Rooted in Success

Ascott Guest Service Officer Kuki Zheng believes she was born to do her job

Issue: Oct 2009

Kuki Zheng receives the Grand LIFE Heartware Award from CapitaLand Group President and CEO Mr Liew Mun Leong
Kuki Zheng receives the Grand LIFE Heartware Award from CapitaLand Group President and CEO Mr Liew Mun Leong

You could say that Kuki Zheng's profession is in her blood. She's a Guest Service Officer at the Springdale Serviced Residence in Guangzhou, part of The Ascott Group which operates around 19,000 serviced residence units in the Asia Pacific, Europe and the Gulf region.

Living in a Tulou, a unique Hakka communal dwelling, shaped Zheng's personality

Every day she has to juggle the demands of hundreds of finicky guests. But the 24-year-old Fujianese has been in training for this job since she was a little girl. Coming from a traditional Hakka family, her grandparents lived in a 'Tulou' (earthen building), an ancient communal residence unique to the Hakka people in Fujian province.

Up to 80 families lived in a massive circular building, usually several hundred years old and it was here that Zheng remembers her most valuable lessons in life. Festivals and celebrations were massive affairs involving dozens of families and everyone had to find a way to get along.

"People were very simple and warm. Everyone had to be understanding and helpful because we all had to live together, not like in the cities where people are very cold," Zheng said.

"This played a big role in shaping my personality and helping me choose my current job as a hospitality officer."

Zheng (second from right, front row) and colleagues with residents of Springdale Serviced Residence

Past is Present

It's no coincidence then that 20 years on, Zheng should end up working in another type of 'communal' residence - albeit a vastly more luxurious and modern one.

She has brought that same warmth and understanding she learned as a little girl to Springdale Serviced Residence. Though this is only her first full time job since she graduated from university in 2007, she has already made a mark for herself, winning the Ascott Grand LIFE Heartware Award last year.

Each quarter, The Ascott Group awards outstanding staff who demonstrate the four LIFE values: Local Touch; Individuality; Freedom to Breathe; and Exceeding Expectations. At the end of the year, the final winners are picked by Senior Vice Presidents and General Managers. Zheng and 12 others were presented their awards at a gala dinner in Singapore.

The Grand LIFE Heartware Award winners with Chief Corporate Officer of CapitaLand Limited Ms Jennie Chua (top row, third from left) and President and CEO of CapitaLand Group Mr Liew Mun Leong (top row, fourth from left).

As a Japanese language major, Zheng has also found herself a valuable niche in Springdale Serviced Residence, attending to the needs of its many Japanese customers, which make up almost 70% of the clientele. She is a catalyst for change as she is one of the few staff members who not only speaks the language fluently, but also has a keen understanding and appreciation of Japanese customs and way of life.

"The thing I like most about my job is that I can use Japanese and meet different people every day. Through them I learn so many new things and I'm very happy about that," she said.

'One-Step Service'

To avoid making any cultural faux pas in her interactions with hotel guests, Zheng makes it her job to read up on the customs and habits of different nationalities, especially those of Japanese guests.

"Japanese are generally more particular and pay a lot of attention to detail. They don't like disruptions to their daily schedule and have very high expectations of service," she said.

"This can be a problem sometimes, as most Chinese cannot anticipate or meet these standards."

To her credit, Zheng has on occasion not just met but also exceeded the expectations of guests. One night during her shift, a Japanese guest called up to say that he lost his luggage at the train station. When her shift ended in the morning, Zheng rushed to the train station to search for the lost baggage and make a police report.

"It wasn't until 5 pm the following day that the police called and told me that the luggage had been found. I hadn't slept for nearly 38 hours, but it was worth it," Zheng said.

Zheng and her manager Billy Zhao who says she never fails to find solutions for guests

Zheng's work attitude and sheer energy has earned her praise from her colleagues and superiors.

"She has very high work standards and ensures that she follows up on customer requests. Even when she doesn't know how to fulfill them, she will take the initiative to find out," remarked her manager, Billy Zhao.

"We call Kuki a 'one-step service', she will always find a way to solve things. Actually we expect this from all our staff, but she surpasses our standards." Her potential has caught the attention of the residence's top management, and there are hopes to groom her for management positions in Guest Service or Sales as she is extroverted and has a natural flair for customer relations.

Future aspirations

For the future, Zheng hopes eventually to gain enough experience to open her own low priced hotel for younger travellers. This hotel, she says, would carry her trademark warmth, hospitality and attention to service. "When travelling, young people should live well and live happily too. The hotel will be different because it will have youthful energy and personality as well," Zheng said. On the surface it may look and feel very different from the ancient 'Tulou' houses she grew up in as a little girl, but at the very heart, where it counts most, it will be the same.

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