A Question of Service

Related entries: General, Strategy

A conversation with the Andrew Hupert, the blogger at Best Practices China www.bestpracticeschina.com, and a post on the China Economic Review’s blog http://blog.chinaeconomicreview.com about poor service in China (in a Wal-Mart of all places) got me thinking. They reminded me of a recent incident in Beijing when I went into the Friendship Store to buy a book…

Having been shadowed by a suspicious shop assistant from the moment I entered the almost-empty store, I finally found my book. I asked (in my best Chinese) to buy it, and the assistant started to fill out what I assumed was a receipt. But no…it was an order form. I was instructed to take the form to the payment kiosk on the other side of the shop, join the line, pay for the book, then to return with a receipt to pick up the book from the assistant…

This all takes me back to the early 90’s when such an approach to service, and lack of trust of both staff and customers, was the norm – remember when hotels had service (i.e. security) stations on every floor?.

The amazing thing is how fast the overall market has changed, and that such experiences are now the exception rather than the rule. It is not a big surprise to find that the Friendship Store has closed down. To be replaced, apparently, by a new Hilton. I suspect that service on the site will improve!

But sometimes failure to deliver in a service environment is not just about convoluted processes or lack of training. It is also about mentality, and having a narrow focus on a single task, rather than a broad focus on delivering a solution. An example of this is when I once had an assistant arrange an internal flight for a visiting delegation. My instructions were to book business class tickets, but she returned saying that the flight had no business class and that she had booked economy. I asked her to check, as I had flown the route in business class before. She happily did this, and came back with the same response. On checking for myself I found she was right. There was no business class…but there was first class, a fact she had not thought to mention. I asked about this and she replied, correctly, that I had not asked about first class!

The moral of the story? Take care about how questions are phrased, and take time to ensure that both sides understand the overall aim, as well as the specific instruction.

China Business Services offers many (hopefully) amusing and / or insightful anecdotes about doing business in China – especially over a nice lunch…

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