Leveraging Our Treasured Malaysian Cultural Values to Elevate Customer Service Standards

After a month of waiting, my car is finally back in commission following a replacement of a defective automotive part. My customer service experience was fraught with long waiting periods, lack of progress updates, unanswered calls and the general we-can’t-help-you-much-and-you-will-just-have-to-wait attitude. Even though my car was finally ready for collection, I had to personally follow up through various channels to find out about it. To sum up my experience in two words: extremely frustrating.

What is your general expectation when it comes to customer service in Malaysia? Whether it is to claim warranty for a defective item, change your passport, pay your bills, or go for a medical check-up, wouldn’t you agree that Malaysians are generally prepared for the worst (e.g. long wait, no updates unless we ask, etc)? And when we do experience great customer service, we find ourselves surprised by it? What has shaped our expectation of customer service in such a manner?

Workload aside, one cultural reason could be that as indirect communicators Malaysians prefer speaking in generalities rather than in specifics . As such, rather than overcommunicate by providing a clear explanation for our situation, often we are left waiting without fully understanding the reason for it. Additionally, as a high uncertainty avoidance culture, Malaysians avoid making a commitment to something they’re unsure of. So instead of a definite reply about the delivery or completion of a service, we often get an “I don’t know” or “please just wait until we get back to you” response.

In his recent trip to Japan, our Malaysian prime minister commented on the work ethic of the Japanese and the value system they have of feeling a sense of shame if they fail to deliver the task at hand. It is really no surprise then that Japan has one of the highest customer service standards in the world. Their consistent exceptional customer service apparently arises from their cultural principal of “omotenashi,” loosely translated as Japanese hospitality.

In a similar manner, how can Malaysians leverage on our own cultural values to provide a higher standard of customer service? Let us consider three of them and how both the giver and receiver of the service can play their part in ensuring a favourable outcome:

  1. Relationship-focused culture. Malaysians highly value the time and interest taken to build a relationship with one another based on mutual trust and respect. The end goal of such a relationship is a long-term partnership.

Giver of CS: Greet your customers with a smile and go the extra mile if it’s within your capacity to do so. Take the time to find out about information that your customer needs and be generous in your explanation of the details. The wait isn’t so frustrating if your customers understand the steps you’ve taken to do the best for them and your great service can be the determining factor that turns them into repeat customers.

Receiver of CS: Be kind, friendly and have small talk with the giver of customer service whenever possible. Avoid a superior or demanding attitude even though you are the customer. Instead, appeal to their empathy and thank them for doing the best they can for you. If they like you, they will certainly go the extra mile for you.

  1. Collectivist culture. Malaysians value the needs and goals of the group as a whole rather than the desires of each individual. There is a strong sense of belonging to a group and behaving in ways that further the interests of that group.

Giver of CS: Front line personnel are often the face of the organization, and your high standards of service will reflect well on your organization’s viewpointf customer service excellence. You will experience a sense of pride in contributing towards your organization’s fine reputation and this in turn naturally attracts future customers.

Receiver of CS: Avoid having an individualistic attitude (e.g. “Don’t waste my time or you’re causing an inconvenience to me”) when requesting for a particular service. Remember that everyone is just trying to do their job the best they can. Emphasize the value of harmony and interdependence that will benefit both parties (e.g. “how can we help each other?”)

  1. Hierarchical culture. Malaysians often recognize the power and authority that belongs to those in a higher position than them and will submit to their requests and decisions.

Giver of CS: When faced with a challenging situation, try to involve your manager whenever possible as the customer will often respect the authority of the manager. Your manager may likely have more information and experience to deal with the situation, which you can then learn and imitate should you next encounter a similar case.

Receiver of CS: When faced with a challenging situation, politely ask if you can speak to the manager, not to complain, but to ask additional questions which the giver of customer service may not be able to answer. The manager may know of better solution options and can provide instructions which their subordinate will more readily follow.

At the end of the day, a positive customer service experience can determine whether someone returns as a repeat customer or takes his/her business elsewhere. Additionally, word-of-mouth communication from your existing customers will also influence whether you will gain new customers or not. It’s important to remember that it takes both the giver and the receiver of service to ensure a positive outcome. As Malaysia continues to develop its medical tourism and hospitality industries, high standards for customer service is a definite must for success. Contact us to see how you can leverage your Malaysian cultural values to deliver customer service excellence.

By: Boleh Blogger