Hawkers brush up on customer service skills at two-day course

Hawkers Ch'ng Bee Geok (second from left), 66, and Lee Bee Sim, 60, role-playing during yesterday's session. About 70 hawkers from Yu Hua Village Market and Food Centre attended the course.
Hawkers Ch'ng Bee Geok (second from left), 66, and Lee Bee Sim, 60, role-playing during yesterday's session. About 70 hawkers from Yu Hua Village Market and Food Centre attended the course.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Two-day course covers topics such as greeting patrons, handling complaints

Hawker Chua Suan Lee once had a customer who claimed to have found a centipede in a bowl of yong tau foo - after finishing most of the meal.

Smelling a rat, she refused the patron's demand for more than $100 as "hospital fees". The 52-year-old even volunteered to have the National Environment Agency inspect her stall.

This was just one of many anecdotes that around 70 hawkers from Yu Hua Village Market and Food Centre in Jurong shared yesterday at a customer service training session.

Social enterprise Project Dignity had worked with the association representing these hawkers to organise the two-day course during the food centre's spring- cleaning break.

The module included tips on how to greet customers better, handle complaints and even placate patrons in long queues.

Earlier this year, the Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) chose Project Dignity and training provider Eduquest International Institute to help train more than 2,000 people over the next two years to work in hawker centres, foodcourts and other food outlets.

Project Dignity's executive director Koh Seng Choon said more than 200 people have signed up for classes on customer service, food hygiene, stall display and hot beverages since June. Upcoming modules include cooking lessons for local dishes such as chicken rice and noodles.

He added that he plans to reach out to other hawker associations to organise similar sessions.

The hawkers who attended yesterday's class were mostly in their 40s and older and veterans in the trade. They each paid a subsidised $30 fee and received a WDA certificate for completing the module.

Madam Tee Moe Fa, a 48-year-old economic rice seller, said a few of the tips, such as letting customers finish their complaints without interrupting, seemed a tad obvious but were useful reminders.

Others were new to her.

"Using an open palm instead of pointing to give directions, for example, which is more polite," she said in Mandarin.

Madam Tee and the others also enjoyed the opportunity to listen to their fellow stallholders' stories and tips about customers.

"It's quite rare that we get to spend time with one another like this," she said.

zengkun@sph.com.sg