Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Customer as an Inconvenience

So, I get my new apartment, that I paid for 2 years ago, in 6 weeks time and have started the process of looking at kitchens, bathrooms, etc., etc. in earnest this weekend.

We got off to a flying start by going to see the apartment - something that I haven't yet been able to do (as it didn't exist when I bought it) and , in the best spirit of customer service, was told 'No'. Apparently I have to wait until the flat is mine before I can see the inside or let designers in. Great.

We went to loads of different shops this weekend and the customer service is, in 95% of shops here, astonishingly bad - but for two opposing reasons.

B&Q is an interesting example - in the UK, whenever you seek a member of staff you'll find that stalking the shelves for an assistant has the overtures of a horror film. You might just catch a fleeting glimpse of an orange apron at the end of an aisle but when you get there you can just hear the paint colour charts rustling gently in an otherwise empty aisle.

B&Q in China has flocks of staff that wheel around the aisles like vultures in search of their next meal. When you're just going there for inspiration rather than to buy something specific, you have to maintain a certain speed or they catch up with you and start to help you with a rapid explanation of the random thing you happened to be looking at the second you got there. Stop altogether and they can start circling round you and at that point, you've obviously had it.

The kitchen shops we went to today varied from the sublime (a couple of disinterested old biddies who told us that the kitchens they had were all old and out-of-date) to the ridiculous (a pair of shop assistants who appeared behind YY like the twins from Matrix Reloaded).

Customer service in China generally sucks very, very badly.

Restaurants typically have enormous numbers of staff (compared to the west) but their main preoccupation is miserably milling around just out of sensible calling distance and deliberately avoiding looking at the customers lest they might try to attract their attention.

Department stores are massively overstaffed but the level of knowledge is low and the level of customer care, lower.

Clearly some businesses are getting it (9 out of 10 for Wellbom kitchens who, apart from struggling to find the prices of some items, gave a very good level of service). Clearly there's effort and training gone into this:
  • Neatly presented staff
  • Welcomed into the store but not followed round the store and hassled
  • Good product range, well presented
  • Staff knowledgeable about the products (and not just "making stuff up")
  • Brochures (i.e. they haven't "Just run out")
It's NOT ROCKET SCIENCE. There are hundreds of books about customer service out there (that could be translated into Chinese if they're not) and yet a tiny percentage of places provide anything like decent service. OK, there are always going to be industries where the low margins force people to hire anyone that has a pulse (mentioning no hamburger dispensing establishments by name) and that's the same the world over but kitchens are a pretty expensive proposition and should get better staff.

You could hope that the likely outcome would be that companies like Wellbom will do very well and the others will struggle to survive but, unfortunately, most Chinese consumers are probably so used to poor customer service that they're already accustomed to it and won't vote with their feet like I will.


JP said...

Crikey that's a big vote!

Funny article, I nearly spat my cereal out again.

Anonymous said...

The proofreading police say: 'disinterested' is not a synonym for 'uninterested'; 'deliberately avoiding looking at the customers lest they might try to attract their attention' is ambiguous and would benefit from a redraft. Thank you for your co-operation.

dB said...

Thanks Anonymous But I choose not to co-operate.