High-quality customer service provided by frontline salespeople is not merely a personal matter but also relates to the whole company culture. 'Excellent retail service includes two important factors - a company culture that strongly emphasises the importance of customer service and workers who have a strong mindset to follow through the company's beliefs,' said Susanna Lee, vice-president and general manager of global merchant services for East Asia at American Express. American Express has been the official sponsor of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association (HKRMA) Service & Courtesy Award since 1996. American Express has noticed that the quality of customer service has risen year after year. 'The award recognises good frontline salesmen and allows them to share their thoughts of good service with their colleagues and workers in the industry, which will re-enhance the importance of this factor in the retail industry and encourage others in the industry to follow in the same footsteps,' Lee said. The company's continuous support of the award is due to its belief in the importance of customer service, which matches the HKRMA's ideology. 'Our top three priorities are security, trust and customer services, and we want to be in an aggressive position to set an example for other companies to follow,' Lee said. Measures taken by American Express to create a high level of service quality include staff training, setting service quality standards and encouraging top management to take the initiative in showing staff how it should be done. Each year, American Express holds a 'Reach out with a Smile' day when everyone, from executives to backroom support staff, goes out and personally thanks merchants for their continuous support of the company. According to Lee, there are two types of clients for the company: the internal clients are the staff and the external clients are those who use the American Express service. 'We treat the internal clients in the same way we want them to treat the external clients,' she said. With an established emphasis on high-quality service in the company, Lee offered some advice for companies that are following in the same footsteps. First, frontline staff must have a complete understanding of the products sold and the services provided. Second, they have to 'know the customers', meaning that they understand consumers' needs. Thirdly, retail store salesmen must 'meet and exceed expectations' by offering value-added services. Last but not least, injecting the ideology of high-quality customer service into the company's culture and operation is also a must-do step if success is to be achieved.