Hong Kong is one of the world's most developed markets for mobile communications, with the seven million local subscribers representing a penetration rate of over 100 percent. In such a mature market, there is inevitably keen competition among the six established network operators. They are forced to fight tooth and nail for each and every subscriber, offering not just service quality and reliability but also looking for any possible edge in pricing and value-added promotions.
CSL, as one of those companies, operates the 1010 and One2Free brands and is committed to the delivery of high-quality, innovative solutions and services for customers, according to Marisa Kwok, director, marketing and operations for CSL. "Customer orientation is the key," she says, "since it implies personalised service for every mobile phone user."
An eCRM system, developed in-house, is what enables them to remain customer-focused. The system stores essential data including user profiles and behaviour patterns and, based on analysis of the information, the company designs a frequently changing bundle of services. These cover everything from handsets to price plans, data content to ringtones, for customers divided into specific target groups such as enterprises or individual professional users.
Different channels are used to keep in close contact with all customers. They include electronic media such as the Internet, email, short messaging and electronic newsletters as well as more traditional direct mailing and hotline services. And, of course, customers can always seek advice at any of CSL's 17 retail outlets.
Feedback of all types is important, so regular surveys are conducted and are supplemented by more occasional focus group get-togethers for invited customers.
Any complaints are handled by a dedicated division, where staff are encouraged to keep an open mind and show a positive attitude when to listening to comments.
As Ms Kwok explains, "People nowadays are very busy. If they take the time to raise a complaint, it means they really care about our services. Therefore, we must take it seriously and react positively." To emphasise the point, some frontline employees even have their salaries tied to the level of satisfaction expressed by customers.
Despite the constantly tough competition in Hong Kong, CSL forecasts expansion in 2004. Ms Kwok predicts that market demand will be driven by the recovering economy and the rise of inbound tourism. Reflecting this optimism, the company has recently opened a 1010 centre in Mongkok and has plans for further retail outlets which will require frontline sales and customer service staff.
"When we recruit, qualifications and telecom experience are definite advantages, but not essential," says Ms Kwok, who stresses that candidates need passion and commitment to work in the industry. "They must share our mission in the delivery of the very best customer-focused services," she adds.
This applies equally for frontline or backroom staff. Engineers and technicians, for example, must be market-driven in network design and product development and create solutions that users really need.
"One major challenge in the mobile communications industry is coping with the wide array of products and services offered in a fast-moving market," Ms Kwok comments. The large variety of handsets, multimedia content, the full range of value-added services like mobile banking and ticketing, and flexible pricing can result in numerous rate plan combinations. When those products and prices keep changing it becomes even more challenging!
"It is, therefore, a prerequisite to have a genuine interest in technology and market developments," says Ms Kwok. "Otherwise, it can seem impossible to keep up with everything that is happening." In more general terms, she also advises people to keep their eyes open and be receptive so as to learn something from both the good and bad business practices they see around them.
Realising the value of a motivated and well-trained workforce, CSL puts a premium on continuous training, designed to benefit both the company and individual members of staff, who get the chance to develop their own careers. An i-training system, based on a unified online platform that allows rapid updates and information sharing, can be used by employees who are taking self-taught or distance learning courses.
Anyone recruited to work in a frontline position is given classroom training in both product and service knowledge. They also attend workshops and group discussions, in particular to give experience in handling actual cases that might come up at retail outlets. To provide guidance, more senior staff within the company are assigned as mentors and help with advice and assistance in daily work situations.
CSL has no specific trainee programme, instead providing training courses on an as needs basis. For instance, when the BlackBerry wireless email solution was launched, the company arranged for around 200 sales and technical staff to obtain the certification required to sell and maintain the product.
All in all, there has never been a more exciting time to be in
the mobile communications sector, something that Ms Kwok is keen to emphasise. "With so many local users and so much going on, the Hong Kong market is probably more dynamic than anywhere else in the world." she concludes.