Hutchison Whampoa

Customers always come first

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 21 November, 2007, 12:00am

With inflation steadily rising and competition from Macau's tourism industry intensifying, Hong Kong's retail industry must maintain a high standard of service to remain competitive, according to the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA).

Inflation in the third quarter was 2.7 per cent, up from 2.4 per cent in the second quarter, and economists predict it could reach 3 per cent in the fourth quarter.

Speaking at a press conference for the HKRMA's 22nd Service & Courtesy Award last month, chairman of the HKRMA Bankee Kwan Pak-hoo said excellent service was an effective way to overcome adversity, secure a customer base and to build a brand.

The HKRMA launched the awards in 1986 to increase the standard of customer service in the retail industry.

This year, 350 frontline staff and 155 supervisory level personnel from 72 retail companies competed for the Junior Frontline, Supervisory Level and the Best Team Performance awards.

Candidates were reviewed on their professional image, presentation skills, interpersonal skills and their ways of providing service.

Mr Kwan said the high number and standard of contestants this year showed that local retailers were recognising quality service as the key to success.

Other than delivering good service and courtesy, the association emphasised genuine service this year with its slogan, 'winning through service from the heart'.

Benedict Li Pun-tak, chairman of the awards organising committee, said: 'Apart from serving the people right, great service requires passion, and we hope that retail practitioners can deliver that as well,' he said.

'We realise if retailers want to remain competitive, good service is not enough. The entire company and its staff have to be customer-centric and seriously consider their customers. Companies need to win their customers' hearts in order to expand their customer base.'

Worldwide service brand American Express International has been a sponsor of the awards since 1996. Susanna Lee Kam-yee, vice-president and area market head for East Asia, Merchant Services International, said her company played an 'active and positive role in upgrading the service standards of retail practitioners and increasing the competitiveness of Hong Kong's retail industry'.

'We would like to play our part in improving the industry's service standards and, in turn, will contribute to the greater development of the retail and service industry,' Ms Lee said.

The company believes the programme is meaningful and important to the local retail industry. 'It helps to raise the awareness of the importance and value of professional customer service on an industry level as well as increasing its profile among individual retailers and frontline service staff,' she said. 'It shows how best practices are maintained and shares the relevant skills within the industry.'

With increasing competition and more demanding customers, Hong Kong retailers are well aware of the importance of customer service.

'Given that product features can easily be copied, quality customer service is one critical element of creating brand differentiation and providing real value to customers,' Ms Lee said.

To further improve the quality of customer service, Mr Li said companies should not only hire people with the right attitude, they should also develop a system to reward and recognise outstanding staff.

Over the past few years, local retailers have gained a better understanding of mainland customers and have found ways to meet their needs. Mr Li said in future the standard of service among Hong Kong retailers would move closer to the level of service offered by Japanese and American retailers.

'Many of the local retailers have been more flexible and open to meeting customers' demands,' Mr Li said. For instance, customers can now enjoy more flexibility in exchanging goods and most shops have provided fitting rooms for shoppers.

He said companies had put more resources into training their staff in presentation and service skills. 'The standard of service ... is gradually getting higher. For example, being multilingual is now just a basic requirement,' he said.

Apart from maintaining good quality service, Mr Kwan said retailers should build their brand in line with the promise they make to customers. 'Consumers are smart. You must deliver the brand expectation. Retailers should come up with more design-driven and heterogeneous products to differentiate themselves from the rest.'

He added that Hong Kong should form a partnership with Macau in the long run. 'Together with Macau, there can be more attractions for tourists and both cities can share the facilities and the cost of transportation. 'We should position ourselves and Macau as partners, not competitors.'