After being away from Macau for two years, I found myself in a slightly different environment upon my return. With ballooning gaming revenue, improved high-quality amenities, and thousands of tourists each day coming predominantly from mainland China, Macau appears on track to become a top international tourist destination.
While service quality at immigration checkpoints and some government offices seems to have improved, there are still challenges in some casinos, shops and restaurants frequented by tourists. The service is poor by any international standard. Sub-par service provided to Macau visitors can seriously tarnish the SAR’s international reputation and discourage repeat visits.
For example, in one of my recent visits to a respectable retail store operating within a major mall frequented by many tourists, I witnessed “almost” discriminatory treatment to a mainland Chinese tourist. This tourist’s innocent and polite question about a shirt was met with a loud and disrespectful reply from one of the sales ladies at the store.
“Do you have an XL for this shirt?” she asked in perfect Mandarin. The sales lady replied in Mandarin but with a strong Cantonese accent, “Xiao jie, they are all here!”
“So, do you have XL?” asked the tourist again politely, and the sales lady shouted back with a glare, “Tell you… all here… all here… see, all here… you understand me?”
Interestingly, moments earlier I actually had approached the same sales lady and asked (in good Cantonese) if there was an L size for my shirt. She smiled and happily searched one for me.
A few weeks later, I had dim sum lunch in a restaurant at the same mall. Two well-dressed young mainland Chinese tourists sat at a table just next to me. As they read through the menu, one of them waved for a waitress.
“I want to order,” said the young tourist in Mandarin.
The waitress gave her a cold, grim look.
“You need to write on the paper to order, OK?”
The young tourist replied back, “Yes, I know. But there is no paper and pen on this table.”
The waitress now appeared frustrated, took a paper menu from her pocket, placed it on the table, and walked away.
Then, when their food came, the tourists asked for some vinegar to go with their shanghai dumplings. The waitress told them to wait and walked to serve another table. But she did not return. The tourists later found out themselves that there was a small bottle of vinegar on their table.
That afternoon, I met with a few mainland Chinese visitors and had a chat. I asked them about their impression of Macau and its casinos, knowing they were eager gamblers. The first thing they mentioned was the service attitude of our casino dealers.
“They don’t seem to care or like their job!” said one guy.
Another added, “They don’t smile and one of them was rude to us. It’s very bad!”
I am sure many readers have their own experiences with regards to poor customer service in Macau. The fact is: There is still a lot to be done to make Macau a truly international tourist destination.
Today, the willingness and ability of our service personnel in casinos, retail stores and restaurants to respond to changes in modern Chinese consumption patterns will likely determine the fate of their companies. On the basis of good customer service quality, better relationships with the tourists can be forged and sustained. But it will take some time.
Service companies in Macau, therefore, need to connect better with their main source of tourism, the mainland Chinese visitors. At present, this connection is still lacking. There is a significant gap between expected and perceived service quality.
There are many reasons for this. In some cases, the level of Mandarin proficiency among Macau service personnel is simply not good enough. Poor language skills lead to miscommunication and service delivery failure. In other cases, service personnel are simply overworked due to understaffing and/or overwhelmingly large crowds of patrons.
In other cases, there is a lack of cultural sensitivity (i.e. an understanding of the mainland Chinese tourists). Just because they are Chinese does not make them the same as any Macanese or Hong Kong Chinese. The fact is that their values and purchase behavior can differ substantially from the Macau workers. Often, it is the lack of interest to serve the mainland Chinese customers better that plagues service personnel; it’s a matter of mind, beliefs and attitude.
Occasionally, service workers look down on the mainland Chinese visitors, who they may view as less educated, loud, rude, backward, less civic-minded and cocky. These workers have developed a psychological “love-hate” imbalance that impacts their service mentality: they hate their attitude/manners but love them to spend (and tip). That mindset has to change.
Many studies have showed that there is a positive relationship among service quality, customer satisfaction, and customer purchase intentions.
There are five dimensions to service quality as defined by SERVQUAL (a service quality framework developed in the 1980s by Zeithaml, Parasuraman and Berry):
- Reliability—the ability to provide what was promised, dependably and accurately.
- Assurance—the knowledge and courtesy of the employees, and their ability to convey trust and confidence in the customers.
- Tangibles—the physical facilities and equipment, and the appearance of the personnel.
- Empathy—the degree of caring and individual attention provided to the customers.
- Responsiveness—the willingness to help customers and provide prompt service to them.
The ability to do well in each one of these dimensions can enhance customer perceived service quality. In some studies on Chinese patrons, reliability and assurance were found to drive satisfaction. Empathy and responsiveness are also important factors in determining Chinese customer perceptions of service quality. Depending on the context, tangible is surprisingly often found to be the least important.
Put in simple terms: The abilities to deliver what has been promised, to convey trust and confidence, and to care, respect and help the mainland Chinese customers are key elements in building a strong service industry within Macau— one that is unbiased, eager, and on par with other international destinations. This is what service companies and their personnel in Macau should strive to achieve so as to propel Macau into a world-class tourist destination.