Looking after the customer

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 May, 2006, 12:00am

Success of pilot project results in 1,000 vacancies for service assistants at the Link's retail properties

PERCEPTIONS OF Hong Kong are often coloured by its plush shopping centres, such as The Landmark and Pacific Place. These centres are home to designer brands such as Gucci and Prada.

But for those who know Hong Kong, this is only the glamorous side of the city and not the everyday reality for most of the population.

With about 40 per cent of the population living in inexpensive public housing, the shopping centres that most people frequent are likely to be smaller shops that offer daily necessities at affordable prices.

These retail arcades and their car parks were once owned by the Housing Authority, each one being operated by a different management company. But now, with the Link Reit and The Link Management taking over 180 retail and car park facilities, the organisation and management of such shopping centres is expected to improve.

The Link Management believes that focusing on customer service will enhance the retail experience for many Hongkongers. It plans to develop a Link-managed shopping centre in almost every neighbourhood.

The initiative will be implemented in most of The Link's retail properties, including the biggest ones, such as Stanley Plaza, Lok Fu and Sau Mau Ping shopping centres.

'We hope our customer service staff will be able to foster a warm community feeling in the malls and develop a close relationship with the people in the neighbourhood,' said Angela Chiu Chi-san, senior asset manager of The Link Management.

The retail arcades are scattered around Hong Kong, Kowloon and the New Territories and the organisation has appointed nine management companies to run the properties. They are Guardian Property Management, East Point Property Management, Synergis Management Services, Kai Shing Management Services, Sino Estates Management, Hong Yip Service, China Overseas Property Services, Shui On Properties Management and HKFTU Preferential Services Centre.

The management companies will be responsible for hiring about 1,000 customer service assistants to work in the retail properties. The decision to recruit in such large numbers was the result of a successful customer service ambassador pilot project.

'We received very good feedback from shoppers and tenants for our trial scheme, which placed a few customer service ambassadors in about 14 malls. So we decided to expand this [initiative] and place more emphasis on customer service,' Ms Chiu said.

Customer service assistants, to be appointed by July, will be expected to work in shifts depending on the opening and closing times of their stores, and be responsible for manning the counters, handling customer inquiries and ensuring the smooth running of the shopping centres.

The nine property management companies are recruiting staff based on the service requirements of The Link Management.

Candidates with experience in customer service or property management and with good Putonghua and English skills will be preferred. The position, with a starting salary of $7,000, requires people who have the right attitude and are willing to learn.

Candidates can apply to the property management company in charge of the area where they prefer to work. Before a recruit is placed on-site, training on issues related to attitude, communication and local knowledge of the area will be given.

Promotion prospects are bright with career progression clearly mapped out. Recruits can move up to positions ranging from senior customer service assistant to assistant property officer, property officer and property manager.

Diligent individuals can get promoted to managerial positions too. A diploma in housing management is necessary to qualify for such positions.

'Depending on the calibre of the individual, it would take about 10 years to become a property manager,' Ms Chiu said.

Selling skills

Customer service positions available for positive thinkers

A year's work experience, preferably in a related field

Patience and willingness to help people

Drive and determination

Interest in developing a career in the field of property management