How to Deliver “Wow” Through Service

It’s about creating a service culture. 
How to Deliver “Wow” Through Service

Google “Zappos” and “excellent customer service” and you will find stories of the “insane lengths” that the online retail company goes to, to satisfy its shoppers, including talking to a customer for 10 straight hours. Zappos, which sees itself first as a service company (that happens to sell shoes), is guided by a set of core values, most famously, “Deliver Wow Through Service”.

Great service in the private sector can lead to increased profits and customer loyalty. The public sector, not being profit-driven and is instead accountable for public funds, simply can’t go to the “insane lengths” for service à la Zappos. Yet great service in the public sector is just as important as it lays the foundation for building trust. So while their approach to service is different, public agencies still aspire to “wow” customers.

In fact, many public officers do “wow” customers, going by the list of PS21 Star Service Award winners. They don’t hold 10-hour-long chats but they do go the extra mile, as glowing Thank You notes from the public show.

Customer Service Executive Irwan Awang from the Ministry of Manpower’s Foreign Manpower Management Division, for example, single-handedly changed the mind of a customer about the Public Service. “I was never impressed by services provided by ministries until I met Irwan,” wrote this customer. “He made my day.”

What’s his secret sauce? “Thick skin,” quips Mr Irwan, now four years into the job at an enforcement unit that handles complex, even contentious, foreign manpower issues. The work is so tough that Mr Irwan is now the longest-serving customer service officer in the division. He jokingly refers to himself as the “overstayer”.

Jokes aside, Mr Irwan’s ability to empathise with often distraught or frustrated customers helps him to understand their needs and concerns. Besides offering them explanations, advice or alternatives, he is constantly asking himself the “what if” and “how can I…” questions to better help them. His bosses say his sincerity, tact and clarity have led customers to accept his advice, even in difficult situations.

How to Deliver “Wow” Through Service
HE’S A STAR! Irwan Awang from the Manpower Ministry has wowed customers with his empathy and patience.
Once Mr Irwan counselled a run-away foreign domestic worker who was hungry, fearful of losing her work permit and worried about her debt. Mr Irwan helped her to realise that thinking about ending her life would not resolve her problems, and managed to calm her down. Through his patient counselling and tactful handling of the situation, he managed to sort out the work dispute between the domestic worker and her employer.

Mr Irwan’s drive to give his best at work makes him a standout – he’s won five service excellence awards in four years, including this year’s PS21 Star Service Award. He isn’t a unique phenomenon, but the Service could certainly benefit from having more officers like him, especially as expectations of public services are growing.
Mr Irwan’s ability to empathise with often distraught or frustrated customers helps him to understand their needs and concerns.

Mr Tay Choon Hong, Director (Services) at the PS21 Office who oversees service delivery policies across the Public Service, points out that many public agencies are prioritising service delivery by increasing staff training.

More support for training, both for frontline staff and managers, is now available, with a dedicated team from the Civil Service College (CSC) formed in April 2013 to oversee service management and delivery, training and development.

“It will not just be copying the good practices from other organisations, but conducting practice research so that new ideas are synthesised, pilot-tested and refined before applying to our context,” says Mr Roger Tan, CSC’s Assistant Chief Executive. “In the longer term, we will develop in-house tools to diagnose service strengths and gaps in agencies.”

Currently the Public Service is experiencing a high turnover of frontline officers who leave to pursue higher education, says Mr Tay.

“To make it attractive for young officers to stay on as professionals in the service field, the Public Service Division is partnering various agencies to [look] at how service jobs and career tracks can be redesigned,” he reveals.

But let’s not pin the quality of service entirely on frontline staff. “Senior management has to walk the talk to inspire a service mindset and culture,” stresses Mr Tay.

“Whether you are a policy-maker, a backend systems officer, a frontline customer service officer, know that you are part of the service delivery chain.”


Service educator Ron Kaufman says, “Service is taking action to create value for someone else.” He observes that most people receive little service training while in school. “They get a job and the company has to deal with the fact that nobody ever taught them what the fundamental principles of service are and how to apply it and you’re stuck with remedial customer service training.” He suggests that teaching service early on in schools can build a stronger culture of service in the whole country.


While service providers have to create value for customers, customers can also contribute to a culture of “uplifting service” by asking “What can I do that would create value for my service provider?” says Mr Kaufman. A compliment, a smile or even a nicely phrased request and feedback heartens service providers, inspiring them to give even better service.


How To Handle Tough Customers

How To Deliver “Wow” Through Service


Bring customers to a quieter place to calm them down. This helps them to listen and think with a clear mind.


Let customers vent their frustrations first. Hear them out; then suggest solutions or alternatives.


Don’t just say “I understand” as customers might think you agree with them. Paraphrase what you heard instead. Never raise your voice or be sarcastic. Counter persistence with patience.

Source: Irwan Awang, Customer Service Executive, Ministry of Manpower

    May 13, 2013
    Bridgette See
    John Heng
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