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Magazines Archives - 2011 Feb

HR, Training & Customer Service
Story 4 - Focus

Mall operators and retailers in the region put priority on staff training at all levels to enhance service, with the aims of increasing revenues and profits as well as beating out their competition.

Training and technology set to boost customer service among Singapore retailers

According to statistics released by the Institute of Service Excellence (ISES) at the Singapore Management University in the latest Customer Service Index Singapore (CSISG) 2010 report, customer satisfaction in the retail industry rebounded to 68.2 points last year, up from 65.8 points in 2009. Combined with forecasts that the local economy is expected to grow at a moderate 5% over the coming year, customer service will be one of the key drivers to meet this growth objective, notes Lee Chong-Win, regional director at Contact Center Solutions, Avaya Asia Pacific.

“Customer service is vitally important to the retail industry, as exceptional customer service will see satisfied customers returning to drive continued business growth … [In] Singapore, there is massive growth expected in the retail sector with Business Monitor International’s Singapore Retail Report Q2 2010 forecasting that total retail sales will grow from an estimated US$28.9 billion in 2009 to US$41.1 billion by 2014. Great customer service will be essential to take the tourist dollar to meet this growth objective,” he elaborates.

Fortunately, local retailers are not alone in their endeavours to deliver service excellence here. Gradually, mall owners and developers are recognising the impact of service excellence on all players in the retail industry, and have developed their own training centres and programmes to provide retailers and tenants with more opportunities to improve their customer service standards.

A spokesperson from one of Singapore’s newest malls along the Orchard Road prime shopping district — Ion Orchard — shares that the mall’s owner, Orchard Turn Developments Pte Ltd (jointly owned and managed by Capita- Land Limited and Sun Hung Kai Properties Limited), has taken the onus to ensure optimal service standards are main-tained by its employees and tenants through a dedicated in-house training programme.

Pointing out the change in shopping behaviour of consumers in Singapore, the company’s spokesperson observes: “Shopping is not just perfunctory; it is an experience that touches all senses ... Service can make the difference between a lacklustre experience and a great one.” Citing a report by the World Economic Forum, titled the Global Competitiveness Report, she points out that Singapore’s customer orientation, which ranked 17th in 2005, has moved into the top 10 position in 2009 with a 5.65 score, just three years after the launch of the government’s Customer-Centric Initiative. While this bodes well for the retail industry here, the property chief states that success as a retail destination goes beyond simply having the best brands in its malls.

“[Success] is also about an exceptional experience. In order to deliver an unparalleled customer service experience, we need to understand what makes a person tick — what motivates and delights them. A simple but profound truth that guides us is that people are multi-sensory creatures; they enjoy a beautiful and seamless environment so they can feel a sense of self-worth and dignity,” she explains, adding that these were some of the factors that provided the framework of Ion Orchard’s customer care programme.

The spokesperson adds that landlords play a major part in “orchestrating the overall customer experience” at the malls, and work closely with their tenants to deliver this “experience” to their customers. “From our experience we know that the personal touch makes all the difference. Thus we have in place a dedicated training programme that is customised for our mall employees and our tenants’ retail staff, so they can deliver … a five-star shopping experience for all our tenants and shoppers,” she states.

Malaysia’s mall operators & retailers step up training to stay ahead of the competition

Generic customer service is out as competition heats up in Malaysia’s fast-growing retail industry. According to training consultant Dr Christine Chow, programme partner and learning facilitator at Zubedy (M) Sdn Bhd: “Now, [major retail companies] want to make sure the inner self — self-esteem and confidence of the staff — is developed first, and that they are mentally ready. They want a programme to touch the mind and heart first.”

Hence customer service using EQ is one of the elements for the training course she conducts, together with self-esteem and mentoring. Other programmes include managing customer care, communicating at work, business writing skills and interpersonal communication skills.

Each programme is customised to cater to different levels of employees. For example, the managing customer care programme is for executives and managers who have to manage their subordinates’ service performance. For the lower categories, more physical activities are included. At the higher level, more mental and strategic activities are planned.

Apart from basic skills required in different programmes, new features have been introduced: Personal development — creating self-esteem and self-motivation; aligning personal goals to the company’s goals; knowing how to relate to other people using EQ; and creative and strategic thinking.

Employees’ attitude also must be translated into action that is visible. Says Dr Chow: “We do a lot of conceptual training to show them. Interactive training is what most companies want. For every fundamental theory, there must be an activity related to it so those being trained can relate this to work.

“No longer does the facilitator provide the theory; participants have to use their mental skills to think how to handle different situations. Participants too are mentally challenged to deal with their personal demons, which are inhibiting their development and growth as many bring personal baggage to their work. Action tools are given to the participants and their progress is monitored. Companies are now willing to pay for the coaching and mentoring for their top executives to progress. They also want to know how to monitor this progress after training.”

When consultants like Dr Chow (who used to be the HR head in a prominent department store) teach, they have their own experiences to relate. They can also create activities such as real-life situations to make the staff think.

“The most important thing now is the ability for staff to communicate using appropriate words to make the customer happy … The tone is important. Most companies ask for communication and interpersonal skills at work. It boils down to knowing the psychology of customers.”

Philippine retail players equate good customer service to high profits

The customer is king, and has to be pampered and treated like royalty. After all, he holds the money that keeps retail outlets and malls in operation. Unfortunately, many players in the billion-dollar retail industry in the Philippines and elsewhere pay mere lip service to this long-held marketing belief. But there are those who swear by it, saying that by taking good care of their paying customers, they are ultimately taking care of their bottom line.

One customer service campaign that garnered much recognition both here and abroad is Ayala Malls’ “U-First” programme. For its holistic approach to customer service, the campaign was named a finalist in the advertising category of the 2010 (Asia Pacific) International Council of Shopping Centers’ (ICSC) annual Asia Shopping Center Awards.

Launched last year, the campaign zeroes in on the conveniences that Ayala Malls can provide to each target customer segment. For people with disabilities and senior citizens, for example, the group set up priority seats and lanes, sign-language assistance, dedicated parking lots, lowered phone booths and free emergency calls to local numbers.

The malls also address the needs of parents who need to care for or nurse their kids while shopping. The group has established private nursing stations, a children’s reading and play area, bottle-warming facilities, diaper changing stations, and a reading area for parents and guardians.

Tourists are also taken care of through discounts and privileges as well as hotel-like services provided by the Ayala Malls concierges. Services for tourists include flight confirmation services, personal shopper assistance, hotel and restaurant reservations, and transport assistance.

Furthermore, the Internet-savvy can stay connected to the Internet and catch up on their latest social media posts while inside the malls. This is because Ayala Malls offers free use of laptops with Wi-Fi access at selected stations and dedicated lounges, where shoppers can go to check their e-mail or charge their mobile phones.

According to Ayala Malls, the retail arm of Ayala Land Inc, the Philippines’ largest real estate development company, the branding concept of U-First communicates the customer-centric thrust of the Ayala Malls brand of customer service.

It uses “U” (you) to convey to the customers that they are the reason for the malls’ being. “U” embraces all types of customers, emphasises the customer as the centre of mall experiences and it creates a relationship between the mall and the customers.

Time for Thailand’s retailers to train up and improve customer service

After a turbulent year in 2010, Thailand’s retailers are ready to bounce back this year. The political chaos and street demonstrations had affected the lucrative tourism industry, as well as many other related sectors last year.

The Bt1.4-trillion (US$45.5-billion) retail market in the kingdom, considered as one of the biggest in the region, is also looking forward to a fruitful year after being hit by the chaos.

There are more than 6,700 modern stores in Thailand, of which almost 5,700 are 7-Eleven stores. Others include retail giant Tesco Lotus with more than 184 stores nationwide, Tops Supermarket with almost 110, Big C Supercenter with over 100 and Makro with 42.

According to the Bureau of Business Competition, the number of hypermarket stores in the kingdom has increased considerably in the past decade, from only 65 outlets to 864 as of November last year.

The Development of Thai Capital Retailers Association (DTRA) has projected a double-digit growth for the retail sector this year. DTRA president Suwit Kingkaew says there are many signs, such as the economy’s recovery and increases in salaries for civil servants, as well as the possibility of a general election, that will push the retail sector upwards.

More than 1.82 million people are employed in the retail industry. However, most of them are reportedly not directly trained in a retail business programme. The growth in the retail sector is expected to create more jobs in the market in populous Thailand, home to more than 63 million consumers.

For instance, CP All, which operates the fast-growing convenience store chain 7-Eleven, plans to open between 450 and 500 new outlets this year, bringing its total store count to about 6,200. This alone will create at least 5,000 new jobs.

Another major player is Tesco Lotus, which operates more than 660 stores nationwide and serves over 33 million customers each month. This certainly requires a strong human resource (HR) team and well-trained staff to provide the best service. Currently, it employs 36,000 full-time staff. In 2009 alone, 2,000 new jobs were created.

Future Group in India takes training and education up a notch

Future Group (FG), which hires at least 2,000 people every month in retailing, has entered the education business through Future Human Development Ltd (FHDL) — its comprehensive training, education and support services subsidiary. Future Innoversity is the name of the newest initiative which aims to fill a huge gap in India’s retail sector.

Future Innoversity’s primary role is to impart relevant and quality education for all sectors, starting with retailing, through a specialised mix of management, undergraduate and certificate programmes. It has also entered into a strategic alliance with Indira Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU) to offer MBAs in retailing and entrepreneurship.

FG entered the education business by setting up FHDL in 2008 to focus on creating talent in the consumption sector, whether it be retail, hospitality, telecom or any other similar industry.

“This partnership helps [build up the] frontline workforce for the retail industry where there’s a growing requirement for skilled people,” says Muralidhar Rao, chief executive of FHDL. The frontline workforce comprises shopfloor sales assistants, employees in the supply chain and those who manage the warehouse.

The training programmes are yearlong courses on visual merchandising, supply-chain management, and other short courses on warehousing, housekeeping, home furnishing and beauty & wellness.

“We need to increase the focus on courses and training programmes that are aimed at creating employability at the bottom-of-the-pyramid … Our focus is to develop content based on the Indian experience, which is in line with Indian culture and consumer behaviour,” Rao adds. Through this partnership, FG aims to be present at every level of training in modern retailing — from entry level to senior managers.

The company hopes that skill development, which contributes only 2% of its total revenues, will account for at least 10% in the next three years.

The revival of economic growth and increasing purchasing power of consumers is fuelling India’s growth in the consumption sector and in related segments such as modern retailing. This creates a huge demand for trained manpower, particularly for those seeking to sustain and build upon this growth. Every company in the retail sector feels the dearth of skilled professionals which can be attributed to the lack of retailrelevant education.

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2011 Feb Stories:

Group Coupon Buying…
Part 1: What’s the big deal? Is it hype or buzz?

HOFEX 2011 – a world-class event for Asia’s food and hospitality markets

Cartes in Asia 2011 – for businesses looking for smart solutions

HR, Training & Customer Service - Mall operators and retailers in the region put priority on staff training at all levels to enhance service, with the aims of increasing revenues and profits as well as beating out their competition.

A ‘King’ sets up his retail empire in Singapore

Singapore to host Asia’s first Men’s Fashion Week 2011

More Asia-Pacific consumers are shopping online, says Visa.

SM Prime to pilot new shopping centre format in the Philippines

More consumers demand transparency in their food choices, report says

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