Retailers eager to demonstrate power of service with a smile
In shops and restaurants across Hong Kong, the customer is king like never before. As spending power grows, choice becomes ever more bountiful and competition among rival retailers ever more intense.
It is a challenge that companies across the city are keenly aware of, to judge by the phenomenal response to last year's Service and Courtesy Awards organised by the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA).
The awards, in their 20th year, attracted a record 547 nominees, 200 more than in the previous year. And this year, with the opening date for nominations only weeks away, the association expects an even more enthusiastic response.
The boom in entries was at least partly due to an expansion of the categories for businesses to enter, which led to a surge in interest in certain sectors, the association's executive director Anita Bagaman said.
While in previous years restaurants, fast food outlets and retailers selling food products were lumped under one business category, last year they were separated into distinct categories.
Restaurants for the first time will have the chance to compete head to head, and retailers in general have welcomed the changes, Ms Bagaman said. 'They felt it was much fairer, and more specifically related to their own business categories.'
While the new categories have stimulated interest, the increase in entries reflects a growing realisation among retailers of the importance of service and courtesy - two concepts not always associated with retailing in Hong Kong.
'In the past, companies didn't really pay too much attention to service levels, and the expectation of consumers was different,' Ms Bagaman said.
'As time went by, because of the economy and competition within the industry, there was a need for companies to look into these areas to differentiate themselves because of the sheer number of players.
'Now we have a group of very sophisticated consumers in Hong Kong. They have access to information. They compare things, and they are very informed.'
As a result, she said, customer loyalty was not something that retailers should take for granted, because today's consumers were seeking value for money.
'Retailers need to prepare to cope with increasing competition and the rising level of expectations from consumers. And one key area where they can compete is through enhanced service,' Ms Bagaman said.
The exhaustive process of finding the retailers who delivered the best service and courtesy will begin with the opening of nominations in May. From August, a screening process begins and mystery shoppers will go to outlets to test retailers' on-site performance.
Entrants can pick up useful tips on how to do things right by viewing a selection of three-minute videos featuring last year's winners, produced by HKNet, a sponsor of the HKRMA awards for the past three years.
Benson Yeung, NTT Com Asia/HKNet vice-president, said: 'The association wanted to give extra recognition to the award winners and we came up with the idea of shooting winners' interviews and uploading them on the Web so that winners could share their valuable experience with anyone, at any time anywhere in the world.'
Mr Yeung said the awards scheme had a key role in Hong Kong's retail environment.
'The retail industry is important to Hong Kong. We should keep up our service standards.
'The association's programme helps to recognise the outstanding performers and companies, and encourages and promotes the importance of quality service in the industry.
'It is good for the retail industry as a whole.'
The videos of last year's winners and details of how to enter this year's awards are available on www.hkrma.org