Call centres are manned by people rather than machines to ensure customers get the help they need quickly and efficiently WHEN SOMEBODY wants something these days, they want it now - even if it is 2am on a Sunday. Even more important, they want somebody to help them. Nothing is more irritating than having your phone call answered by a machine and then having to navigate your way through an endless array of options - none of which seems to apply to you. Sometimes you actually have to hang up and start all over if you fail to select the right option at the right time. 'When some customers have problems they expect immediate assistance instead of waiting until the next working day,' said DHL Express Hong Kong director of customer service Shirley Mok. 'Our service centre employs more than 120 customer service representatives and operates 24 hours a day all year round. All incoming calls are put directly through to representatives instead of being routed through machines.' DHL Express Hong Kong took top honours in the awards category Call Centre of the Year (above 100 seats). With annual revenue of more than Euro24 billion ($230.42 billion) last year, DHL Express, freight, air and ocean is a global leader in the express and logistics industry. The company - wholly owned by Deutsche Post World Net - specialises in providing innovative and customised solutions from one source. Its international network links more than 220 countries and territories worldwide, and it has more than 170,000 employees. The company invests a lot of time and money in the development of its human resources. All new recruits undergo four weeks of structured training in a variety of areas, including products, services and systems applications. Soft skills such as telephony and complaints are also covered. After completing formal classroom instruction, new employees receive on-the-job training, with mentors helping them adapt to their new working environment. Those already on the job receive additional training in Putonghua, stress management, change management, EQ (emotional intelligence) and customer relations management. 'We believe [staff] must be professional, knowledgeable, confident and happy [to deliver] a pleasant customer experience,' Ms Mok said. 'So we invest a lot in [the] people [who work for us].' Employees are encouraged to take external training to achieve higher levels of proficiency. 'We encourage them to study on an ongoing basis in addition to the training provided by the company,' Ms Mok said. Taking part in the CRE Awards for the first time last year, DHL won in two categories: call centre (corporate and service providers) and customer service manager (individuals). 'This type of competition is important because it helps us understand [how we are doing] from an objective perspective because this is an external competition,' Ms Mok said. 'Although we monitor our service standards, it is more internal, so we need some external benchmarking to understand where we stand against market standards. 'Also, this is a good chance for us to share experience with other players in other industries. Of course, it enhances morale because it is external recognition of our employees' contribution to DHL's success.' Ms Mok said the customer should always come first. 'We believe that good customer service should achieve what our corporate values say - to make customers successful. To us, good customer service means understanding customer needs and providing them with professional and quality service,' she said. 'Also, from a micro point of view, our flexibility and responsiveness are important. We set up stringent targets for our call centre. Instead of using inter-active call response we use live agents who answer all calls.' It all means providing customers with the best service possible. 'This is central to everything we do,' Ms Mok said. 'What we do all focuses on enhancing the customer's experience. We invest heavily in human resources development, including training, reward and recognition, career planning and internal promotion.' Ms Mok said service standards in Hong Kong were high. 'In general, companies in Hong Kong treat customers well, attaching great importance to the quality of their customer service. Customer service in Hong Kong is already at a high standard due to the competitiveness of the marketplace. The list of winners is good proof of this.'