We've a bit more to smile about - HK service staff now only second least friendly in world

Top News | Amy Nip 31 Mar 2017

Hong Kong climbed a cringe-worthy one notch from last to second last among 41 countries and territories in the latest Smiling Report of service industry staff as assessed by mystery shoppers.

Better Business World Wide compiled the 2017 Smiling Report based on information supplied by mystery shoppers last year in 41 countries and areas in Asia, Europe, North and South America.

The smile score, running up to 100, indicates how welcoming are the smiles of service industry staff.

The Hong Kong Mystery Shopper Service Association ran the Hong Kong leg of research, sending 2,000 secret customers on 30,000 site visits across 30 industries.

This year Hong Kong scored 57 out of 100, the second lowest of all places tested. But the score is nine marks higher than last year, when the SAR scored a measly 48 and ranked last.

The slight improvement put Hong Kong before Macau, which hit bottom. But it still fell behind other Asian destinations including Singapore (15th), China (24th) and Japan (34th).

Hong Kong's score is 22 points below the global average of 79, which is a little something to smile about as it narrowed from a gap of 35 points in the 2016 report. Association chief executive Anders Wong Siu-leung said Hong Kong's near-bottom rank for smilers could be due to retail sales declining - but just not as steep as last year.

Total retail sales were down 13.6 percent for the first two months of 2016 compared to the same period in 2015. But for January to February this year, the decline was only 3.2 percent year- on-year, the Census and Statistics Department announced yesterday.

"Front line staff of the retail industry have been affected by the economy for quite a long time. They should have adjusted their mentality and made adaptations," Wong said.

Some retailers could have also stepped up training to improve service quality, he said.

Telecommunications staff performed better, as the industry was relatively untouched by the downturn in tourism.

The industry is also highly competitive, making it necessary for companies to maintain high service standards.

The transport sector fared worse, as the service standards of many taxi and minibus drivers are not monitored by their companies.

Overall, the report said Chinese and other Asian cultures do not put a high emphasis on smiling, which was another factor for them falling behind Western countries in the global ranking.

Ireland achieved a hat trick, ranking first for the third year in succession with a score of 96, followed by Lithuania and Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Retail Management Association expects a 3 to 4 percent decrease in retail sales this year, narrowing from an 8.1 percent decrease in 2016.

"Looking ahead, the performance of retail sales will depend on the recovery pace of inbound tourism as well as whether consumer sentiment will be affected by the various external uncertainties," the government commented on the retail sales figures yesterday.

Meanwhile, AS Watson Group, the largest international health and beauty retailer in Asia and Europe, announced its global eCommerce businesses delivered a 47 percent increase in health and beauty sales last year.

That came after the group accelerated its digital strategy with an initial investment of US$60 million (HK$466 million).

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