Friday, 22 May 2015

[Straits Times] Understand difficulties retail staff face

I HAVE been working in retail for more than three decades.
While I used to have teams consisting of all Singaporeans, I now have teams of foreign staff ("Service levels here still not up to scratch: Experts"; Wednesday).
Very few Singaporeans want to work full time in retail. Most want to work part time and are usually unavailable to work on weekends or late shifts.
Part-timers usually have to commit to set working hours, for example, occasional weekends.
However, this is waived if they are later unable to do so. This is because the part-timers would resign if the management does not waive the requirement, and this would worsen the scenario for manpower planning.
While foreign staff are usually hard-working, service-oriented and energetic enough to work long hours, there sometimes is a language barrier.
For instance, staff from China speak poor English, and hence, get intimidated by customers. If they are from the Philippines, they cannot speak Mandarin, and are unable to serve Chinese customers. Given these language issues, certainly, some form of sign language will be used, but this still means a compromised level of service.
It is also normal for foreign staff to feel homesick and miss their families. They may also have to rush home if their family members fall ill.
Full-time retail staff have a lot to cope with. They have to help their colleagues with language issues, overcoming obstacles, developing product knowledge and accumulating sales numbers.
If the full-time staff do not do this well, new staff will likely leave.
Full-time staff have to work long hours, and multitask and stay productive even when they are physically and mentally tired.
It is normal for key staff to continue to report for work even though they are unwell, as there are not enough staff to relieve them.
With the foreign worker quota, companies are stretched thin in terms of manpower, and are struggling to find ways to stabilise their teams, such as by depending more on part-time staff. They cannot move forward.
In the search for full-time Singaporean retail staff, good customer service has been affected.
There are two sides to every story. We expect many things from retail teams, but do we know the issues they face or how to help them do their job?
If we could do that, it would be a win-win situation for all.
Mary Chan Pheck Li (Ms)