Don’t expect customer service in China

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!


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.

105 responses to “Don’t expect customer service in China”

  1. MB says:

    I’ve had similar experiences at restaurants. Just recently, I ordered a duck dish from the English menu but was given fried fish. Apparently, the English version was different from the Chinese one. They expected me to accept the fish dish, and only after I argued with them for 10 minutes did they replace the dish. Argh.

  2. Clinton Steele Ph.D. says:

    Three weeks ago, we went to Shenzhen for business. While there, I withdrew 1,000 Yuan from my Construction Bank ATM account. The next day, I went to another Bank to get more money.
    I then discovered that there was 10,000 Yuan missing from that account.
    My wife called them and via phone they admitted that the Bank had made a mistake and that they would adjust the matter and return the 10,000 Yuan to my account. That was almost three weeks ago. My wife continues to make phone calls everyday, asking why the money has not been returned to my account. Thre response from the Bank is that, “there is a lot of work that has to be done to return the money and we should know that it takes at least eight working days to make the correction. That was three weeks ago and we still have not received our 10,000 yuan that the Bank was stupid enough to make such a mistake.
    This is only ONE STORY!
    About one year ago, I went to the Bank of China and withdrew 1,000 Yuan from my account.
    A week later I discovered I had left my ATM card in the machine seven days before.
    My wife called Bank Of China and they admitted they had found the Card and I could go there to pick it up with the proper I.D.
    We went there four days in a row and all four days, the person that had my Card was away at another Bank for some strange reason,,,BUT, he knew we are to meet him each day. Mysteriously, he always had something else to do at another Bank.
    After almost SIX WEEKS later, my wife finally had to call a friend of here, (The leader of another Bank in another Province) and ask him for help. He inturn had to call Beijing and get their help in returning the 10,000 yuan. To this day,,,NO ONE has ever come up with a reason WHY, they could not return the 10,000 to my account. However, they always admitted that there was a mistake but NO ONE could correct it except the Bank of China head quarters,,,Beijing!

    My wife tried to transfer 50,000 Yuan to my account thirteen days ago. there was a slight mistake in the spelling of my name. The money could not be deposited into my account because of the slight mispelling in my name. (The account nuimber was exactly correct) She contacted them after discovering the money was not ther when it should have been. They old her they realized the problem and that the money was on it way back to the back that it was transfered FROM!
    That has been two weeks and we still cannot find out WHY the 50,000 Yuan has not been returned?
    I have lots more stories, I hope you publish some of the major f#%& up’s!
    Anyone with interest, please E-mail me!
    Clinton Steele Ph.D.

  3. You’re absolutely right Tom about customer service being non-existent in China. In fact, it’s at least 20 years behind what it is in America. I have many stories I could share here about this very subject. One particular experience comes to mind that I will share. A few years ago I bought a TCL computer from Sundan electronics store and unpacked it at my home. After I turned it on, I noticed that the monitor had three red dots (the size of pixels) on it. I called customer service (actually my Chinese friend did) and told them of the problem with my monitor. The response was quite simple and short: “You are lucky, most of the people who call us to complain find 8-12 dots on their screens.” I was flabbergasted by such a remark. As someone who grew up in southern California shopping at the finest retailers in the world, I never experienced anything like this. I wasn’t sure how to react or what to do with my brand new PC.

    Needless to say, I didn’t get a new monitor even though my PC came with a 3-year warranty. If there is one thing Chinese retailers hate doing; it’s returning money they got from a purchase. Chinese tell you that “the customer is god” because it sounds good and tickles the ears of a potential customer. But anyone who has lived here for any amount of time knows that phrase is just full of empty words. “Believe none of what you hear and half of what you see in life” applies in China more than anywhere else I have ever been. Now, after five years of living in China, I am completely used to this manner of business.

    My advice to anyone when faced with a situation that needs your immediate attention is to not be loud, obnoxious or offensive and offer a solution that will satisfy you. A Chinese hotel clerk who has never been trained in a western-oriented professional customer service program cannot offer you much in the way of a solution that is suitable to you.

    • Tom says:

      This is a great point you make at the end. I find it can be very useful to give them an “or” option. Like I would like to change rooms or receive a X% discount for this night. It never hurts to make this kind of suggestion, even if it is miserable to bargain once again after the purchase.

    • rudenoon says:

      Twenty years behind the U.S.? Try 250 years behind, when America was still a clutch of disparate colonies. Have been here since ’98, and I am still constantly amazed at a business model that doesn’t really care if you ever come back. Return customers are essentially not valued. There is always someone else who will walk through the door.

      • With 1.4 billion potential customers, no formal customer service training and a hunger to put as much money in their pocket as possible, it’s easy to see why many shop owners and some retailers don’t ever care if you return. I must say that some retailers are getting better, particularly GOME where I have purchased my HTC smart phone and some other electronics. I have sent them 3 new customers who purchased HTC smart phones from them too, which I suspect is why I’m getting good customer service. There is definitely room for improvement overall with China’s banks but I don’t see that happening anytime soon since they are State-owned and the Chinese don’t complain enough.

  4. Van says:

    In the realm of fiction, outlaws of the marsh has a restauranteur couple who butchers customers and puts them into dumplings. In real life, me and wifey were the only two customers in a restaurant and they did my order but forgot hers. Not surprised by your crazy stories.

    • Andrew The says:

      “In the realm of fiction, outlaws of the marsh has a restauranteur couple who butchers customers and puts them into dumplings.”

      I remember that pair! My sensibilities were shocked by that story more than a few times.

      But yeah, careful Tom; you’re definitely opening the floodgates by asking expats to share of the “nightmare-service stories.”

      I’ll forgo the temptation for now. For one thing, I have so many bouncing about in my head that I’m having trouble choosing just one.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As a Chinese ,I consider that 中 means central.I would prefer the central kingdom version.(In Chinese traditional culture,the ancient Chinese people think that China is the center of the world,the other nations are rarely civilized and full of barbarians.)Just private suggestion.

    • Yaxue C. says:

      “middle” means “center”.

    • James says:

      If we’re going to complain about translations, China is NOT a kingdom.
      The Qin emperor conquered all the kingdoms and made it an empire.
      How would you rather have it translated… central country? Central nation?

    • Tom says:

      I’m just going to clear up that Middle Kingdom is a standard translation of 中国. While central does offer a better understanding, I was just looking for another way of saying China.

  6. Chip says:

    One of two methods usually work. The first, as described above in many of the comments, is to GIVE the person face, whether by giving a couple of options or simply being overly courteous when dealing with a company that screwed up. The second is to quickly and decisively damage the face of the person that screwed up. This can be done by either being persistent about the problem and embarrassing them in front of their manager, or make comments like “wow, customer service is so much better in Taiwan.” Or any Chinese city other than the one you’re in. Don’t say USA or your native country, because that can turn the argument into an issue about nationalism instead of customer service. So far it’s worked pretty well for me.

    • Gary says:

      “wow, customer service is so much better in Taiwan.”

      LOL I bet that woul yield explosive results

      • Chip says:

        Hehe, the results can be pretty explosive, but it does the trick. The embarrassment itself usually forces them to swallow their pride and fix the mistake.

  7. Marian says:

    In opening my company’s bank account, I said “wholly foreign owned entity,” “dollar account,” “deposit in dollars,” and variations on that theme some twenty or thirty times over the course of an hour of “now sign heres” while giving over the paperwork for a wholly foreign owned entity.

    Not only did they open a RMB account, they opened one which couldn’t accept my dollar transaction for my minimum registered capital, froze my money for over two months while insisting that it was the responsibility of the originating bank to send them paperwork to allow them to change the account number on the destination account before finally sending the money back to the US to start over again.

    I’m somewhat lax in that I still haven’t written my long long complaint letter to the bank in question (nor to my American bank, who suggested that I use that specific Chinese bank) but my money is still in the account there (and for various complicated accounting reasons, is mostly staying there) and I’m a little afraid that if I complain too loudly, my money may go missing again.


  8. Ahhh, and I’m so excited to go back to China in a couple weeks! I’ll have to remind myself to have rock bottom expectations. I had ONE good customer service expereince in China the whole time I lived there, and it was at the United ticket counter at the airport as I was leaving…

  9. Ndaru says:

    I also think Tom just opened a floodgate 🙂

  10. kjsandor says:

    Three words, my friends: Mei ban fa.

    Have certainly had my share of these experiences – a group of my coworkers once went to a large, well-known, expensive restaurant that has several locations in our city and tried to order a meal. Every dish we chose we were told we couldn’t have because they didn’t have one of the ingredients. Come on, you’re a large restaurant but you have no food? Why are you even open today then? Could have understood not having certain seasonal items, or if it had been a small, hole-in-the-wall place, but not this one. We very nearly had to resort to asking what foods they DID have.

    There is also one supermarket in town that is very bad about not inputting the foreign foods on their shelves into their system, so when you take them to the register, they won’t scan and the cashier simply tells you that you cannot buy them. Then they re-shelve the items for someone else. A colleague took a stand one day and refused to leave the line without the item – it took 45 minutes, several calls to managers, and the cashier nearly crying, but she finally purchased them. In the end, all they had to do was go and take the communal tag off the shelf and bring it to be scanned.

    • Spiral Eyes says:

      The supermarket thing has happened to me twice. The first time I was asked if I wanted the item, and I said yes (it was actually the one thing I needed out of all my groceries), which resulted in much eye-rolling and sighing. Then I found out why – it was about 20 mins. and several employees later that someone was able to finally get the code to ring up the item. Of course the 20 or so people behind me in line were furious at the stupid laowai who wanted the damn potato chips. (Apparently it’s also impossible to pause a transaction on a Chinese cash register the way it’s commonly done in every other country on the planet.) The next time it happened to me I just decided I didn’t want the trouble and went to buy it at a different store.

  11. Saudade says:

    I’m thinking there is an illusion of customer service. Happy faces(well sometimes) and many to serve you, but often, if something is required, the given staff fails to perform. This not only happens in Chinese owned establishments, but in many foreign owned companies such as 5 star hotels. Oh, how I long for a “thank you” following a visit to a restaurant, shop, or hotel here in China.

  12. Lorin Yochim says:

    Obviously there’s no need to pile on here. I didn’t read a single experience that I haven’t had myself. There is more crap service than can possibly be written about in a short blog post or response.

    So, because my role on this blog is to throw a monkey wrench into the whinging works, in the amazingly advanced customer service realm of “America” (here I mean the U.S.A. and not South America or Canada, but insert any other Western country you can think of), when was the last time:

    1. You had your very own waiter/waitress stand only at your table to serve all of your needs?
    2. You had a shop’s proprietor follow you around with a bag to carry everything you buy and even help you to select the best fruit in the stand?
    3. You had a lady from the plant market deliver your six plants to your apartment and carry them up six flights of stairs?
    4. The kid working at your hostel went to the train station to buy your ticket home during May golden week (incredible lineups) for no charge?
    5. You were able to cancel your mobile phone service plan with no penalty?

    I could go on and on. Suffice to say that I think a little balance is in order here, folks.

    • mrchopstik says:

      Here, Lorin, let me help you remove that monkey wrench. 🙂

      Are you suggesting that the help you’ve enumerated above are things that are found in China – on a regular basis? (I find that hard to believe, though not necessarily impossible.) I can tell you that I’ve had nice things done for me from a customer service perspective both in the US and in China – and more than my fair share of poor service in both countries. While I agree with you that a little perspective is a good thing when running these types of comparisons, I don’t think (Tom can certainly address his intent) Tom’s point was to suggest that the US was better than China when it comes to customer service. Rather, I read it as a less than oblique criticism of customer service in China and some of his experiences. It is particularly noteworthy when so many people claim that the customer is God in China and yet even when role-playing they fail to see the irony in their behavior and their words.

      And yes, before you go to address it, Americans claim that the customer is right and I’ve seen more than a few occasions where that has failed to prevail in dealings between companies and customers. But again, this would be a comparison that I do not think was intended here.

      • mrchopstik says:

        I should clarify that I also meant to indicate that when I use the term “perspective” here, it is from the belief that people are going to judge “customer service” from their own “perspective”. And many of the posters here are expats or currently in China from Western nations who will have a particular bent when it comes to their judgments of Chinese customer service. Doesn’t make them right or wrong – simply that they have their own lens through which they judge the “customer service” they receive.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Quickly… Yes, on a regular basis. I was targeting California Kid, not Tom (probably I should have posted under that comment). But I wanted to make a broader point about the kinds of incredible customer service found in China and all but never found in other places (foot massage, anyone?), along with my regular reminder of the perils of ethnocentrism and, drawing on Meryl, the rose-coloured viewpoint on home of the laowai in China.

        Also, I want to draw attention to my lead in statement above: “there is more crap service than can possibly be written about in a short blog post or response.”

    • belgium88 says:

      People being nice to you doesn’t disprove the point in the post which was about the underlying culture of disregard for customer’s problems caused by the lack of legislation protecting consumer rights (e.g. the UK Sale of Goods Act or similar American statutes). There are nice people working everywhere, but unfortunately when you run up against assholes in China you have far less recourse than you would in the West.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Quoting me: “There is more crap service than can possibly be written about in a short blog post or response.” In other words, my attempt to “disprove the point” is your projection of my intent.

  13. belgium88 says:

    I’d never heard that phrase before but it definitely gave me a chuckle. Customer service in China is appalling, not just when there’s a problem but also with regard to general courtesy and being nice to customers (I was appalled when one of my friends, in need of change for the bus, wouldn’t even think of asking a shop to change a note because in her opinion they would just say no).

    One advantage and possible hope for change is that when I’ve had cause to complain I generally have got my way because, I think, I’m operating on the concept that the customer is always right and so won’t back down until I get something unlike many frustrated Chinese customers who simply accept crappy/abusive service as a way of life.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      “unlike many frustrated Chinese customers who simply accept crappy/abusive service as a way of life.”

      Completely and utterly untrue.

      • Chip says:

        没办法. Meibanfa, In other words, simply accepting crappy/abusive service as a way of life.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Silly and wrong. I’d suggest getting to know some Chinese people more deeply such that you can understand a little more clearly the meaning of 么办法.

      • mrchopstik says:

        Lorin, did you mean mei ban fa (sorry, can’t write characters on my work machine anymore)?

      • James says:

        ” “unlike many frustrated Chinese customers who simply accept crappy/abusive service as a way of life.” ”

        “Completely and utterly untrue.”

        I think you haven’t talked with a broad enough cross-section of society in China. If you talk to Chinese people about these things, and watch their body language as well as what they say, you will see that they are frustrated by it, and while they may not complain to you about the way they are treated, they feel that there is no solution, and accept that that is the way life is.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Yes, mrchopstick. Apparently my eyes are getting worse. 有办法了。

        @James, are you suggesting that a broad sample of Chinese opinion would reveal a narrow range of opinions on this matter? Do I need to pull out the “s” and “w” words again? In addition to their body language and words, should I also pay attention to the glistening in their doe-like eyes?

      • Tom says:

        alright guys, I hate to do this, but here is your reminder to keep things civil and avoid personal attacks.
        While I appreciate Lorin’s attempts to clarify people’s comments, it’s also important to maintain an open atmosphere where people feel comfortable stating their opinions.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Fair enough, Tom. After all, it’s your blog. I’ll do my best to leave the black pots and kettles lie undisturbed.

  14. Augis says:

    I think that the reason why Chinese stick to belief that “the customer is God” is that even the lack of service they perform with smile and “Thank you” phrase.

    You see – even in your case the hotel receptionist wished you “Good night” before hanging the telephone 🙂

  15. kingtubby1 says:

    Chinese customers do not accept crap service or goods as a way of life. They get on their mobiles and call in friends for support.
    I don’t know, but seven years in the Middle Kingdom and I’ve never had any serious negative experiences, and I didn’t even speak the language.
    Anyway, problems can always be solved if you have a well thought out strategy prior to the complaint, and then the fun begins. Having the cunning of a s… rat helps, and remember, it ain’t personal. Your identity is not at stake.
    Due diligence before you reach for the wallet applies wherever you a globally located.
    Most Americans overseas turn into whiny little bitches when even small resturaunt/shopping experiences go pear shaped. They have loud voices and piss off the natives and other non-US expats on a routine basis.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      I think kingtubby1 has a good point. This goes back to my constant point about lack of reflection. Reducing all human interactions to the buyer/seller relation, the dissatisfied laowai tends to take serious offence when the seller doesn’t do the same, treating him/her as an asshole instead of a customer. A very human response on the part of the seller, I’d say, which laowai as buyer finds very difficult to accept.

      • Chopstik says:

        Which begs the question of whether it is a cultural issue?

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        I guess I was thinking more along the lines of conflict that arises in a highly artificial situation, which you may have been getting at in another post. In most of the situations described here, we have foreigners, most of them functionally illiterate (statements of outrage will follow; but can we seriously dispute this?), running into difficult situations. Because of their inability to approach the situation with native competence, they do so only as a buyer, which means they have certain concrete expectations of being able to fulfill a particular desire. When they run into legitimately crappy service or even what is manifestly so-so service, they are frustrated and understandably angry. They attribute their dissatisfaction to the incompetence or of the seller or manager in front of them (he/she may or may not be), rarely if ever considering that their actions are child-like. Indeed, their appearance to the seller must be similar to what they would normally expect in a mentally incompetent and petulant adult. Clearly there are problems, even serious ones, with the level of service in China. Still, that Chinese people themselves experience them does not help us to understand the complaints in this post, which arise from interactions between Chinese merchants and foreigners of the kind I describe above.

        Reading this post, I can imagine the howls of indignation of laowai who have some facility with Chinese and even significant on the ground experience in China. Let’s face facts, though: all but the very best of us (no, I don’t include myself in this group) communicate at a very low level in Chinese. We read and write hardly at all by Chinese standards. So here we have this large group of quite privileged people who feel that, no matter their competence or bad behaviour, they ought to be treated with the utmost respect by virtue of the fact that they are buyers. A simple question will clear up this issue. If in your home country you had never attended formal school and learned to read and write, how would your level of schooling and literacy be assessed? If in your home country you had only ever attended one term or even four years of school and were able to read and speak at, generously, at the level of an elementary school student, what would your fellow (insert national identity here) think of you? Ask yourself, if in your home country you entered shops and hotels unable to express yourself or understand clearly, how would you be treated?

    • Kai says:

      They accept it as a way of life. If you ask a Chinese person why a 500 GB hard disk is always 400 GB — 470 GB, they’ll say it’s “common sense.” They don’t hop on the phone with their friends to complain because there isn’t anyone to complain to.

      In China, they’re just trying to kick the quality fade to the people farthest away from the Confucian hierarchy. That’s also “common sense.” You can tell this from their accent or, in our cases, our physical appearance. It’s just “common sense.”

      Being nice won’t help us. We just need to have locals buy stuff for us — when we’re not there.

      (Also, it’s not an American thing. All expats do this.)

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        This post is a series of absolute statements. Are any of them grounded in reality? Allow me to rephrase:

        They don’t accept it as a way of life. If you ask a Chinese person…, they’ll say it’s “just the way things are.” The hop on the phone to their friends…because there is no shortage of people to complain to.

        In China, they aren’t trying to kick the quality fade to the people farthest away from the Conucian hierarchy. That just isn’t “common sense.” You can’t really tell this from their accent…

        See where I’m going here? If I simply reverse every claim, it sounds equally plausible. What remains? The dismissive, high-minded tone of the laowai.

      • C. says:

        I strongly suggest you read Poorly Made In China. Chinese people accept quality fade as a way of life, and businessmen have to adapt accordingly.

        Reversing claims may make you sound equally plausible, but anyone who’s done business in China wouldn’t fall for it. You may have a problem with his tone, but that doesn’t make his claims wrong.

        As for personal attacks and rhetorical smoke and mirrors, they’re last resort of someone who’s trying to shut down a conversation because s/he doesn’t have anything substantive to say. Try researching something useful for a change, Lorin.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        How silly.

  16. Someone thinks this story is fantastic…

    This story was submitted to Hao Hao Report – a collection of China’s best stories and blog posts. If you like this story, be sure to go vote for it….

  17. kingtubby1 says:

    Hard discs/flash sticks. The sales folk don’t make them, and they always put them in a computer to show you their GB capacity. If you feel shorted, keep you wallet in your pocket.

    I do have sympathy for banking issues however. Anyone with any nous should know that it is best to have as little do do with Chinese banks as possible.

    Bought toilets, kitchen fixtures etc at very competitive prices, and always had them delivered and installed gratis. Even returned a lot of dvds for replacement until I found out that they were okay, it was my rotten dvd player.

    Talk quietly, give the shop assistant time to deal with the problem (they are not exactly paid a fortune, and they quite often have to deal with rotten owners/managers), and you will generally get the issue sorted.

    Remenber you are not the centre of the universe, even it you think otherwise.

    I’m no fan of much of China’s culture, but most of the comments above show just how ill-prepared many expats are when it comes to living in the Middle Kingdom.

    • mrchopstik says:

      A well-reasoned approach and I am also in agreement. It’s not perfect and won’t necessarily work every time but better than the approach I’ve seen many people make when it comes to perceived poor service.

    • Jake says:

      Many a time it just takes more time and patience to sort out problems in China. Travellers and expats are often so loosely connected to normal Chinese way of life that they have not adjusted their attitude to it. This seems to result into an over optimistic expectation that money will sort out everything.

  18. Jim Box says:

    In many restaurants in China the management makes waitresses pay for order errors – which can easily wipe out a days wages in one instance. Is it any wonder that servers and waitresses resist returning a plate the customer didn’t order? In several cases I’ve been involved in they simply refuse to acknowledge that a mistake has been made. At a Shanghai restaurant a couple of years ago I tried to return a dish that was not what I ordered and the waitress burst into tears sobbing at my tableside. She said her days wages would be wiped out if she returned the dish. Then the manager came over and started screaming at her – not because the customer was being made to feel uncomfortable but because she had told me about the restaurant policy. I felt sorry for her and just paid for it. I never went back of course.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      You are causing no end of problems with your reference to facts, Jim Box. How dare you!

    • Andrew The says:

      I’ve always suspected things like that are behind the waiter and waitresses’ refusal to admit their mistakes.

      Therefore, I generally say nothing and try to enjoy whatever they’ve brought me by mistake. As long as it’s not pig’s ear, I can usually manage. See it as an adventure, what?

      That kind of thing doesn’t bother me. The only thing that truly bothers me (with a lasting irritation, that is) is when people lie to you simply because they don’t feel like doing something.

      They’re texting their friends, or just about to get a high score on their beeping game. Or perhaps they don’t feel like putting the monitor on your wife correctly because they’re just about to get off shift (yes, it happened), so they just slap it on and leave, even though the resultant readings are all wrong.

      It’s not do to my poor Chinese, either; the language for “I’d rather not be bothered” is pretty universal.

      Yes, I know it happens everywhere, but it sure seems to happen a lot more here.

  19. mopedchi says:

    I am a Chinese laowai. I admit I have “Western” expectations of customer service but I look local and I am fluent in Mandarin. In most of my CS interactions, I am mostly treated with indifference, similar to how my local friends are treated. This is true for personal interactions (restaurants, shops, banks!) and business transactions (I’m a part-time CFO for a small company in Chengdu). When something goes wrong, it seems that no one wants to take the initiative or responsibility of assisting the customer. I think is the true test of customer service; helping carry stuff or delivering items door-to-door is easy, resolving customer issues is difficult.

    BTW, I’ve traveled with laowais that look like laowais and they get much better treatment than me or my family. True, if you are polite (and have a translator nearby), it greatly improves the situation but not all poor local/laowai interactions are due to the “ugly foreigner” acting arrogant or childish. When my Chinese friend visited me in California, she was very surprised by how well she was treated by Americans (even the USCIS agent) even though she was obviously a foreigner.

    Of course, when I say “good” or “poor” customer service, it is in comparison to my expectations. However, most of my local Chinese friends/associates also think service is poor in China, especially those that have been to US/Canada/Hong Kong/Taiwan/Japan.

    @Lorin (12/1/11 11:43pm)

    One of your constant whining in the comments is about how everyone else is culturally biased and make false assumptions about their surroundings in China.Yet your post is exactly that. You make all sorts of assumptions and conclusions based on what? Your own biased views of laowais? I lurk here a lot and the signal (good points) to noise (self-righteous laowai bashing) ratio of your comments is pretty low. Is there some kind of shame/self-loathing going on here? I’m asking because I really don’t understand your need to defend China and attack Westerner on each and every comment. It feels very personal for some reason.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Sorry, mopedchi, amateur psychoanalysis aside, your sense that I am making personal attacks prevents you from noticing that in each of my criticisms of laowai, I implicate myself. Not once have I excluded myself from this group. Also, somehow you read me as defending “China,” whatever that refers to. As a Chinese laowai, I’m sure you are quite sensitive to the fact that not all things appearing “Chinese” in China ought to be labelled as such.

      Frankly, there is little in your post that I disagree with, but you haven’t really responded to the issues I raised about fluency and cultural conflict. So, with respect to my analysis of laowai illiteracy and the nature of their complaints about China’s customer service, clearly you are not illiterate and your experience causes you to read things differently, but I didn’t offer it as a universal explanation. So, with what parts of my analysis do you disagree? And if you disagree with my analysis on other issues, please feel free to emerge from the shadows more often.

      • James says:

        “your sense that I am making personal attacks”

        You are making personal attacks.

        You could write, “I disagree,” but instead you write, “Silly and wrong.”

        It is not a “sense” it IS. You are attacking the other commenters.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        If your ideas are silly and wrong, expect to have them labelled such. In this sentence, “silly”, “wrong”, and “them” all refer to your ideas. I’m sorry that you can’t see this.

    • James says:

      Lorin Yochim,

      You prove my point exactly.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        I guess someone needs to. Now where did that “stick my tongue out” emoticon button go…

      • James says:

        You choose to make the world a worse place by choosing to be rude to other people.

        And you seem to think that being rude is a good choice.

        It is not.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Dear James,

        It is my sincerest wish that you take up with vigour whatever disagreement you have with the my comments on the issues at question under this post. Having asked you, politely, to do so, allow me to respectfully take up yours.

        1. “If we’re going to complain about translations, China is NOT a kingdom.”
        Thank you for your clarification of the meaning of 国. I wasn’t aware that China is not a kingdom. I’m wondering, do you have a sense of why this term is commonly used in English even today when China is, in fact, a republic? Come to think of it, what is the formal name of China?

        2. “I think you haven’t talked with a broad enough cross-section of society in China.”
        I don’t really have much choice here but to say that you are wrong. I’m sure you realize that what you think about my experience in China does not determine what I have done in China. At any rate, I’m not really interested in a battle of laowai credentials. Here’s the thing, Your conversations with a select number of people do not determine the truth or falsity of Chinese people’s passivity as consumers. Why did I reject the commenter’s post as “completely and utterly untrue”? Because in my many years of living China, I have never, ever seen evidence that Chinese people tend to respond with a behaviour that could be described as passive when they are screwed over. Of course I’m exaggerating to some degree; there is all the range of responses that we might expect anywhere else in the world. But, really, how many times have you seen people lose it when they are manifestly not being screwed over? Didn’t I just read dozens of comments on this very blog reporting on just just such behaviour in restaurants?

        And this exhausts your contributions in this comment section, both of which are short responses to others’ comments. The others are attacks on my demeanour in my posts. The one that you seem most offended by is my description of the phenomenon of the “illiterate laowai.” So, I’ll challenge you and anyone else reading this once again, what, specifically, do you find problematic in that post?

      • Tim says:

        I agree with James here, Lorin Yochim is doing a good job killing this fantastic topic by responding to every comment here. It’s hard reading through the very interesting experiences that are shared, without getting annoyed with Lorins disrespectful opinion.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        And the echoing continues…

  20. SteveLaudig says:

    Essentializing and generalizing seems to be a classical problem of bigots particularly when they travel. In comparing my bank experiences between the U.S. and China, I wouldn’t give the nod in competence or customer service to either but generalizing is usually a mistake. I’ve had a couple of frustrating experiences with banks in China. One is delay in service but that can be dealt with by timing when one arrives at the bank. Having identification present and filling out forms. The forms do seem worse than in the U.S. but not by very much. I have adopted the habit of confirming the accuracy of a transaction before succumbing the to seemingly American habit of walking away and then counting. Resist the temptation to leave simply because pressure is being felt to leave. Stand there, check the bills for an accurate count and genuineness. Modify your behavior, you are in a new environment. No one likes a whiner. I’ve been in Changsha since 2008.

  21. James says:

    I would also give this advice to anyone who hasn’t traveled in China, avoid the Agricultural Bank.
    In 10 years of using it nearly weekly, the Bank of China has never given me a bad experience.

    I was in a hurry, and withdrew money from an ATM inside an Agricultural Bank, instead of biking another 5 blocks and going to the Bank of China, and the machine made the “ck-chunk, whirrr, whirrr, whirrr” sound of dispensing my cash, but the door over the cash slot didn’t open. I called the bank teller over, she saw it didn’t work, the manager came, he saw it didn’t work, and two other people came and we all stood there and saw it was not working. When I politely asked, “What to do?” Everybody sucked their teeth.

    I ended up biking to the Bank of China to withdraw money.

    42 days later, I finally got my money returned to me from the Agricultural Bank.

    I agree with SteveLaudig, count your money while you are at the teller window. Even if you’re withdrawing a large amount, and check at least a random selection to be sure they are not counterfeit. I realize the counting machines they use are supposed to catch counterfeit bills, but I have had a few that I have slid back over the counter and they have changed them without comment.

  22. Chip says:


    Thank you for putting so well into words what I’ve been thinking, regarding Lorin’s comments.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      And once again, for good measure, anyone looking for discussion of the actual ideas presented is left wanting.

      • James says:

        Why would anyone want to discuss anything with you?
        You have shown repeatedly that you choose to be rude.
        I will not engage in further discourse with you.
        No doubt you will find others to occupy your time, you will no longer occupy mine.

      • Miguel says:

        Your posts are difficult to understand. You will often use 25 words to say something when 10 would suffice. Less is more. Is this an ESL issue perhaps? Like this: “And the echoing continues…” I’ve never heard anyone use this phrase before.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        I’m not sure I understand what you’re trying to say. Perhaps it’s an ESL issue.

  23. @Lorin. In the few weeks I have been subscribed to this blog, I have seen more comments made by you more than anyone else. In fact, a disproportionate amount. This tells me that you have a lot to say and what you say is well articulated and thought out – suggesting you are smart fellow. Another thing I have noticed is that you consistently write in a manner that puts some people on the defensive which is no fault of yours. While it’s fine to voice your opinions as you so frequently do here in this blog, it’s better to let people express themselves based on their experiences and feelings about a certain topic, such as this one.

    My take on all your activity here is that you like playing “Morality Cop” and the “Defender of China” by what I see in your comments. You’re certainly entitled to correct those who are blatantly wrong or mistaken about some facts concerning China and it’s citizen’s cultural habits but it’s not your duty to do so. Try to lighten up a bit on the “policing” activity and let people say what they want to say. You’re not going to change their attitude about what they think about China nor their experiences they’ve had and have here. Although I believe your well-intentioned with your motivation to defend or support China’s culture and its people, I think you overdo it with the depth at which you do it. Maybe it’s just because you’re the kind of person who likes to hear himself talk or read his own words. Chill out and try a different approach to your passionate prose.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Thanks for the comments, California Kid. Still, there is something a little disturbing about them. First, the idea that I am playing “morality cop” in my posts. I am not policing (which suggests “oppression”) anyone by pointing out that their ideas are vague, inadequate, or wrong. Usually I ask questions for clarification. Typically these are not responded to. As you say, this is not my fault. Second, I get that people don’t want to be told that they are mistaken about their experiences or observations, but are you seriously saying that their attitudes or beliefs about their experiences are unchangeable? I don’t think I’ve ever said anything so pessimistic and condescending on this blog. Third, frankly “China” (again, that always vague and ill-defined whole tossed in for good measure) doesn’t need me to defend it and the mutterings of a few laowai don’t have any bearing on its future at all. I’m not so worked up about my position in the world, although @James seems to think I do. Fourth, there is something deeply ironic about your accusations of “moral policing” given the kind of comments you and others are directing at me here.

      Finally, for those who object to my description of the illiterate laowai but can’t quite figure what rankles (as of yet, no one has taken up the substance of that post), rest assured that the comment is based on reflections on my own experiences of that kind. While most locate the source of their frustration outside of themselves, it became clear to me many years ago that these conflicts arise from my own inabilities, insecurities, and sense of dislocation. Obviously that post hit very, very close to home for some.

      • MAC says:

        1) People don’t want to answer your questions because they look like preludes to lengthy lectures about how the poster is an overgeneralizing closet racist. This is not a peer-reviewed journal. Some people may overgeneralize based on personal experience, and others may disagree with them, but most of the time people (even people who prefer not to have their names all over the internet) manage to do this without irritating multiple people by seeming to write off their experiences entirely.

        2) Your description of the illiterate laowai rankles because you give the impression that: a) You are the only person here who is capable of recognizing their own shortcomings and how they might contribute to frustrating situations, that these shortcomings were a major source of the problems related, and people need to have this pointed out to them because, despite being the ones who actually had the experience, they couldn’t possibly make a judgment about whether their language skills were part of/all of the problem because they are entitled foreign jerks who throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. I have seen this a few times too, but since you apparently don’t like generalizations, maybe you should do a better job of avoiding them.
        b) You assume that there were no Chinese on the customer side in these anecdotes or any other incidents that might have given people an overall poor impression of Chinese customer service, and that these impressions are mainly based on incidents where their language skills weren’t up to snuff. You are married to a Chinese woman, have you never tried to do something with her doing all the talking and it still being like pulling teeth?

        I don’t know why you’re failing to take the hint; you seem to be pretty good at rationalizing problems you have in China as being your fault, so why are you not taking a look at your own attitude when you’re rubbing so many people the wrong way? You can tell yourself that anonymous people are jumping on you because what you say has “hit too close to home” or that we’re all just anti-intellectual China-bashers or whatever works for you, but really, the fact that there are now a good number of people saying that they find you condescending and passive-aggressive should prompt you to think about the tone of at least some of your posts.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Poor MAC. So easily pissed off.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Sorry, MAC, that was a rude drive by shooting by me. In my defence, I was on my way out of the office.

        Needless to say, the pop psychological guesses at my motivations are well off the mark. That said, I will take your advice. In the future I will do my best to avoid picking the low-hanging fruit. I will keep my discourse (thanks for the word, @James) at a much lower level. I will carefully avoid anything that appears to be an accusation, because that’s rude, just as I will avoid anything amounting to confession of my own, because that is only my self-regard revealing itself. In all cases, I will give the closeted racists a pass, although I can’t promise the same treatment for the more obvious purveyors of racist foolishness. I will never, ever question the validity of explanations based on “experience.” I must realize that ours is an age in which experience is king. Finally, I will remember that Chinese people are a vile, ignorant, passive, aggressive, self-interested bunch who have no regard for human life.

      • Chopstik says:


        I have read enough of your postings here and on your own site to think I understand your point of view. Sometimes I agree with you, sometimes I don’t. Indeed, I asked you for clarification earlier on one of your points as it seems that you tend to take a confrontational approach to Westerners criticizing China or Chinese and your defense tends to be rather strong. This is, of course, your right and prerogative but it does allow others to wonder why you sometimes take the approach that you do and may be the cause of some of the blowback you are receiving in this forum. I don’t think anyone is wanting to muzzle you or force you to take an unnatural approach to your responses (though, admittedly, I can only definitively speak for myself here). Instead, I think people are trying to tell you that you are coming off more arrogantly than you seem to feel you are doing. No offense, but I can definitely see that point of view in some of your responses.

        For what it’s worth, just because someone is critical of China or Chinese does not make them racist (which you have seemed to imply in some of your responses – intentionally or not). Just because someone is not fluent in Chinese does not make them illiterate and suggesting otherwise will, as MAC pointed out, certainly rankle some people. That you admit to being similarly illiterate (as you defined it) does not necessarily minimize the impact of your negative assertions to others. Even your last few responses above to both CaliforniaKid and MAC (both of whom, IMHO, were trying to be polite with their observations of your posts) do not minimize the sense of antagonism that has started to grow in this particular post as you do come across as especially arrogant in them.

        All of us who read Tom’s posts are here to learn from him and those of us who post comments as well as to share our own experiences where they are applicable. I know that is certainly the case for me here and I feel I have learned a great deal and found several people (yourself included) from whom I feel I can learn more. This is the only blog I follow regularly for I have found it to be the most open-minded both in Tom’s thoughts and those who post comments unlike many other Sino-centric blogs and news sources. We do not necessarily all have to agree or have the same shared experiences but it is also important not to trivialize the experiences of others, whether they are old China hands or illiterate老外。Where our experiences have differed it is good to learn from others – whether you agree with their point of view or not. To argue that their experiences are invalid because of whatever reason is both irrational and closed-minded and, in any regard, will not foster any sort of open-mindedness.

        Please accept these comments in the friendly spirit in which they are offered and let us continue to all learn from and about each other as they pertain to China and even to other subjects.

        And I will now stop rambling. Tom, please forgive my long-windedness. I do not intend to add anything further to this subject but, if you feel my comments are out of place for what you intend with this blog, please feel free to remove them. Thanks.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Bare with me, mrchopstick. I’ll discuss with you off blog.

      • @Lorin Below are the answers to your questions directed at me in your reply to my comment directed at you. They are as follows:

        “Second, I get that people don’t want to be told that they are mistaken about their experiences or observations, but are you seriously saying that their attitudes or beliefs about their experiences are unchangeable? I don’t think I’ve ever said anything so pessimistic and condescending on this blog.”
        No, I am NOT saying anything of the kind. What I mean by saying “that you’re not going to change other’s attitudes” is merely that. I am not implying that you are trying to change people’s opinions here, just stating an observation of what I see in your comments. What you say to and about posters in this blog won’t change their opinions about the experiences they had. What it’s doing is putting them on the defensive. This is why I suggested you try a new tactic in your writing style. I believe you have a lot of rich experience yourself as a student of China and if you were able to share them in a manner that people could relate to, they might be inspired enough to consider following your way of life.

        “Fourth, there is something deeply ironic about your accusations of “moral policing” given the kind of comments you and others are directing at me here.”
        You see how my subjective comment above puts you on the defensive. The reason for writing my original comment to you was NOT to define you as a “policeman” but only to show you in words how people here are likely perceiving you. No one needs to be policing here except Tom since this is his blog.

        In summary, I think it’s real important for you to know that everyone posting comments here in this blog are not looking for advice, correction or scolding. They are merely expressing their opinions, experiences, and motivations the best they can. What people write here doesn’t define what is right or wrong for anyone else but simply their attempt to share a part of their life because they are inspired by Tom’s own experiences. Remember that “a person’s experience IS their reality” and whether or not you like their reality isn’t important to them.

        If you want to share your bold, intelligent opinions, then I suggest you write about them in your own blog where those who contribute their comments would be more than happy to hear from you in such a manner that you do when participating in this blog. This of course is just my humble opinion and should be taken “with a grain of salt” proverbially speaking.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Fair enough, Cal Kid, but I think you can see that I’m not so enamoured with the subjectivist view. At any rate, @msach is right. If you really want to discuss my style, just click through and contact me directly. My supposed crimes against the experiences have become a distraction.

      • mopedchi says:

        “Needless to say, the pop psychological guesses at my motivations are well off the mark. That said, I will take your advice. In the future I will do my best to avoid picking the low-hanging fruit. I will keep my discourse (thanks for the word, @James) at a much lower level. I will carefully avoid anything that appears to be an accusation, because that’s rude, just as I will avoid anything amounting to confession of my own, because that is only my self-regard revealing itself. In all cases, I will give the closeted racists a pass, although I can’t promise the same treatment for the more obvious purveyors of racist foolishness. I will never, ever question the validity of explanations based on “experience.” I must realize that ours is an age in which experience is king. Finally, I will remember that Chinese people are a vile, ignorant, passive, aggressive, self-interested bunch who have no regard for human life.”

        Wow. I come here mainly to read about Tom’s experiences and others who choose to comment, not your self-righteous rants. Once again, any interesting points you make is lost among your rude criticism of others, and you seem to do this at many China-oriented sites; I don’t know (and don’t care) why you feel compelled to peer-review every comment you feel is anti-China. It’s easy for me to just ignore you but unfortunately, you may end up discouraging visitors to post their experiences, and that’s a loss for everyone.

        Of course, this will fall on deaf and defensive ears. I know you’re being a sarcastic ass above but if you can do 1/2 of what you wrote, it would be nice.

      • Lorin Yochim says:

        Thanks for the advice, @mopedchi, but making this post two weeks after the original fracas is vindictive and foolish. Might I suggest a new mirror?

  24. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    Another Freudian slip Lorin? I applaud mrchopstick’s articulate response, which I wholeheartedly agree with. I hope that you enjoy “baring all” with him off blog.

  25. msasch says:


    I have had bad experiences here in China, especially with landlords. But all it takes is one or two great ones and I am back in love again. My Shanghai landlord paid me my rent back after I left early, sent pictures of all of the broken stuff and gave me the chance to lie my way out of paying, packed up the stuff my roommate failed to throw away and is keeping it for me and just sent me back my deposit minus a few very reasonable expenses. Ahhhh … what a wonderful feeling.

    As for the “Lorin Issue,” it might help if you moved the discussion to Lorin’s blog. This is not the proper thread.

    • Lorin Yochim says:

      Your experience with the landlord is familiar to me, @msasch. I had to back out of a lease early once. The landlord was very understanding.

      As to the issue with my lack of tact, you’re right. My contact info is very public.

  26. Spiral Eyes says:

    I’ve had a lot of horrible experiences with customer service in China. Too many to recount, actually – but most happened in restaurants and had to do with rudeness or being forgotten. However I would like to remark that I’ve also had outstanding customer service experiences here. They’re all the more outstanding because they are generally unexpected and uncommon.

    For example, I was once shopping for a pair of stylish winter boots in the small town where I was living. As I’m tall, I also have large-ish feet (relative to most Chinese) and so I find most styles are not available in my size. I eventually had three or four sales associates digging around the shop, pulling out crates and boxes from storage, on an Easter-egg hunt for something that was both cute and sized to fit me. When I objected, they laughed and told me it was their pleasure. I even got a free gift with my purchase (yes, I did finally find a nice pair).

    As a regular, polite, customer at some restaurants and shops, as well, I am also treated much better than I was the first couple of times. I’ve even been given discounts and extras.

    I think China is still in the baby stages of learning the importance of customer service and how it can relate to sales. There’s a real effort in a lot of major retailers and chain restaurants to make customer service important. Sometimes it’s a little much (like when they obsessively follow you around clothing stores and supermarkets “helping” you find things) but it’s a step in the right direction. I wonder what exactly Chinese consumers expect in terms of customer service?

  27. […] Don’t expect customer service in China […]

  28. […] China blog has a really funny post on service (actually the lack therof) in China, entitled, “Don’t expect customer service in China.” The post starts out describing a role playing game the blogger had his Chinese students play […]

  29. […] China blog has a really funny post on service (actually the lack therof) in China, entitled, “Don’t expect customer service in China.” The post starts out describing a role playing game the blogger had his Chinese students play […]

  30. […] in China blog has a really funny post on service (actually the lack therof) in China, entitled, "Don't expect customer service in China." The post starts out describing a role playing game the blogger had his Chinese students play where […]

  31. mac44 says:

    In my seven years living in Beijing, I can only remember one good customer service experience. A guy put a new battery in my car and he did it carefully, took his time and did a great job. When I tried to pay him extra, he refused the tip. He must have been from some remote village in an unknown provence of China, because anything like that never happened again. It was a constant fight to receive decent, respectable service from anyone in Beijing. I have since moved back to California. I am constantly surprised at the consistent helpfulness and kindness of workers in shops and restaurants. They are unbelievably friendly and considerate. It’s shocking.

  32. Former China Manager says:

    I’ve had many terrible customer service experiences in China. I would say that subpar experiences are the norm and that it takes effort and persistence to get what you’re after. I think that China just doesn’t have the same industry standards, and that staff training is just not as good. The best service staff that I’ve seen in China seem to be kind/thoughtful/willing to please because they have a personal inclination to help others, and not because their boss trained them to go above and beyond (or even do their job competently).

    I will make an exception for high end hotels and restaurants, however. If you’re a VIP or have the money to pay for superior digs, you will receive excellent service.

    Here are just a few of my negative service experiences in China:

    Ex 1: I paid for a double room in a hostel. One day another guest moved into the room with me. I took up the issue with the hostel staff, but they made all sorts of pleas, and the girl didn’t leave for a few days. She should have never been in my room in the first place.

    Ex 2: I stayed in a hostel for about a month (different place). The hostel manager was all about trying to maximize profit, and he could only do so if he continued to move guests around in different configurations depending on how many guests were staying at the hostel each night, the kind of rooms they needed, and what size rooms they needed. It was like musical chairs; I slept in a different room every few nights. My friend and I started out in a double, then we were moved to a 4 bed room, then to a 6 bed room that was only partially full, and then another double. I had other friends staying at the hostel and the same thing happened to them; it was very irritating. There was no warning or notice given to us before we moved into the hostel that we might have to change rooms from day to day. It was busy season, and there were few hostels in the area, so we had to tolerate it.

    Ex 3: I took my Qingqi motorcycle on a trip and it needed repairs almost daily. Some mechanics were competent, and others were not. Some would take apart your whole bike for seemingly no reason. And some would waste your entire day. I went to one mechanic and told him that I needed to replace certain lines in the bike. He nodded and told me to go relax at the restaurant across the street. He proceeded to rev the engine for the next hour with no success. Then I saw him stop working on the bike. I went over to ask him what was going on — he said the bike was out of gas, and I’d have to buy some from his shop at a jacked up rate (since there were no gas stations nearby). Then I asked him if he’d be able to fix my bike or not and he said that he didn’t have those lines anyway.

    I’ve had numerous other negative experiences, but I won’t list them here. I’ve also had positive experiences, to be fair. I really think the difference is in standards and training — China simply doesn’t have consistent standards of practice, and so you could easily end up with a dud. It doesn’t help that the incentives are off — many Chinese are just trying to make a buck and scrape by, and they’ll cut corners wherever they can to provide for their family. They often care less about their business reputation than their income, and if they’re desperate for more money in the short term, it’s obvious why that’s the case. Training is also not great — group calisthenics cannot replace training manuals that have grown out of the combined knowledge of research and long-term experience.

    In my experience managing a small business staffed with Chinese employees, they had almost no idea what customer service constituted when they started out. Their social rules for interaction with others are much different from Western rules, and that affects how they approach customer service.

    I think service will improve in China. It’s already much better in the big cities than it is in the interior, though it’s easier to stumble upon real hospitality in remote areas.

  33. Alan Tawil-K says:

    This conversation is really interesting to someone who is building a service company in China, such as ourselves, who are active in the software development field (B2B not B2C). I have noticed that the notion of service is somewhat different in China, and that expectations are low. This being said, if someone was bent onto giving good services ( and I mean a company in China with Chinese customers, nit a Chinese/Expat relationship), would you not think it would differentiate the one giving this, and hence bring in more business? I am being told that the priority is on quality… Any opinions?

  34. […] Seeing Red in China (hittade dit via China Law Blog) har skrivit ett kul inlägg om kundservice eller snarare om […]

  35. ben says:

    you shoul have experienced it in 1989…………..I was there for 1 month during Tiananmen incident.

    It is civilized compared to then.


  36. Richard says:

    I find that the local shop owners in my Guangzhou neighborhood are all very friendly and customer service-oriented, from my dry cleaners to the guy at the local tea shop. Service at large, expensive restaurants and chain stores, however, tends to be terrible, sometimes laughably so (as many here can attest to). Like most things in China, I think it pays to develop relationships, even trivial ones.

  37. Talk is Cheap says:

    Like everything else in China, Customer Service is more form over substance. They talk about “best price” or “best quality”, but everything is crap. Chinese can rarely back up words with substance.

  38. Paul says:

    eForChina has BAD customer service, they missed items paid for, refused to fufill and stopped replying to emails.. I would stay away !! BAD Seller !! Very typical bad answers that I was lying… I had to prove to them… and on and on… even blamed customs. Package unopened and no customs box..

  39. Jack says:

    Custome service in China is an oxymoron. There is absolutely no idea of what real customer service is.
    I have found that in many MNCs people have been trained and therefore understand what customer service is and how customers should be treated, but in general the Chinese are very ignorant people.
    Chinese love to talk about their five thousand years of history and how civilized they are, but in fact their five thousand years of history and civilization has taught them nothing. They are extremely ignorant people.

  40. Lamberto says:

    Yes china is somehow the worst country with bad customer service, they will follow the western culture to do business with all the paperwork. Doing business with china is a decoy because in the beginning the communication is vital. When it is time for them to perform you will be surprised. A sales person cannot give you access to her manager or they sometimes called bosses. You as the customer you will see how you resolve the problem by yourself, in the process it is either you loose or you cancel the transaction especially if you are into the import and export business. They simply do not care and you should expect the middle finger. They simply take the money and forget about the person who handed over the money. The pity is everywhere you go in the world you find china shops and poor people do not understand how these people are. China has no customer service they can be as good in manufacturing but how many businesses are suffering through their conduct and counterfeits. You can move from one supplier to the other they are all the same.

  41. […] China Change » Don’t expect customer service in China […]

  42. […] la formation est dispensée à des employés d'un marché différent où normes de service à la clientèle sont généralement beaucoup plus faibles, la formation prendra probablement plus de temps pour […]

  43. […] China Change » Don’t expect customer service in China […]

  44. Unfortunately like many things in PR China, the norm is “terrible”, just like the junks they made. Most ppl. especially the female service person are very very bad, and they act like if you own them sth. but actually you are the customer. If you are rich, they will respect you from the surface but jeer at you behind you back, and never expect they will trully serve you as the service industry is PRC is very low-ranked and looked down upon. Do Not Expect they would behave like a civilized person after renaissance as the norm in the civilized western world and Japan, Korea, Singapore even in Africa. Again, PRC is just an awkward country, due to its weird “socialist police state” ideology and sometimes it’s even worse than North Korea, at least in North Korea you go to school and hospital for free.

Leave a Reply to Former China ManagerCancel reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.