Moving forward

by Sophie Leung

Lilian Chan, general manager, marketing and customer service
Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited
Photo: Nolly Leung

Soft skills equally important for air cargo professionals

In the past year alone, performance in Hong Kong's air cargo industry has exceeded expectations, demonstrating how sophisticated the logistics process has now become. It is anticipated that the industry will register steady growth in the upcoming years. Ensuring efficient cargo transportation requires not only advanced facilities, but also a team of experienced handlers and customer service professionals.

"We have invested in both facilities and staff training to raise the bar for cargo handling performance," says Lilian Chan, general manager, marketing and customer service, Hong Kong Air Cargo Terminals Limited (Hactl). The company, which handles an average of 7,400 tones of cargo daily, has recently earmarked HK$21 million for the construction of three cargo protection canopies for use in adverse weather conditions. The three linked canopies will be built at the northeastern corner of SuperTerminal 1, scheduled for completion in 2009.

In addition, Hactl has built a contingency horse handling centre to prepare for 300-plus competition horses for the 2008 Olympic and Paralympics Equestrian events. Since Hactl is experienced in handling animals, the company is dedicated to providing logistical support to keep the horses in optimal condition. Renowned for its commitment to quality customer service, Hactl arranges regular meetings with the equestrian groups involved to decide on the most appropriate transportation and details like security arrangements, ensuring success for the international event.

Customer focus

Meanwhile, to improve the efficiency of document processing and customer enquiry handling, the company attends to the smallest details. For instance, to centralise the interface points with freight forwarders in the terminal, the company has revamped its landside service counters. Ms Chan notes, "Throughout the logistics of cargo handling, it's all about people. This is why Hactl spares no effort in staff training." Hactl is accredited by the International Air Transport Association (IATA) to conduct dangerous goods regulations programmes and to issue professional certificates that are recognised by the air cargo industry worldwide. All 1,800 Hactl frontline cargo handlers are trained and qualified to handle air cargo safely and efficiently.

Apart from hard skills training, Hactl works with external professional trainers to provide workshops concentrating on honing soft skills such as listening and team building. "Customer service excellence is more than smiles and politeness," adds Ms Chan. Hactl is proud of its customer service team's dedication, where anticipating and meeting customers' cargo needs is second nature. Team members are equipped with a comprehensive understanding of operations, delivery and service, so as to seamlessly perform duties including air cargo documentation and client communication.

To gain total customer satisfaction, Hactl conducts regular and ongoing surveys targeting stakeholders including airline partners, freight forwarders and trucking companies. The company also organises regular customer forums to announce goals and action plans for the upcoming year, and offer clients the opportunity to air their views. Committed to a customer-focused vision, Hactl also holds private meetings with customers to review service quality in specific sectors.

Swift response

Location is not the only challenge confronting the customer service team at Hactl. Air cargo is a time-critical industry. Many uncertain factors, such as adverse weather or flight delays, can disrupt the process and create problems. "Every day brings new challenges which require immediate judgment and staff must be empowered to make the right decision on the spot in the nick of time," says Ms Chan. She expects her team to demonstrate initiative and innovation when devising solutions.

To upgrade business continuity plans and prepare staff for contingencies, Hactl recently staged a typhoon drill with the aim of testing and enhancing its crisis management procedures and coordination processes. A customer service team is responsible for maintaining a constant information exchange with all stakeholders, while other staff execute recovery procedures to ensure a rapid overall response in every circumstance.

Hactl's customer service teams always receive local and overseas delegations, and introduce Hactl and Hong Kong to their professional counterparts. Ms Chan welcomes fresh graduates to join the dynamic team. "To become a member of the marketing and customer service team, a university degree, plus a good command of English, Cantonese and Mandarin are essential," she says. Customer service and logistics experience are also an advantage. Every year, Hactl recruits a batch of college students to work for several weeks during winter or summer break, with a view to helping students understand the industry and identifying talent.

The prospects for customer service professionals are bright. Candidates looking for trainee positions can expect ample opportunities to be promoted to managers overseeing service quality or key line functions. Ms Chan adds, "There is a constant supply of opportunities and challenges. We always encourage our staff to apply for new openings and make an internal shift to other departments for further exposure."


Taken from Career Times 27 June 2008, p. B4
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