in a hierarchy that guests know if they step on to talk to the “higher ups” they might get away with something as long as they make a big enough fuss (or threaten to – my personal favourite – “write to the press”) on something they are unsatisfied about. I don’t blame them for thinking that because they have been getting their way. Hospitality professionals are not being fair to themselves and should give their profession a lot more credibility, to be honest.

I’m especially calling bluff on the mentality that working in hospitality means pleasing the customer by all means. Hospitality these days is so different from before. Taking an example of the luxury hotel industry from the classical origins stemming from primarily providing butler service or stewardship to guests who usually came from privileged backgrounds and therefore expected a certain level of decorum and treatment to what it means now to provide good service, I see now a shift from servitude to transactional exchange in the way service is being provided.

In the past, service means taking care of the guest’s every need in a discrete, professional manner. Now, even though the expectations from both sides are quite different and unpredictable due to the guest being anyone from anywhere who is able to pay and therefore expect different levels of attention and fussing about, the general expectation of hospitality service is still stuck in the old school of thought.

What is lacking though, in my humble opinion, is the respect for people working in hospitality – both coming from the customer who is under the impression that he/she is always right and therefore can and should demand for rules to be bent and favours to be given – as well as front line hospitality professionals who relent (by giving complimentary things or making exceptions) in the face of abuse and spoil the customer. I loved it when one of the hotel managers I used to work for issued an official ban on a club member for being abusive to staff. It sends the right message that customers should learn to be civil if they want to be treated right. Even as I deal with cases of complaints from customers in my work that require more attention, I always address the specific complaint and respond in a polite but fair manner. Sometimes a complaint is not about getting freebies but about sorting out issues that hospitality professionals should very well thank their customers for highlighting them too.

One would normally expect an experienced hospitality professional to be unfazed by amazingly relentless customers who make a mountain out of a molehill in order to get their way, but these days, I find it hard to find someone who truly understands service professionalism to handle these situations adequately.

But of course, service satisfaction goes both ways – the modern customer is more well-travelled, more savvy, more educated and much more well-connected when you consider the developments of affordable travel, technology & social media. A good thing came out of this too – suddenly Asians understood what western / European restaurant is supposed to be like because they travel to Europe or America or Australia for a foodie adventure. And they understand too, that sometimes if service is genuine and sincere, a bit of a mishap is very forgivable indeed. Asian hospitality has also evolved to emulate that kind of international standard of service, while adding their own touch of personal service, with excellent examples, generally speaking, like Peninsula and Mandarin Oriental hotel chains.

What is sorely lacking too, is the (no, not common sense) awareness & acknowledgement that The Customer Is Not Stupid. It’s a simple lesson in communication – address what the customer is sore about and provide a solution. If the customer is trying to be unreasonable, stand your ground and offer the best alternative. That’s all there is to it, really. But I’m time and again amazed at how badly complaints are managed. I’ve seen people try to lie without blinking an eye on what they can or cannot do for the customer. Well it might have worked in the past, but not anymore.

In conclusion, I just want to say, what drove me to complete this post was the pretty lively response I got on my Facebook post that read as following:

“I have this urge to set up a customer service etiquette school especially for the hospitality industry. A bit fed up of how inadequate people in the industry are to handle basic customer complaints. 

Hope to finally bring up the service level in this part of SEA. Will also need English lessons to complement the customer service communication training. Will also need people / trainers from Ritz / Four Seasons / Peninsula / Mandarin Oriental background. Anybody interested to set up shop with me?”

It’s been about over an hour and comments and PMs are still coming in. I say maybe I should start doing something about this! Educate the customer to be civil and reasonable, and train the hospitality professionals to be authentic and sincere. 🙂

Christmas ’13 / Birthday ‘ 14 wishlist

Disclaimer : this list is not a hint for people to buy me stuff. It’s something I plan to get for myself! Tell me if I’m crazy to not wanta get fancier stuff. Better still, if you got cooler stuff to recommend, please educate me.

Just so I can tick off this list which, for the record, is the most geeky to date, here are the lovely inventions I’m lusting after 🙂

1) Google Chromebook (affordable & constantly updates itself – light, portable, etc. Need I say more?)
2) iPad mini retina (non mutually-exclusive with item 1)
3) Pebble watch (cuz it’s cool)
4) Game of thrones season 2 onwards (I know, I’m so out-of-date on this)
5) new phone (maybe iPhone, maybe not. Never used one. Not sure if I can do without an Android)

That’s all! Short & greedy post, completed while commuting home from town. My plan for a mini digital detox has failed miserably.

Latent Drive

I’ve signed up for something called Creativity, Innovation and Change on Coursera starting September 2013. Not sure if I am going to complete the course, but it is supposed to help me discover and nurture my inner Creative Person.

I do agree that everyone is capable of creativity but I want to know how much more creative I can be. At the moment, I do believe that my creativity lies in my words.

I love language and I regard this as the pinnacle of how I express myself.  Especially when I am excited about something but can’t express it through voice and action (mostly because I’m physically in my cubicle at the office and my office floor is extremely quiet most of the time).

I used to plan my blog entries while commuting between work and home. I made the mistake, many times, of not jotting down the exact awesome phrases that the creative part of my brain spews out into my consciousness, therefore a lot of time I end up rehashing the literary expression and somehow it doesn’t always end up ideal.

I spend so much time having conversations with myself that I managed to dream up an entire imaginary relationship once while commuting. I’m often afraid that syndrome has not gone away and I’m trapped in my own thoughts with no one knowing what’s going on. It’s easy to get lost in your own thoughts while commuting. Observing others watching Korean dramas on their tablets, checking Facebook like an addict or basically just indulging in whatever distraction they have to ease away the awkwardness of standing too close to strangers in a confined space inspires me sometimes to think of either ways to magically teleport myself to an open space or, worse, start singing at the top of my lungs.

This feeling of not being able to express exactly how you feel in the moment creates, for me, an inner energy that gets swallowed mentally into my brain. Social etiquette, civil mindedness in public spaces etc limits that kind of expression for someone who’s either not a busker or celebrity doing an on-location shoot.

I call this feeling Latent Drive. Like latent energy in physics just waiting to be let out, latent drive is the energy force in us that makes us want to just do it. And I want to learn how to harness my latent drive through discovery of creative expression.

Destiny

“Whatever will be, will be.”
In this world as of this age, does this hold true? The factors affecting the result of a chain of events are so far fetching and unpredictable that, whatever will be, becomes what you will it to be.
Yet, willing ain’t the same as wishing. In the past, people generally lived in societies that had suppressed freedom of thought & expression. Today, especially with the freedom movements & uprisings etc, suddenly it’s perfectly fine to be your own person. Suddenly individuality is celebrated. Suddenly it’s ok to be terrifically explicit in what you want for yourself.

Except, not everyone realises the power of this freedom until they hold it in their hands.

What wisdom it must take for one to know with certainty what’s best for oneself. What resolution it must take to stick with your own agenda; your bucket list, squashing all forms of procrastination & self doubt, to soldier on & go forth to realize your, should I say, dream.

Dreams. Such a unioxymoron. Epitome of a paradox contained in one word. Fleeting yet poignant; within sight yet so hard to grasp.

What do we do to finally make it real? What do we do to finally be able to look in the mirror and sigh with satisfaction (not like an opened champagne bottle) & tell ourselves yes, I’ve did it, I’ve nothing to regret about?

If only life was that scientific.

Pit Stop

Here’s the thing. I’ve been away for a while because I’ve been distracted. The kind of distraction that pulls me away from my usual routine of nights out with the girls because I met someone who was only here for a while. That’s all I’m going to say about this matter. I always explain my absence and this time it’s not any different. Lah-dee-dah…

Quite a bit has happened in the past (does a quick check) 2 months. I went to watch Rabbit Hole by Pangdemonium which was an emotional, expertly executed production by the Pangs, who never fail to deliver best theater productions in Singapore with a bevy of talented young and experienced cast members, which is why I’m a season ticket holder with them this year. 🙂 You can read all about it on this page

Then I also went to see Lord of the Rings but in concert at the Star Theater. Imagine watching Fellowship of the Ring but with a live orchestra. Yea, it happened. And it was phenomenal. But sometimes I didn’t even notice the live music because I was so absorbed by the moving pictures on the screen. Yet, the music was so paramount in putting more layers of experience. LOTR will not be the same without the music, that’s for sure.

Apart from culturally-enriching experiences, I also very recently bought *gasp* a ukelele on Groupon for SGD28. It looks like a kiwi. And I had to collect it myself from a dodgy part of a dodgy building in a less glamorous part of town. BUT I am glad I got it because thanks to the many helpful YouTube tutorials and websites that show you how to tune your ukelele as well as the chords for most pop songs, I am now kinda comfortable with strumming a few tunes already. It’s been about a week and I can play some songs and even wrote one when I was suddenly inspired by a frustrating event. No, it’s not good enough to be showcased.

But anyway. I also went on a getaway trip to Boracay with the aforementioned individual for a week. And it was a bitch to get there as we did a transit at Manila but it was worth it. Let this picture speak for itself:

Unfiltered image of Boracay. Peeps on paddle boards & swimming in the turquoise water

Image taken in Boracay. Peeps on paddle board & swimming in the turquoise water. Taken on a Samsung Galaxy S2.

Yup. Kinda makes you wonder why you haven’t started booking your flight and hotel to the next holiday, doesn’t it? Sometimes, you just have to (to quote Richard Branson) just “screw it and do it”. And trust me, no matter how it turns out, it’s worth it.

My philosophy on travelling is: you never regret anything because every experience is unique. So just enjoy the moments, even if it doesn’t seem very enjoyable at the time they are happening. And worry about your credit card bills later. Don’t let money rule your life. Let money make things happen for you. Money can be earned back. But time won’t come back after you have lost it. YOLO (you only live once) principle in application here. Totally makes sense to me in this context! 

Anyway. Lots of big news have been happening around the world in the recent months too. Mostly not so good ones, unfortunately. So this morning when I read that Proposition 8 has finally been overruled in California in the USA, it made me smile. And so did this impressive 14 year old boy whose father obviously did a fantastic job of parenting him. While most teenagers struggle awkwardly with the changes they go through mentally and physically, this young man has already come to terms with who he is, and is even unfazed by the media attention that comes along with his public lobbying for gay rights. Hitchens will be proud of his public speaking delivery style. He definitely has a future in politics, social causes or show business.

Sexuality has always been a big topic, and we need to be able to talk about it as comfortably as Russell Brand (@rustyrockets) and his interviewer Josh Zepps on Huff Post Live, in this awesome 30mins clip where Russell impresses with his depth of world knowledge and points of view. I just love British comedians over American ones (except for Craig Ferguson who is originally Scottish of course) because of not only the accent and straight talking, but more because of the intellect and serious underlying messages they have in their comedic acts. I really hope Russell comes to Singapore on his The Messiah Complex World Tour because I would totally go see him live!

I would go on, but this post is cluttered enough as it is. I hope you enjoyed reading and checking out the links. Hopefully I will feel inspired (or incensed) enough to write another one soon!

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