As the world moves towards globalisation and standardisation, companies face an uphill struggle to differentiate their products from those of their competitors. This is just one lesson that Forum Asia, a consultancy that focuses on customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and training, has helped companies to understand as they seek to create a distinct identity in an increasingly crowded market place. Xerox research into customer loyalty in the United States found consumers to be a fickle lot. Ranking satisfaction on a scale of one (wholly dissatisfied) to five (completely satisfied), Xerox found that customers who gave a company a rating of four were six times as likely to desert as those who gave it the top score. Forum directors Sue Lee and Virginia Choi emphasised that developing customer loyalty was a key element in business success. Ms Lee said it was crucial to determine 'who are your customers? What do they value? Then try to ensure that in terms of the people that your customers interact with, the processes they interact with and the products and services, that value is experienced by them'. 'You make a promise to the customer. Your biggest challenge is then to deliver on that promise. If you do deliver on that promise - and over-deliver - your customer is going to be delighted and become very loyal,' she said. This shift in emphasis from the pursuit of profits as the sole driving force behind a company to a focus on fulfilling consumer expectations as the means to a profitable end is a central plank of Forum's mission. 'We help companies become more customer-driven,' Ms Lee said. Forum focuses on improving profits through better customer loyalty and ensuring staff focus on meeting customer expectations. Shangri-La, the winner of last year's Hong Kong Management Association's award for quality, is just one of the high-profile companies that have employed Forum Asia to help hone its techniques in management. Other clients include Hongkong Telecom, Swire, Jardines, Kentucky Fried Chicken and the Hong Kong Housing Society. Ms Choi said the lessons that Forum had to offer were not restricted to service industries or, indeed, to profit- making bodies. They could be applied to any organisation in which the senior management was committed to the process of change. 'What are the commitments from the senior management? If they don't want to make it happen, it won't work,' she said. 'This is not a training programme and it's not something that consultants can do to a company.' With senior management on board, however, the results can be quite dramatic. The experience of Leo Burnett Greater China, one of Hong Kong's leading advertisers, was a telling one. Suffering from crippling turnover in staff, failing customer loyalty and falling market share, the company sought Forum's help in reshaping its focus and revitalising the staff. The results had been impressive: there had been a reduction in staff turnover of more than 40 per cent; the profitability of new accounts had risen 63 per cent; the gross profit margin was up from minus two per cent to eight per cent in one year; the agency jumped from sixth to second in Hong Kong ranked by billings and to first place in the mainland, she said. These results were the kind of tangible reward companies were increasingly looking to achieve from training programmes.