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Monday, April 27, 2009

Value beyond the smile

Consumer poll

Do survey results suggest people want the most bang for their buck in current downturn?

Neo Chai Chin, chaichin@mediacorp.com.sg

CUSTOMER satisfaction isn’t just about service with a smile. The most satisfied customers are likely those who feel they have gotten the most bang for their buck, according to the latest nationwide survey tracking service excellence.

This could explain why the satisfaction ratings for public hospitals and polyclinics rose last year, while those for private hospitals fell. After their below-average showing in the previous survey in 2007, restructured hospitals improved their rating to 68.4 points, while private hospitals scored 69.9, a gap of just 1.5 points. In contrast, the private-public hospital satisfaction gap was 8.2 in 2007.

The higher scores for public healthcare could be due to more patients making the switch from pricier private services, said the heads of two restructured hospitals. “The economy being what it is, people are more sensitive about how much things costs and price differentials,” said Changi General Hospital’s chief executive TK Udairam.

“With the economic crisis slowly coming on, a dollar becomes more important. And public services are always cheaper,” said Alexandra Hospital’s chief executive Liak Teng Lit, who added public hospitals had worked hard to improve service standards.

KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital emerged as the top public hospital, while Raffles Hospital topped the private hospital category.

Seven other sectors such as retail, education, as well as food and beverage were also surveyed. Over 15,000 local households and 4,000 tourists were interviewed from last November to January for the Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore (CSIS) 2008, conducted by Singapore Management University’s (SMU) Institute of Service Excellence.

“From July, the CSIS scores will be released quarterly by sectors, with overall national scores announced in January of each year,” the SMU said.

For the 2008 survey, overall customer satisfaction here dipped 0.9 to 67.8 points. Public transport’s scores were largely below average, but the MRT system fared slightly better than taxis and public buses.

Budget airlines (63.6) scored lowest in the transport and logistics sector. F&B fared the worst among the eight sectors. Companies that topped their respective categories were the Ritz-Carlton Hotel (76.9), Singapore Airlines (74.6) and StarHub (69.1 for mobile telecom).

When told it was ranked the lowest among the fast food providers surveyed, McDonald’s said it would look into such “important feedback”. It said it would continue to serve up offerings that provide more value for money, such as its Value Lunch deal, which gives discounts of up to 30 per cent on set meals from noon to 2pm on weekdays.

But the CSIS has also raised some eyebrows among companies whose service standards exceed their internal benchmarks.

For instance, NTUC FairPrice’s results from its own mystery audits and compliment-to-complaint ratios “have been consistently above our internal benchmark”, said Mr Gerry Lee, chairman of FairPrice’s service excellence committee.

This disparity arises because customer service is just one factor driving satisfaction, explained Practice Assistant Professor Marcus Lee, the academic director of SMU’s Institute of Service Excellence.

Product quality, customers’ expectations and perceived value are also key. To improve their scores, companies need to deliver what customers want and benchmark themselves against industry competitors, he advised.

“A lot of times, companies offer things that customers don’t really want,” he said. And it doesn’t mean that customers with low expectations of the product end up more satisfied — in fact, the reverse is true. A customer with a previous pleasant experience would brush off minor hiccups the next time round, resulting in a self-fulfilling positive experience, said Prof Lee.

Compared to the customer satisfaction scores of seven other countries, Singapore scraped the bottom together with Denmark. The United States ranked top with 75.7 points after a slight improvement from last year. Sweden also saw an improvement. Others, including Hong Kong and South Korea, saw slight dips in customer satisfaction.

Visit www.smu.edu.sg/centres/ises/downloads/csisg2008_executivesummary.pdf for more details

From TODAY – Tuesday, 21-April-2009