In my three years in Chinese schools, teaching 20 different groups of students, nearly every class told me that “In China, the customer is God,” which left me dumbfounded because in my experience, customer service in China is practically non-existent.
Today I’ll be sharing a few of the more extreme examples of this, and hopefully they will help prepare you for some of the frustrations awaiting you in the middle kingdom.
My first inkling that customer service might not be as fine as the students claimed, came during a role play. One student was the hotel manager and their job was to address the complaints of the hotel guest. It went something like this:
Guest: I’m sorry, but there is a mouse in my room, can you take care of it?
Manager: I don’t see any mouse in here. Why are you lying to me?
Guest: I’m not a liar. It’s under the bed, I just saw it. You should give me some discount for the room.
Manager: I knew it, you just want me to give you back some money. There is no mouse! My hotel is very clean! You are trying to cheat me!
Guest: No! You are cheating me!
Manager: GET OUT OF MY HOTEL!
I was speechless. Not five minutes earlier they had said the customer was God, but now they were a lying cheat. This did not come from one of my more “creative” classes who might make something up to be funny, so where the heck had they learned this kind of awful service?
A few months later, when I was staying at a nice hotel in Chongqing, I experienced truly awful customer service first hand. Around midnight, a pounding on the exterior wall grew so loud, that my wife and I were certain someone was trying to break into our room from the outside. I got out of bed and moved quickly to the window; when I threw open the curtains I nearly screamed. Right outside, there was a man with a hammer smashing away at our wall. Panicked, I called the front desk:
Me: There is someone hammering on our wall outside!
Reception: Yes, there are some workmen doing something.
Me: Why are they doing this at midnight?
Reception: I don’t know, I will call you back.
Five minutes later
Reception: The workmen are from the gov’t. They will be done in about two hours.
Me: What am I supposed to do, it’s so loud I can’t sleep.
Reception: Maybe you could watch TV.
Me:…Are you serious? Can’t you ask them to stop.
Reception: But they are from the gov’t.
Me: So you don’t think it’s a problem that I can’t sleep in my hotel room?
Reception: You should try to sleep again, it’s not so loud.
Me: It’s very loud. It sounds like they are coming through the wall!
Reception: Good night.
Unfortunately, conversations like this are hardly rare. In restaurants I’ve been told that the plate of spinach I was served was the broccoli I ordered, I’ve had extra dishes show up that nobody ordered, and I’ve even heard of banks distributing counterfeit bills to their customers and refusing to acknowledge the “mistake” (which apparently isn’t that rare).
I know I’m toeing the “Ugly American” line here, but I don’t think that it’s so unreasonable to expect to sleep in a hotel room or get the dish you correctly ordered (in Chinese). But now when I hear a student tell me that “In China, the customer is God,” I smile and nod, remembering the important caveat: officially, it’s an atheistic country.
Have you had a similarly frustrating experience? Share it in the comment section below.