Hornbill Unleashed

February 26, 2013

Why our companies will never be world-class

James Pereira

The only way to improve business reputation is to give customers what they want. And to know what customers want is to ask them and then listen, listen, listen.

I see customer service with a larger magnifying glass than the average customer due to my line of work and here are some of my encounters with Malaysian businesses over the last one month.

Incident one: A business associate and I went to a French deli franchise at a mall in Petaling Jaya. It was 10.15am and the sign stated its operating hours are from 10am to 10pm. As we approached the front counter, we saw no one was there, but I observed someone was behind the back counter.

After a few seconds, I asked the person if she can serve us. She did not answer and continued with her task. I got irritated and asked if we could have service today, in a louder tone. She then told something to someone, who was out of my sight.

After another agonising few seconds of waiting, my friend said we should go over to another competitor. No one ran after us apologising for the bad service and promising to serve us like kings. So much for customer service at the franchise of a multinational food chain.

Incident two: I phoned the customer service line of Malaysia’s largest and oldest bookstore. It was 10am and there was no answer. I tried five days later at 11am and experienced the same thing. It is owned by a billionaire and you would expect a golden service. None came.

Incident three: I ordered a new laptop and, according to the order tracking, it would arrive on Feb 20. I was excited about getting this computer and was tracking the order status every few hours. Finally, it indicated the package had arrived at the company’s premises on Feb 19. The next morning, the tracking status showed that the courier company had attempted to make a delivery but failed because I was not at home. I was furious because I was at home the whole day and the company did not even call my mobile phone to alert me. This is one of the world’s top three courier companies. No excellent service here either.

I could go on and on with examples and I’m sure you too would have experienced bad customer service. You may have asked why is this happening so often in Malaysia. You go to a restaurant for a meal and the staff and owner treat you like you owe them a living rather than the other way around.

You would notice that the common denominator in all my bad customer service was ineffective staff (you can throw in the managers, too).

The 2013 Edelman Trustbarometer Report shows that Malaysians trust big business more than small business. Because this is an online survey, it’s not possible to dig deeper into the respondents’ reasons.

Give customers what they want

Recently, former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad said that Malaysian consumers should be less critical of Proton’s poor quality because the national car-maker only serves the local market compared to the big players which offer better quality because they serve other markets.

Now what the Proton’s management has failed to understand is that consumers are not passing their hard-earned money to Proton for lousy quality. If a company cannot serve its customers satisfactorily, it should exit.

Proton’s bad reputation is due to the poor quality cars it has been producing since it began operations and it has never really improved. It thought that by changing owners its fortunes will improve and customers would queue up to buy its cars because there’s a new owner.

The only way to improve business reputation is to give customers what they want. And to know what customers want is to ask them and then listen, listen, listen and implement the right plans.

All the bad customer experiences above can be boiled down to ineffective employees.

Every quality issue is ultimately linked to the employees of a company. It is the people who make or break a company. Too many executives give lip service to this and then invest in buildings and machinery. High quality employees create and expand a company’s reputation.

The reason Malaysian companies can never become world-class is that they are still stuck in a production-oriented business model, where they think that if they produce something, people will buy.

My deli experience indicates that when there are choices, the customer will ditch the competitor for another, if they are not satisfied.

The vast majority of Malaysian companies will remain mediocre and that is why they cannot expand beyond Malaysian shores.

They are just “jaguh kampung”. Beyond our borders are seasoned competitors who will have Malaysian companies for breakfast, lunch and dinner and if they’re British, for tea too.

The formula that world-class Malaysian companies must follow is simply to build a fantastic reputation and market it day in and day out.

There are many brilliant Malaysian entrepreneurs who struggle to grow their business because they fail to understand that excellent execution is the key to success. Nothing sexy about this.

Success in business is not doing the fancy stuff and looking for the next glittering object, but the mundane stuff like finding out what the customer wants and making sure that every core function, core process and core competency of the company is up to par and to raise the bar every time it’s reached or almost reached.

The formula for a successful business is: Right Employee x Right Training x Right Performance x Right Reward = Right Profits

Stay tuned for the next article, where I will reveal the link between these parameters.



  1. Malasia / Bodohland = A handicapped society … Land of unemployable graduates … Majority are rent-seekers / blood-suckers

    Comment by tigeryk — February 26, 2013 @ 9:07 PM | Reply

  2. Some of the fast food franchises in Kuching are so dirty (food droppings on floor, oily tables & chairs, blocked wash basins, cockroach in their kitchen area).
    But, don’t expect any improvement even if you complain to their management in KL.
    Yet customers were charged Service and Government taxes at 10%. Don’t you think it’s ridiculous for customers to pay service taxes when their food in non-stick pans were just dumped on their table?

    Comment by CHEW EL — February 26, 2013 @ 8:03 PM | Reply

  3. Because the hiring is not based on merit but on kulitfication.

    Comment by nelly — February 26, 2013 @ 7:09 PM | Reply

  4. Malaysian big companies are more often operated by UMNO cronies. Why do they need to work hard. Any problems, BN Government will bail out.

    Comment by gagojackman — February 26, 2013 @ 3:18 PM | Reply





    Comment by Maninstreet — February 26, 2013 @ 11:05 AM | Reply

  6. The only way is to ban NEP and emulate Singapore and Korea

    Comment by tigeryk — February 26, 2013 @ 5:03 AM | Reply

  7. What you’re really saying is, “Can we please change the Govt coz we been served with shit all along “, how much shit can you take thru out this short span of life on earth???? This statement of your is very,very correct, ” The formula for a successful business is: Right Employee x Right Training x Right Performance x Right Reward = Right Profits ” just change Business with Governance n you’re right on the spot……Oouch!!! but true.

    Comment by Lok1 — February 26, 2013 @ 3:17 AM | Reply

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