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Customer satisfaction at a premium

Published on Thursday, 26 Apr 2012
American Express MTS executives Ada So (left) and Vincent Lai say applicants must love not only travelling but also working with people.
Photo: Berton Chang

Working for a financial institution has many advantages. Apart from becoming a banker or a financial planner, there are many different positions that need to be filled. For example, American Express is looking for new employees for its Membership Travel Services (MTS) – “the company’s best-kept secret weapon  and a fast-growing business”, according to Vincent Lai, director and head of MTS in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

MTS employees are there to support premium card members – a customer segment of high net worth senior executives at the top of the social pyramid – and take care of their travel and lifestyle requirements.

With about 2,000 employees worldwide, MTS fields more than three million telephone calls a year and caters to about half-a-million requests globally,  keeping  premium card-holders satisfied.

“This is a very good platform for gathering industry knowledge and for exposure within the company,” Lai says. “We also encourage staff to look for opportunities within the whole company; career development is not restricted to MTS.”

Lai himself is a good example of lateral exposure within Amex, as he previously worked in customer services and marketing all in  the last four years with American Express, gaining experience of both  the front- and back-ends of the business.

Dealing with a high-profile customer base, requirements are exacting and MTS prefers recruiting experienced staff. “We need people who have an active interest in travel and lifestyle and are passionate about these things,” says Lai.

The most important skills needed for the job are problem-solving abilities, a passion for servicing customers, an eye for detail and excellent communication skills, including listening and speaking.

For example, answers should be specific, fast and direct. Employees should also always be able to offer an alternative option if the original request cannot be fulfilled.

Ada So, premium travel executive with MTS, says: “The biggest challenge for me is building up a strong analytical ability to assess travel destinations and solve problems in a quick, efficient way.”

The recruitment interview includes both a psychometric and a written test to check technical skills such as planning a door-to-door travel itinerary. Role-play is sometimes used to assess applicants’ telephone manner and interaction with clients.

A full induction takes four weeks, followed by on-the-job training and twice-monthly coaching. There is a monthly team gathering, and a town-hall meeting every quarter. Ada So says that she appreciates the sharing sessions as they help boost her knowledge. She also likes the one-on-one meetings with senior management that build up trust and develop relationship.

“You must love not only travelling but also working with people, as you will have to spend a lot of much time communicating with clients. A professional, polished appearance is also imperative,” says So.

According to Lai, the job is exciting and a lot of fun, as the team has to find out what new events, programmes and destinations are on offer and that clients haven’t visited or done before. Working through partnerships, premium travel executives are exposed to the latest trends and openings, from restaurants to resorts and different travel options.

“Partners come to us and give presentations [of new products], so that employees can articulate the difference,” says Lai, adding that MTS staff are also often invited to visit new destinations to have a first-hand experience of the product they are selling, such as visiting British Airways’ new first-class cabins, or cruise liners that come to town. 


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