ES2002 Business Communication Term Report

An investigation into the level of customer service at the Central Forum NUS Co-op bookstore.

Executive Summary

Recently, customer service standards in Singapore have become a major issue due to the growth in the service industry. Our research group tasked by AEL, has chosen to focus on NUS Co-Op as there have been an increasing number of complaints reflecting poor customer satisfaction. A study was undertaken to investigate the extent of the poor quality of service, to uncover the reasons for this problem and to propose solutions to resolve it.

Research data was gathered through a survey of 50 NUS undergraduates, and an interview with one Co-op staff member.

The report concludes that most of the complaints were due to the staffs’ poor attitude, lack of initiative and unawareness of customer’s expectation. These problems can be attributed to the lack of motivation of staff together with the repetitive nature of their jobs.

The use of incentives has been shown to be effective towards reigniting passion in a worker’s job, motivating them to go the extra mile for customer service. Non-cash awards also prove to be more rewarding for the company and the recipient.

It is therefore critical that the Co-Op have in place such a structure of rewarding staff with good performance as well as set up feedback channels, so as to better understand the expectations of their customers, thus helping staff improve and maintain high service standards.


Recently, the issue of customer service standards in Singapore has become a major issue due to the growth of the service industry. In order to strategize customer service management in Singapore for the next 5 years, we have been tasked by Asia Executive Linx (AEL) to conduct a research into a service industry. We have chosen to investigate the reason for the large number of complaints received regarding the service staff at the NUS Co-op Bookstore at the Central Forum and suggest recommendations to improve the situation.

1.1 Methodology

Feedback was gathered through a survey questionnaire issued to 50 respondents consisting entirely of NUS undergraduates as they make up the main customer base of the Co-op Bookstore. An observational study and interview were also done on the Co-op staff to find the causes of the problem.

1.2 Scope

In the subsequent sections of the report, we will investigate how respondents rank the importance of customer service in relation to other factors, their level of satisfaction with the level of customer service provided and their opinions on how the service of the NUS Co-op could be better improved. Following which, we will discuss some of the causes of the problems and then give recommendations to solve them.

1.3 Limitation

The data collected from the survey may not be an accurate representation of opinion of the entire NUS body as only a small group of patrons were surveyed. Furthermore, a large proportion of the data collected from the survey were from students in their second year of study. This may limit the accuracy of the responses as their opinions may be influenced by their peers.


Through our primary research conducted, we are able to present the following findings pertaining to the problems faced by patrons to the NUS Co-op:

2.1 Extent of Problem

This section of the report will present the findings related to the extent of the problem that our group has collected from our survey, interview and observation.

2.1.1 Ability to answer enquiries

Table 2.1.1

From our survey, we identified that while 50% of our respondents found that the staff of the NUS Co-op bookstore were often able to answer their enquiries, there was still a significant proportion of more than 20% of respondents who seldom or never had their enquiries answered.

2.1.2 Attitude towards customers

From our observational study, we found that the staff at the NUS Co-op bookstore were generally indifferent towards the customers and would only give a brief answer when asked questions.

2.1.3 Level of staff initiative

Table 2.1.3

From our survey, we identified that 39.2% of our respondents felt that the best form of improvement in customer service by the staff of NUS Co-op should be for them to take more initiative to serve customers. This is indicative of how the staff are viewed to be lacking in initiative.

2.1.4 Ability to communicate

Table 2.1.4

From our survey of the ability of the staff to communicate, only 34% of our respondents gave the staff of NUS Co-op a rating of 4 and above on a scale of 1-5. The majority of the respondents, amounting to 66% only gave them a rating of 1-3, indicating that there is room for improvement.

2.2 Causes of Problem

This section of the report will present the findings related to the causes of the problem that our group has gathered from our survey, interview and observational study. The main causes of the problems can be attributed to the lack of training, the individual’s command of the English language, the exhausting nature of work and the lack of motivation.

2.2.1 Lack of training

From our interview with the staff of NUS Co-op, we found out that the service staff are not given any prior training in customer service. As a result, this may cause service staff to lack sufficient knowledge on the various aspects of customer service and they would be unable to tackle the various problems and situations related to customer service. In addition, the service staff are not cross-trained, and they may be unable to handle enquires that are related to the other departments in the Co-op bookstore.

2.2.2 Lack of periodic variation to job scope

Interview with the staff also revealed that their job scope rarely changes. The current cashier would stay in the role of a cashier throughout the semester. The repetitive nature of the job can be a reason for staff becoming bored with their jobs and lose their drive to provide quality service. The staff also complained of long hours at work and fatigue.

2.2.3 Lack of motivation

It was also found in our interview that the staff of NUS Co-op do not receive incentives or bonuses for providing good service and are thus not motivated to do so. They added that they do not see the need to put in extra effort to serve the patrons.

2.2.4 Lack of energy

Through our ‘mystery shopper’ study, it was observed that the staff of the NUS Co-op constantly look tired as opposed to having a positive attitude or being energetic. Furthermore, in our survey, 32.9% of the respondents felt that in order for the service level of the staff to improve, they could be more pleasant towards the customers (Table 2.1.3). A number of respondents also suggested that the service staff should smile more when serving them.

2.2.5 Lack of proficiency in English

Our observation and interview also revealed that some of the staff working in NUS Co-op have a poor command of the English language. They have a tendency to speak in Mandarin when dealing with Chinese patrons and will also prefer to answer in Mandarin when a question is directed at them.

2.2.6 Lack of feedback

Through our interview, we discovered that there is no proper feedback system in place at the NUS Co-op and that customers have no channel with which to provide their recommendations on the level of service at the bookstore. The staff are thus unable to cater to the needs of the customers.


This section of the report will provide several key conclusions to the findings found in the previous section.

3.1 Service staff are not courteous due to a lack of motivation

From the findings, it can be seen that a majority of the respondents found that the staff are not courteous enough when dealing with customers. We found that this can be attributed to the lack of motivation to serve customers as shown in the interview.

3.2 Service staff are not helpful due to the lack of sufficient knowledge on customer service

From our interview, we found out that the service staff are not given any prior training in customer service. As a result, this may cause service staff to lack sufficient knowledge on the various aspects of customer service and thus causing them to render poor customer service.

3.3 Service staff are unaware of customer expectations due to the lack of feedback

From the interview, it was found that the staff do not receive any feedback regarding their service and thus do not know that customers expect them to be more pleasant and take more initiative on the job, leading to dissatisfaction amongst the customers.


In our survey, a significant proportion of respondents felt that there is room for improvement for the service staff at the NUS Co-op. We have thus come up with the following recommendations that seek to solve the problems customers are concerned with.

4.1 Giving incentives to staff

As the service staff at the bookstore were found to lack motivation to provide better service, incentives can be used to encourage better performance and make them feel more appreciated.

4.1.1 Non Cash Incentives

By introducing a special award scheme such as prizes for ‘Employee of the Month’, staff would be more motivated to provide exceptional customer service beyond the minimum required as they know that their efforts will be rewarded. Tangible non-cash rewards like gift vouchers or packages for good performances would also act as social reinforcement. Friendly competition amongst staff would also ease the monotony of work and help to keep them driven in their jobs. Such a scheme would also be more economical for the company.

4.1.2 Cash incentives for outstanding performances

In addition to giving recognition to well performing staff, monetary incentives will give the staff even more reason to go the extra mile for the customers. Monetary incentives also indicate to the staff that good service adds real value to the company and that the management is willing to reward better employees.

4.2 Giving proper training to staff

As a significant proportion of respondents were not satisfied with the level of customer service. We recommend providing proper training to staff on customer service skills.

4.2.1 Service Quality Centre

Through our search for a suitable training programme, we have chosen Service Quality (SQ) Centre as the institute to provide the necessary training. This is due to the fact that SQ Centre is an international management consulting and training company that has played a vital role in assisting over 800 organisations locally and from 18 other countries around the world.

One of the suitable courses they offer is the 2-day course on service skills. By attending this course, staff will not only learn positive communication skills for building customer relations, they will also learn to effectively manage customers, as well as how to diffuse difficult situations that they may face at work. As a result, staff members of NUS Co-op will have a strong foundation of service skills and thus be able to serve customers better.

4.3 Getting continual feedback

According to our secondary sources, the average business loses about 10% of their customer each year and most of them do not know why. Hence this highlights the importance of having a proper feedback system in NUS Co-op. As such, we recommend that the NUS Co-op gather customer feedback through these channels:

4.3.1 Feedback box

A feedback box with attached customer service related surveys could be placed near the cashier at the bookstore. This would be able to gather immediate feedback from customers who have just visited the store.

4.3.2 School-wide feedback

As the official bookstore at NUS, NUS Co-op can gather school-wide feedback through use of the Intranet portal and online surveys. This would provide more reliable feedback data than our survey and enable improvements to be made in areas that are important to the bookstore’s customers.


Bizgrader. Benefits of regularly monitoring and utilizing customer feedback. Retrieved September 29, 2009, from

FORD, E.L. and FINA, M.C. (2006) Leveraging recognition : noncash incentives to improve performance. Workspan. Vol 49, No 11, November. pp18-20,22.

SQ Centre. (n.d.). Retrieved October 19, 2009, from

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