Service staff here do enough to meet expectations - but not when it comes to going beyond the call of duty, a survey of local residents has found.
In knowledge, responsiveness, attitude and communication, most customers said staff met their expectations.
But of the 300 polled, 56 per cent said workers in places such as restaurants, transport, shops and hotels performed "below expectations" when it came to doing more.
The top three reasons they put this down to were firms not investing in their service staff, employees not being motivated to give good service and companies finding it hard to attract talent. Nearly a third - 31 per cent - said staff "met expectations" in going beyond the call of duty, and 13 per cent felt they exceeded them.
"Workers aren't really incentivised to be better or do better, and are rewarded either way without having it explained to them just how valuable doing the job well is," said Miss Alexandra del Rosario, 25, a programme manager who was not surveyed.
At a local wine bar, she said, staff told her party first that the kitchen was "pending" and then, after an hour, that food from the bar's attached deli could be consumed only outside the premises, without explaining why.
"It was uncompromising and senseless," she said. "We left."
But managers and service staff had a different perspective.
Both said their top three challenges are that customers here are getting more demanding, they have difficulty attracting the right local talent and service professionals are not motivated to deliver good service.
"Paying commission helps," said Ms Lena Ong, 33, co-owner of hosiery and accessories chain Citrusox. "I look for staff who are able to take their own initiative and talk to customers to sell."
Customers, she said, want variety and new designs constantly, which can be hard for small retailers, who face competition from larger ones and online shopping.
Mr Kevin Cheong, chairman of the Association of Singapore Attractions, said: "Singapore customers are more exposed, better travelled and thus, they tend to compare more."
They are also more vocal than ever, especially on social media, and expect more when they pay more, he said.
But managers should also help staff to understand customers' demands, while customers could give compliments and credit when due, Mr Cheong said.
Eighty-one per cent of local customers said current service levels were acceptable, above average or excellent, while 19 per cent said they were poor or below average.
Those who took the online survey in April were aged 18 to 54, representative of the national population, who ate out, visited malls and took public transport more than three times a month.
Their views were compared with those of 53 service staff and 30 managers polled in person here, as well as 80 tourists from more than 10 countries.
In general, tourists felt service staff here exceeded expectations.
Singapore scored 69.9 per cent in last year's Customer Satisfaction Index of Singapore, up from 68.7 per cent in 2007. But it still lags behind the United States (76 per cent) and South Korea (73 per cent).
The new Gems Up survey shows there is room for improvement, said Mr Cheong.
It was carried out in April by market research group Taylor Nelson Sofres on behalf of the Go the Extra Mile for Service (Gems) Up campaign (an initiative by Spring Singapore), the Singapore Tourism Board, Singapore Workforce Development Agency, the Institute of Service Excellence at the Singapore Management University and the National Trades Union Congress.