Industry leader hails new determination of the retail sector to achieve excellence in the training of frontline staff THE HONG KONG Retail Management Association (HKRMA) arranges three major programmes each year, all revolving around customer service. In addition to the Mystery Shoppers Programme, there is the Hong Kong Award for Services and the Service & Courtesy Award, now in its 20th year. 'It shows you our focus, and also the importance of customer service in the retail industry over the past two decades,' says Bankee Kwan, chairman of the HKRMA. 'Twenty years ago, [customer service] was seen by companies as a revenue drain rather than as a revenue source and it was difficult for us to persuade people to take it seriously.' There was no shortage of enthusiasm this year, however. A record 547 participants from 69 retailers enrolled in the 2005 Service and Courtesy Award - an 57 per cent increase from last year. 'We are living in a highly sophisticated retail market,' said Mr Kwan. 'Competition is high and customer loyalty is inconsistent. Companies want to differentiate themselves and that is one of the main reasons that customer service training has become more popular. 'Quality sales staff - especially those on the front line - are now seen as a very important part of capturing sales revenue for a company.' The HKRMA has seen a recent trend even among companies that do not need to concentrate on personal selling, such as supermarkets, to put much more emphasis on customer service training. 'Some companies in this area are even exceeding customer expectation,' he said. 'And in some cases, they are catching up with retailers that rely on personal selling, such as department stores, in terms of training progress.' The HKRMA has seen that the companies that do invest in their people and create a customer service culture develop a competitive edge over their counterparts. 'There is less staff turnover. It also makes it clearer for employees to know the company's direction and to keep service consistent,' Mr Kwan said. He said he was thankful for the enthusiasm and involvement of participants, a feature that has made the 2005 awards so memorable. 'It is a compliment to us that so many companies are so dedicated and interested in the awards. It is a reflection of our hard work but also Hong Kong's image as a shoppers' paradise,' Mr Kwan said.