Open communication gives better connection

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 January, 2008, 12:00am

City Telecom's endurance in the competitive telecommunications market is a classic David and Goliath story. It has come a long way since 1992, when it became the first company to take on the monopoly enjoyed by Hong Kong Telecom, now known as PCCW.

City Telecom debuted with a price war on international direct dialing services that snatched market share from its larger rival as the company sought to use the best available technology for its network. While its competitors were still using telephone lines, its subsidiary, Hong Kong Broadband Network, employed fibre optics, making it among the first companies in Asia to offer 1,000Mbps in residential markets.

By 2003, the company, which was the first runner-up in the HKIHRM/SCMP People Management Awards 2007, offered a diverse range of services, including fixed-line home telephone services, internet connection and broadband television. According to head of learning and development, Ellis Ng, it was then that the company decided to change its approach.

'We realised that if we relied only on our technological advantage, it wouldn't be enough to continue grabbing market share,' he said. 'Eventually our rivals would catch up.'

Armed with a new business strategy, the company chose to focus on providing unrivalled service. To achieve this, it placed priority on staff training and development.

'We introduced a one-stop service for our customers,' said Mr Ng. 'Each of our staff in the special duty unit (SDU) can handle all inquiries including sales, customer service and simple troubleshooting. They are divided into small working units and serve a set number of customers so they have the chance to build a rapport and create a personalised service,' he added.

New employees are trained for up to a month on basic product knowledge and communication skills, selling skills, customer service skills, problem solving and negotiation skills. It's also on-the-job training that has a pass rate of just 50 per cent. Monthly quizzes keep staff on their toes but the company also offers refresher courses every few months for its 200 Guangzhou-based SDU employees.

At first, the dual job role of sales and customer service created friction with existing staff but the company persevered, explaining how better account management would pay off for the business.

'Open communication is a crucial part of the company's new direction. Apart from annual staff meetings, regular round-table meetings are held between senior executives and small groups of randomly selected staff. They can share whatever views they'd like. The director takes notes, clarifies any problems and respective department heads follow up on issues raised by staff, which might include anything about our systems, policies and training.'

Mr Ng said the company's attention to employees extends to their physical well-being and actively helps staff participating in the annual Standard Chartered Marathon. 'The company pays for a coach to train them two days a week. This year, 167 people have volunteered which is four times more than last year,' he said.

Staff members are also encouraged to exercise their minds with 'Reading Day', half a day devoted to reading each quarter. Group discussions about a selected book are scheduled as a way to stimulate critical thinking and knowledge sharing. 'People are tired when they get home and we want people to read, so we provide the time for them to do so during work hours,' explained Mr Ng.

The company also offers paternity leave for husbands, and introduced sabbatical leave of up to one year for staff from last year. City Telecom was also one of the first companies in Hong Kong to introduce a five-day work week.

'A person's work-life balance is important because we need to energise our staff, we can't keep stretching them,' said Mr Ng.

Other activities organised by the company include yoga and cooking classes, talks on non-work related topics such as investing in property and the stock market, wine-tasting, health, stress management and interpersonal skills.

'The change in the company's focus has resulted in better financial results,' said Mr Ng. 'In 2005, our operations were running at a financial loss. The following year when we reshaped our strategy, business started to pick up and by May 2007, we started to make a profit and increase our market value,' he said. 'Eighteen months ago, our stock price was about 70 cents. Now, we're worth more than HK$2. In the same period, the average revenue per user has also risen by 18 per cent.'

Superior deal

Open communication encouraged at monthly round-table meetings with senior executives and randomly selected staff from various departments to share areas of improvement in working environment or company policies

CTI Forum allows staff to discuss issues anonymously. Monitored by webmasters, clips are forwarded to appropriate departments for response. Respective departments must reply to webmasters within 24 hours

To promote work-life balance, the company organises activities including yoga and cooking classes as well as inviting speakers to talk about non-work-related topics such as property, stocks, wine-tasting and stress management

Every quarter, half a day at work is devoted to 'Reading Day', aimed at stimulating critical thinking

Company provides paternity leave for husbands and sabbatical leave of up to one year