In 1995 Hongkong Post became a trading fund operation, which led to a keener focus on staff competencies and enhanced standards of customer service. Management's guiding vision was not just to be an outstanding organisation locally, but to gain recognition as one of the world's best postal services. Therefore, they devised and carefully implemented a series of farsighted training programmes to build up a customer service culture, improve productivity and increase efficiency.
"As products and services are becoming more diversified, new procedures and computer systems had to be put in place," says Mary Chung, senior manager for training and development. For example, more than 1,000 staff in over 130 post offices completed a comprehensive course before the launch of the Pay-Thru-Post service a few years ago. "We had to look at hard and soft skills, including systems operations, customer service, stress management and team building," Ms Chung explains.
In the past three years, attention has centred on arranging general competence programmes for around 3,800 employees. These are regularly modified after an annual review of training needs. In addition, surveys of both staff and public opinion are used to obtain different perspectives on the service and how it can be further improved. Other methods, such as "mystery shopper" programmes, have also been adopted to get a close-up appreciation of what really happens.
A strategy group led by postmaster general Allan Chiang oversees all these initiatives. In particular, the "Excel Through Teamwork" programme now caters for the development strategies of different departments and ensures that any training gaps are properly addressed.
A division of responsibilities allows the steering committee to plan, monitor and evaluate effectiveness, while the staff training centre focuses on implementation. For this, the first step is usually a workshop to align goals. Other sessions then follow on communication skills, handling objections, dealing with customers, team building, and understanding the organisation's "complaint is a gift" philosophy.
"To augment classroom learning, we also have outdoor activities to promote an atmosphere of teamwork and cooperation in different situations," says Ms Chung. "We have a mentor scheme to enable new managers to adapt more quickly and a monthly 'Sharing to Excel' seminar in which managers can give progress reports and discuss what they have learned in external courses." Apart from that, a knowledge management system allows staff to share information about best practices in areas such as operational efficiency, training, customer service and complaint handling.
Hongkong Post recently adopted the balanced scorecard system to measure the effectiveness of various training activities. This is done on a monthly basis so that any problems can be identified instantly and necessary remedial actions taken. Key performance indicators are used to gauge service levels and progress. The most important of these measure customer satisfaction, public perceptions, and the number of complaints and compliments received. At present, all these indices are heading in the right direction
Although training requires a significant investment, it can lead to big savings in other areas. For example, overtime payments for operational staff have dropped sharply as a result of improved productivity, and unit handling costs have been reduced.
Into the future
To ensure higher standards are maintained among delivery staff, supervisors conduct periodic visits to household users to ask for feedback about the service. Allied to that, trainers will arrange coaching and refresher courses for individual delivery staff who are found to be having difficulties.
Taking advantage of new technology, Hongkong Post will introduce more e-learning options in the near future. "We have already enrolled a number of our managers in e-learning programmes, including CLC-Plus run by the Civil Service Training and Development Institute and courses with internationally recognised institutes," Ms Chung says. "For frontline staff, most training is in the form of classroom sessions, on-site coaching, blended learning or external courses. Our aim is to offer tailor-made development opportunities for staff of all levels to meet individual training needs."
The organisation has also been actively benchmarking their training programmes against other service organisations in both the public and private sectors. In this way, the culture of learning and sharing has not only benefited in-house staff but also people working for other employers. "We are a people-intensive business and developing talent and unlocking potential is especially important to us," says Ms Chung.