Career Path

Focus on customer service gives niche profession a competitive edge

by Charles Mak

Toby Ho, manager, business centre, marketing & customer services
CLP Power Hong Kong Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung

The term "engineer" refers to a diverse range of specialisations including mechanical, civil, chemical, computer, electronic, electrical and even sales and customer service engineering. Irrespective of discipline however, Toby Ho, manager, business centre, marketing & customer services, CLP Power Hong Kong Limited, believes today's engineers must be equipped with one particularly vital skill. "What gives an engineer the edge is a customer service mindset," he asserts.

Fascinated and inspired by heavy industrial machinery as a young boy, Mr Ho's prospective university choice and subsequent career path became apparent at a young age. After gradating from the University of Hong Kong with a bachelor's degree in electrical and electronic engineering in 1995, he immediately entered the electrical engineering profession where he has found his niche.

Mr Ho spent the first two years of his career as a trainee following the Scheme A Training required by the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers (HKIE). Subsequently, he became involved in client servicing for sizeable corporations. He joined CLP as a major account officer five years ago and was fast-tracked to account manager and recently to his current position when the company opened its first dedicated business centre in July, catering to the business development needs of CLP's 290,000-plus SME customers, particularly those starting up new businesses.

All-round development

"Throughout my career, I've been privileged enough to deal with some of Hong Kong's most distinguished private and public bodies such as Water Supplies Department, the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Hong Kong Science Park, hospitals and hotels," Mr Ho says. "Since the establishment of our business centre, I have enjoyed serving different customers from diverse enterprises. The exposure has been tremendously beneficial enabling me to unleash so much potential, not only as an engineer but also as a customer service professional."

"Be technically and mentally prepared to serve customer needs"

Working closely with an experienced engineer and a seasoned customer service manager, Mr Ho's key responsibility as the centre's manager is to offer CLP customers free one-stop consultation services, helping them to optimise resources to achieve energy efficiency and cost effectiveness and ultimately increase competitiveness. "Our total solutions cover a board range of services, from electricity consumption calculations and processing of electricity supply applications, to advice on the function and performance of electrical appliances," Mr Ho explains. "A consultation session usually lasts about 20 minutes and the insight we offer ensures a satisfied customer leaves our office."

Additionally, Mr Ho designs and organises educational seminars to facilitate information exchange, foster ongoing customer communication and promote the business centre's services. "We must encourage customers to learn about us and our services," he adds.

Growing competence

Mr Ho points out that professional integrity and mutual trust are crucial in fostering a long-term productive relationship with his customers. "A typical consultation session involves us presenting facts and figures to customers which may impact on their businesses," Mr Ho says. "The challenge is to be technically and mentally prepared to serve customer needs in an instant. We can help clients minimise costs by sharing professional know-how."

As such, chartered engineers like Mr Ho and his colleagues must fulfil continuous learning requirements — 30 learning hours annually — set out by the HKIE. Thanks to the unyielding support from his employers alongside the HKIE's encouragement, Mr Ho has obtained an array of professional qualifications including a master's degree in electrical engineering.

These enhanced technical competences have helped Mr Ho climb the corporate ladder. However, he underlines the fact that his keen focus on customer service essentially drove him to strive for all-round professionalism. "It's very much about making a commitment to serve your customers while setting aside time to build your own personal capacity," he emphasises.

According to Mr Ho, continuous service enhancement is a mission. "Customers don't expect us to know a lot about their businesses but in fact we do," Mr Ho says. "Through offering advice and recommendations, we exchange ideas and learn from each other. This is how we exceed their expectations."

Nowadays, tertiary institutions in Hong Kong only produce a comparatively small number of electrical engineering graduates every year. Due to the niche nature of the discipline, these elites may have a seemingly narrow career path but can expect exciting prospects with sizeable companies such as MTRC, Water Supplies Department and Electrical and Mechanical Services Department. "A growing number of graduates even opt for opportunities and challenges in China," Mr Ho notes. "This is certainly a viable career option."

In just a few short months, Mr Ho and his team's dedication have already paid dividends — the centre's business has increased by 33 per cent and customer satisfaction has reached 94 per cent. With plans for a second business centre located in the New Territories, the team can expect a productive future and greater scope for professional growth. "I'm looking forward to further developing myself in the area of customer service," Mr Ho concludes.

Taken from Career Times 07 December 2007, p. B20
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