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Unlocking Service Excellence: Tips from a Travel and Leisure Guru

Service excellence was ingrained into Ms Chan Guat Cheng, Executive Director of Chan Brothers Travel, the moment she entered the family tour industry business in 1984. Her late father, fondly known as Papa Chan within the company, always stressed the importance of treating customers well and upholding high service standards. Today, the company has carried on with this mission, enjoying a 50 percent repeat customer base despite tough competition.

Unlocking Service Excellence: Tips from a Travel and Leisure Guru

Staying true to the passion and commitment to serve sets the foundation for any customer service engagement strategy. It is this pledge for service excellence that has held steady for Chan Brothers Travel, with the company winning numerous accolades including the Singapore Service Class certification from SPRING Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore1) in August 2015 and the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand 2016 Platinum Award for eight consecutive years. While such accolades are a bonus, Ms Chan stresses the need for a clear service strategy and blueprint to be part of every company’s DNA and value proposition to customers.

She acknowledges that there are many challenges in delivering high service standards and meeting the expectations of customers. For a travel and leisure business like Chan Brothers, it takes more than just belief — it is a conscious effort to consistently address any potential gaps between customers’ expectations and service delivery. Ms Chan shares the key lessons she has learnt on the path to service excellence:

1. Know Your Customers

The old adage, “the customer is king”, still holds true in this day and age. Understanding your customers “inside-out” is crucial for most companies and especially those in the services industry with direct customer-facing processes. The company regularly emphasises this to all levels of employees and communicates their service vision at monthly meetings to ensure that everyone always works towards a common goal while consistently identifying ways to enhance the customer experience.

2. Just Do It – “Now” is the Right Time

Never take the drive towards delivering excellent service for granted or of lesser importance, no matter what your business is. Ms Chan views it as an investment which needs time for full results to show and encourages businesses to think of service as a core offering to differentiate themselves from competitors. She shares that it is also important to link outcomes or results of good service initiatives to timely internal employee rewards and recognition. With that, she believes there is never a right or wrong time to start focusing on this area, you just have to do it right and not be afraid of failure.

3. Set and Communicate Service Vision as a Top Priority

Communicating service as a top priority means everyone in the organisation from the top-down appreciates what it takes to be a high-performing company with a strong service culture and vision.  “It’s important that every individual in the team understands that what counts most is creating value for our customers. Management should lead by example. When every employee believes in its importance and demonstrates it in their daily work, you’ll naturally see a multiplier effect – it’ll uplift both customer satisfaction and their own job satisfaction,” says Ms Chan. The company has developed blueprints that contain documented steps and processes, used as a standard operating procedure (SOP) to ensure this is a priority in each employee’s mind.

4. Use Technology to Boost Service Delivery

Combining, and not replacing, the human touch with technology enhances the customer experience. For example, Chan Brothers introduced Whisperer Tours which allows customers to listen to the tour guide’s commentary on the sights, while having the freedom to roam within a certain radius to take photos at the same time. “It’s ultimately about enhancing the experience and not just about adopting technology,” notes Ms Chan. The company also introduced an intuitive web chat system as well as English and Mandarin e-briefing phone apps to provide customers greater flexibility in engaging in tour enquiries and briefings. In turn, these have increased productivity significantly.

5. Recruit the Right Talent for the Job

Nothing beats hiring the right staff who enjoy being in the service industry. Ms Chan admits that these days, it can be tough finding people who appreciate customer interaction or do not mind working on weekends. How does Chan Brothers address this challenge? Ms Chan says, “By driving home the importance of customer service in everything we do and in every department, we ensure this becomes a natural part of each employee’s consciousness. Essentially, we ‘live and breathe customer service’ in our company.” Chan Brothers also introduced a staff rewards system that recognises those who receive the most compliments from customers, helping spur staff to excel.

6. Training Service Champions

Chan Brothers embarked on an 18-month Customer-Centric Initiative (CCI) with SPRING Singapore (now Enterprise Singapore1) in August 2013 to develop and sustain a service culture system within the company. During the project, the company identified and addressed potential service-related gaps by establishing SOPs and automating operational processes across front- and back-end offices.

While Chan Brothers previously implemented various service initiatives in the past, Ms Chan notes that it was through this project that they were able to formalise and add structure to their activities. Combined with the adoption of digital technology to streamline their processes, the introduction of these new SOPs has resulted in a 30 percent reduction in lost phone call enquiries and bolstered its repeat customer base. Today, about 50 percent of Chan Brothers’ clients are repeat customers.

At the same time, the company established a real-time monitoring and tracking system for all service initiatives. This enables managers to provide on-the-job guidance to front-line employees on how best to engage customers. “We are in a people-dependent business, which requires a lot of training. Since we undertook the CCI, we have learnt to engage with all our staff better and staff retention has improved. We also observe that we have a higher return rate of staff now — about five to six staff come back to us every year,” says Ms Chan.

Besides maintaining what has worked well, the focus now is to find ways to do better in meeting increasing customer expectations. “By focusing on service excellence, we have enjoyed better, stronger business; but, above all, we ensure that every holiday is magical for each individual,” concludes Ms Chan.

Visit www.enterprisesg.gov.sg to find out how your business can also benefit from the Customer-Centric Initiative.

1SPRING Singapore merged with IE Singapore to form Enterprise Singapore on 1 April 2018.

Last Modified Date: 18 Apr 2018