Boosting service

Priya de Langen 06 Dec 2012

Organisations across the economy are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance and productivity. Among the strategies currently most in favour are improving their workflow processes, and providing specialist training to employees.

For businesses in the service sector, productivity is a particularly important goal. With rising wages, and greater competition among the mostly small to medium enterprises that make it up, getting more output from both physical and human resources is likely to be a vital challenge going into the 2013. It’s little wonder then that many organisations in this sector are taking the time now to update their processes and invest in their existing talent.

The Singapore government is also playing its part. It is providing funds to help with employee training and innovation schemes, such as through the Productivity and Innovation Credit (PIC) scheme and the National Productivity Fund. But employers in this sector still need to invest their own time and money into developing their staff and processes.

Improving processes

The Science Centre Singapore is one business that is making improvements to its processes, in order to increase both productivity and performance. Wendy Cheong, the Science Centre Singapore’s director of HR, says the organisation constantly reviews its processes to ensure productivity improvements and a happy workforce. Its latest developments have centered on making common HR tasks more efficient, leaving staff the time and space to do what they do best – top of the line customer service.

“Our HR has had computerised processes on claims, performance appraisals, and training administration since 2010,” she said. “This has helped the Centre cut down the effort and time spent in manual submission and processing, thereby improving productivity as staff can now be involved in more strategic than tactical and operational work, such as the checking of claims.”

Another organisation that is also making use of technology to improve its workplace processes is InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) Singapore. The organisation’s hotels, for example, have a passport scanner that helps speed up the check-in process and minimises potential errors.

At IHG’s Holiday Inn Atrium Singapore, there is also a Access Integrated Keyboard that further reduces the check-in time taken, while the Holiday Inn Singapore Orchard City Centre makes use of a Table Management System for its Food and Beverage department, helping to capture customer information and preferences so that service staff are able to best assist those guests on future visits.

Training for productivity

Employee training is essential for improving productivity in any organisation and companies will often set aside generous budgets and ambitious goals to train their workforce. That can often be difficult in the “always-on-call” service sector, but organisations that are able to commit to these goals are earning big rewards down the line.

The Science Centre Singapore currently sets aside a target of 65 training hours per employee per year. “Annually, we organise corporate developmental training alongside work-related courses,” says Cheong. “We also encourage staff to upgrade themselves by providing sponsorship and scholarship programmes whereby good performers can apply for Diploma, Degree and Masters courses. This helps staff perform their roles more efficiently and effectively with the new skills and knowledge gained.”

The organisation is also working with the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) on a corporate service training programme that will be launched in early 2013. WDA is subsidising the course fees including contextualising costs, and this has afforded the Centre substantial savings, adds Cheong.

Training is also critical for hotel staff to keep updated on their skills sets. Hotels under the IHG umbrella train their employees across divisions as well as in multi-skilling. Tash Tobias, General Manager, InterContinental Singapore, says: “Holiday Inn Atrium Singapore has successfully integrated the job functions of concierges, bellmen and security officers into one role. Prior to implementing this, to prepare them for the new role, training was provided. For example, Security employees had to complete a 40-hour training in concierge and bellman (duties), and colleagues from concierge and bellman roles had to complete the Workforce Skills Qualification (WSQ) Security course and be certified competent before they could perform the security responsibilities.”

Tobias adds that the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport has completed the first phase of its own cross deployment project. “A pool of colleagues has been trained and certified competent to be deployed in all sections of the food and beverage (F&B) and front office (departments). The team is moving into phase two, whereby the F&B team has moved to the reception to be trained in Guest Services, whilst the front office team has moved to F&B,” he says.

IHG Singapore is also utilising government funding to send employees for outside training. “All our hotels are certified as approved training organisations and we conduct in-house WSQ training programmes. This government funding support has helped our hotels tremendously, especially in supporting our learning and development expenses,” Tobias adds.

Rewarding for higher performance

Incentivising work is another strategy that service-oriented organisations are using to improve the performance of their staff. Courier and logistics company DHL Express is just one of many businesses taking on this path.

Herbert Vongpusanachai, Managing Director, DHL Express Singapore, says: “We empower our employees to share their own ideas, skills, experience and opinions to help shape the development and innovativeness of our company. Idea management and the Employee Opinion Survey are two valuable tools in this process.”

The organisation presents a quarterly Managing Director’s award during regular employee townhall meetings. Staff who have made significant achievements that result in positive customer experiences or productivity improvements are specifically rewarded. There is also the Annual Employee of the Year Award for Overall and Sales Excellence, which offers winners a three-day incentive trip. Those top-of-the-range staff get the chance to network with fellow DHL colleagues from other countries, says Vongpusanachai.

The Science Centre Singapore has also created an incentive scheme to motivate its employees. “We have implemented a service incentive scheme to motivate frontline service staff to achieve higher service quality. Since the implementation, we have received feedback that the staff view this positively, and it motivates them to go the extra mile to delight customers. This has led to increased morale and higher productivity which are crucial for the service industry,” says Cheong.

Challenges ahead

As much as organisations want to improve their productivity, businesses in the service industry have plenty of other challenges that can distract them from that goal. One such issue is the ability to attract right type of employees, and the current labour crunch across the industry in Singapore. With stricter guidelines on foreign labour, organisations in the service sector have been feeling the pinch in recent years.

Tobias says that with the stricter guidelines and the increase in the Foreign Workers Levy, it has become very costly to hire foreign workers, and ultimately unsustainable for the business.

“To overcome this challenge, our hotels actively support inclusive workforce initiatives such as improving productivity levels either through multi-skilling (or) using technology to enhance the process.” The organisation is also outsourcing some functions, such as public area cleaning, stewarding and laundry, to cope with the challenges.

Cheong of Science Centre Singapore says attracting and retaining passionate staff, especially in frontline roles, is the greatest challenge. “Most companies in the services sector operate 24/7 to remain competitive, but employees are looking for work-life balance. Hence organisations have to employ more staff which translates to higher costs for the organisation,” she says.

“Best practices in the market indicate a move towards flexi-work hours and telecommuting. For the service sector industry however, these practices are limited by the fact that the job nature requires onsite physical presence.”

Cheong adds that foreign labour guidelines have also affected the Science Centre’s recruitment of frontline staff. “We have had to relook at our employment strategies and now work closely with WDA, the Ministry of Manpower and tertiary institutions, as well as building on our staff referral scheme and internships.”

Vongpusanachai of DHL Express Singapore says E-commerce is a fast-developing sector for that organisation. “We need to constantly improve the efficiency of the logistics infrastructure and processes, as well as develop customised transport solutions that not only simplify (processes) but suit the needs of differing retail industries,” he says.

“While employee strength is crucial in our business, key factors in ensuring the long-term sustainability of the company is dependent on the competencies, commitment and motivation of our employees.”

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