'Mystery shoppers' will help the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA) evaluate companies in the Customer Services category of the awards. Anita Bagaman, executive director of the association, said the shoppers would make random visits to the retail or service outlets of those companies participating in the awards. They would then make assessments based on nine key customer service-related areas. The nine areas would include staff appearance, product knowledge, staff attitude, how staff dealt with customer inquiries or objections, basic house-keeping items of the company, till service, how staff reacted as a customer left the store and the general ambience of the retail or service outlet. Ms Bagaman said companies entering the awards would be invited to submit a written service-improvement proposal detailing their attitude towards quality service to customers. She said companies would have until July 15 to submit the proposal which could be a management programme designed specifically for the awards or an existing company proposal to improve customer service. Representatives from each company will be invited to present the proposal in person to the HKRMA judging panel. Ms Bagaman said the written proposal and the mystery shoppers' programme complemented each other because the proposal represented a company's theoretical approach, while the mystery shoppers would monitor the implementation of the initiatives and gauge their effectiveness. The mystery shoppers and the proposals carry an equal amount of points in the competition. 'The objectives of the customer services category is to promote the importance of quality service and to improve Hong Kong's overall standard of quality service, which will aim to upgrade Hong Kong's image as a true shoppers' paradise not just in Asia but the world,' she said. The HKRMA represents over 400 retail chains with more than 5,000 outlets employing in excess of 100,000 people or about half the retail workforce. Membership is made up of department stores, supermarkets, fast-food outlets, convenience stores, specialty stores and fashion outlets. Ms Bagaman said the HKRMA wanted to promote the retail industry by presenting a unified voice on issues concerning the sector and raising the industry's status through education and training.