Customer service is key to survival
In the face of severe competition, Jones Lang LaSalle has launched an in-house training programme for all its staff
THE PROPERTY MANAGEMENT sector is fiercely competitive on price and service levels. Typically, contracts are signed for two or three years and detailed performance reviews may take place as often as every six months.
'That means if we want to renew contracts or secure extra business we have to keep raising standards,' said Eric Lee, international director and head of management solutions in Hong Kong for Jones Lang LaSalle. He added that success in the industry depended on how well staff dealt with clients, making customer service a top priority.
With this in mind, the company decided to launch its own 'Service A+' training programme. Representatives from nine in-house functional committees devised it and then refined the concepts to cater for needs at all levels of the organisation.
Mr Lee said members of staff ranged from ambitious university graduates to technicians, cleaners and security guards who might not have completed secondary education. 'The challenge was to ensure each person had a clear understanding of the principles of customer service and applied them during their day-to-day work. Since this is a 24-hour business, every employee on each shift had to realise the part they could play,' he said.
Rather than turn to external consultants, the company trained about 50 in-house trainers, known as 'service angels'. They were volunteers drawn from different parts of the company and recommended by a supervisor or manager. The basic qualifications were to have more than five years' experience, good communication skills and a broad knowledge of the business. Each took on the role of trainer in addition to their normal responsibilities.
'We felt it was best to use people from within the organisation since they spoke the same language and understood the needs of the business,' Mr Lee said.
To equip them, the training and customer service managers first conducted a five-day course. Its purpose was to run through the business advantages of better service delivery and to introduce real-life examples to be used in on-site sessions.
'The aim was to prepare the trainers to instil the right values and consistent standards,' Mr Lee said. 'We wanted staff in every property we manage to understand the importance of putting clients' interests first.'
A typical half-day training session therefore reinforces the principles of customer service and encourages staff to share their experiences. Role-plays, case studies and group activities promote participation and comment.
'Some people may start with the mindset that they are just a security guard and ask what this has got to do with them,' Mr Lee said. 'However, we want everyone to realise they are in a service business and can always add value. If they do that, even in small ways, they will make life easier for building owners, tenants and visitors.'
One innovation, which led to a special award from the Hong Kong Management Association, has been to use 3G technology in the classes. It allows the training manager to monitor the discussions unobtrusively and subsequently offer constructive suggestions to the trainer.
Mr Lee said there were always areas for improvement. For example, a shift manager might automatically hold the door open and push the lift button for a resident carrying several shopping bags. What made the difference, though, was offering to help carry those bags up to the apartment.
Training or refresher sessions usually take place every three months. However, based on feedback from tenants or general observation, additional workshops are arranged, if necessary. It is then up to individual property managers to maintain a higher level of customer satisfaction.
Jones Lang LaSalle employs about 3,000 staff and manages more than 300 Grade-A industrial, commercial and residential properties across Hong Kong. It is also well established in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou, and is continuing to expand in second-tier mainland cities. 'As far as employees are concerned, if we have good business growth they will have improved opportunities within the organisation,' Mr Lee said.
Elsie Hui, the human resources director for North Asia, said a professional development curriculum provided staff with the skills the company required. This covers core competences, as well as market-specific knowledge, IT and language skills.
'Graduate recruitment is one part of the development programme. We look first at our internal resources during the business and management planning process, and then decide how many people to bring in from outside,' Ms Hui said.
Since 2001, graduates have had the chance to join a regional programme that includes job rotations between departments and to overseas offices.
'This gives good exposure to other parts of the company and provides an excellent local and regional orientation,' Ms Hui said.
A 'Service A+' training programme has been introduced to enhance customer service skills
Classes taught by in-house trainers familiar with the needs of the business
Focus on showing each employee how to add value, even in small ways
Innovative use of 3G technology to monitor training sessions