STANDARD Chartered has unveiled a new set of measures to upgrade its retail banking service. Branch counter staff are being encouraged to suggest improvements themselves through incentives including awards and better promotion prospects. ''These people are working with us, not working for us,'' said Philippe Paillart, head of the bank's retail banking division. He wants service quality to mean more than just a friendly face behind the counter. It will also entail convenience and care for customers' interests. But the mere imposition of centrally created values is not seen as the way forward. Rather, the bank wants to take a bottom-up approach, with front-line staff encouraged to identify both problems and solutions. ''Whenever a problem crops up, our branch staff will form a quality improvement team among themselves to sort it out,'' said Mr Paillart. He said branches would communicate among themselves to tackle common problems, diminishing the influence of central planners who were not directly involved in the areas concerned. Mr Paillart said intense competition in Hong Kong's retail market had prompted banks to re-examine their services and come up with new ways to improve their relationships with customers. Standard Chartered, with 113 branches, regards the battle for retail customers as one that has to be won. Regular surveys are conducted to assess how well the bank is doing. ''Customer satisfaction surveys are done at the branches and at clients' homes,'' said Mr Paillart. ''They measure their level of satisfaction with the attitude of the bank staff.'' There is close monitoring of how efficiently particular types of transaction are carried out. ''For instance, we will constantly check on how long it takes to clear a cheque,'' said Mr Paillart. He believes worries that higher quality will mean increased costs are overdone. ''That is because the cost of non-quality is very high,'' he said. ''Not only will bad service displease a customer, reducing the opportunity to cross-sell banks' products, but also it is financially cheaper to retain a customer than acquiring a new one.'' While improving service means investing more in advanced technology, automation can also help remove some administrative functions from branches. ''Though we have to invest more in training, we need less staff because those working in the bank are competent and well-trained.'' The bank has sharply increased its investment in training - by 65 per cent this year. ''So as a whole, taking both the operation cost and marketing cost, the bank is gaining by offering better service quality, because it is more expensive to acquire a new client.''