Hong Kong has evolved rapidly from a manufacturing to a service economy, creating the need for a high level of customer service skills in many different sectors.
In view of this, the Poon Kam Kai Institute of Management (PKKI) at The University of Hong Kong (HKU), together with the Hong Kong Association for Customer Service Excellence (HKACE), has introduced a graduate diploma in service excellence and leadership. Executives from the Hong Kong Jockey Club, Centaline Property and Dah Chong Hong (Motor Service Centre) Ltd were among the 20-plus students in the first intake in early 2006.
Gilbert Wong, executive director of the PKKI, says that changing markets pose a constant challenge for customer service professionals. "For example, the emergence of IT has altered people's perspectives and provided new value-added possibilities," he notes. "This has changed the nature of many customer service roles."
The course itself includes a lot of classroom discussion, allowing students to share information and experiences. This reflects the teaching philosophy, which is to create an environment in which students can learn most effectively. They also have case studies, group activities and seminars, and are addressed by renowned guest speakers such as Wing-ching Shih of Centaline Group and Quince Chong of Cathay Pacific Airways at various points during the course.
The four modules cover service innovation, understanding customer expectations, operational leadership and quality measurement tools. The first of these helps students build brand equity and manage a customer-centric operation. In the other modules, key service principles and the impact of HR policies are studied in detail. "Recruitment, rewards and training all affect final service delivery," Dr Wong explains. "For example, a car repair technician with a fair salary, good career prospects and clearly defined job duties will conform to company rules and pay much more attention to offering good service to clients."
He adds that the course has helped many students examine their own businesses and identify areas for improvement. This gave them a competitive edge in career terms and meant their approach to their jobs was now more analytical. "They also examine how technology can improve their service and how to handle and minimise complaints," he says.
Applicants wanting to take the diploma should have significant management-level experience in the customer service sector. Buston Chu, who is vice-chairman of HKACE and general manager of the marketing division of Dah Chong Hong (Motor Service Centre) Ltd, was one of the first intake. He says that many companies still pay insufficient attention to their customer service strategies, focusing instead on cost control and marketing issues. His own experience is that better customer service has a direct bearing on company earnings, and improved performance in this area soon leads to higher revenues.