We recently came across an article published by IDEO that goes through some of the differences in customer service in China. Having experienced China more than a couple of times ourselves we found the article fascinating. The recent decades of growth, the overabundance of choice, and the rapid changes to expectations in China have definitely changed how customer service is perceived (for better or worse depending on how you see things).
There were some key takeaways that we feel are actually relevant for all types of customer service. Because our definitions and expectations of customer service norms are shaped by our culture and environment, it is important to understand how other cultures see customer service and what we can learn from those patterns.
The example given in the article indicates that Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of products being marketed for sale whether online or in stores. Chinese consumers actively seek out proof and reassurance that what they’re buying is real, genuine, and high quality. Due to the rise in this phenomenon, Chinese businesses have adopted a new system of service where customers may ask questions, see pictures, and get updates on stock in real time through text messaging and chat services. Without this competitive edge businesses can expect to lose customers to the next shop.
It’s absolutely normal and common for customers to feel doubt and skepticism when you’re asking them to shell out money for your product. They’d rather not pay. Or, they might prefer to try out your product before spending the money. Customers have the right to be reassured that what you’re selling is better than what your competitors are selling. As customer service professionals, it’s important to remember to how customers feel when they’re comparison shopping. This, combined with speed (response times), accessibility (e-mail, social support, knowledge base, etc), and quality (consistency, tone, staff) of service you’re able to provide in these early stages can have real impacts to your bottom line. Work to have the right processes in place to offer reassurance service.
Chinese consumers are also becoming increasingly picky about a) the quality of service and b) the additional types of service offered beyond what’s expected. Weird? Probably. But in China’s growing economy, it’s now not uncommon to find a massage therapist in a fancy restaurant or a hair stylist in a spa. The Chinese hot pot restaurant described in the article even had a children’s playroom and a manicure salon. If you think about it, we’re already undergoing this type of “T” shaped transition. More complementary services are being offered alongside specific verticals of products.
It’s therefore safe to assume that your customers are probably not just here to use/buy your product. Customers expect user-oriented designs, beautiful graphics, reliable up-time, simple payment methods, and yes, consistent customer service. Customers aren’t just in it for the product/service/food, they’re in it for the whole experience. This isn’t to say that you should start to offer BBQ ribs next to your consulting business but it is an indicator to start thinking about customer experiences. Align what you do well with the services you offer so customers feel that the overall package is complete.
The definition of measured service isn’t what you’d expect. It’s not a measure of how good your service is or how your staff is doing. It’s a measure of how good your service is compared to others that sell a competitive product/service. Another Chinese restaurant given as an example in the article drew inspirations from other restaurants when it came to packaging, cleanliness, service levels, and customer experiences. In addition, they focused on recreating those competitive attributes and re-interpreted them as a part of their own culture and service.
The lesson learned here is that it’s important to understand what your business culture is. If you’re not sure, look at those around you and see what they do well. Absorb positive patterns and relate them to what your product/service does well. Customer service is, to a large degree, a reflection of culture so simply copying processes or best practices will get you going but it won’t get you far. Having a firm understanding and commitment to how your very own business values can be translated through customer service is key.
Adaptive service is less about responding to customer demands and changing the way you do things and more about staying ahead of the curve in terms of what customers want and expect. Many Chinese customer service related innovations have come from this notion. A mattress store owner noticed that most of his customers live nearby and many are impulse buyers after they try out a new mattress. Most of them also happened to not have enough money on them because they were simply out walking their dogs. In order to capitalize on opportunities he offered to accept payment of any amount, to deliver the mattress in mere hours, and the flexibility to pay the delivery crew the remaining amount.
This type of adaptive service isn’t a reactionary one. It is anticipatory service based on customer patterns and a firm understanding of customer expectations. Refrain from running a customer support team that is purely reactionary. Reactionary service seeks to clear out as many customer requests as possible. Learn to provide your staff with a voice so ideas and innovations to better serve customers can easily flow to other functions of your business.
Speaking of mattresses and China – LOL
You can find the original article here.