My 3-week trip in China inspired me to write this. As I experienced all kinds of service, I am reminded that service providers in every country, not just China, may need to be more sensitive to the cultural differences between themselves and their guests.
We chartered a nice Mercedes Benz from Beijing to nearby cities: amazing comfort and smooth ride. Suddenly the driver started clearing his throat repeatedly and sometimes spitting out the window. Wow! That’s not the luxury I imagined in a Mercy!
To make it worse, since he was a smoker, the stench of his breath filled the car every time he cleared his throat. At some point, I had to roll down my window each time he coughed. In China, spitting and clearing throats are still commonly practiced. But when you are serving international guests, wouldn’t it be a good idea to train your people to refrain from it? Thank goodness he drank hot tea to help neutralize his breath for a short while.
What cultural habits do you have that may cause discomfort to your guests? It may be biting your nails or wiping your nose with your fingers. Guests may find it unhygienic to shake your hand afterwards.
On the way to the train station in Xi’an, our taxi driver made a lot of phone calls on his mobile. In all these calls, he spoke with such a loud voice that we thought he could have been fighting with his conversation partner. In China, we saw many people speaking to each other in a loud, almost yelling, tone. While we perceived it as noise pollution, they hear it as normal conversation. It wasn’t until I yelled back in his ear that he realized I was annoyed at his tone. We laughed together and he answered the next call in a softer voice.
Being loud isn’t the only thing guests can find annoying. I often observe service providers speak in a tone that is too soft for the guest to hear. As a result, the statement needs to be repeated over and over again. Pay attention and determine the tone level that is comfortable for you and the guest. Yes, you may need to be flexible and adjust for each guest.
I don’t want to give you the impression that all my service experience in China was negative. I was pleasantly surprised at the courtesy and warmth of a shopkeeper in Xi’an night market who sold us some flower tea. After visiting several shops, I felt so welcomed when she greeted me with a warm, sincere smile. I don’t know what it was: she had kind eyes and a smile that told me that service was a personal value. That was hard for any competitor to copy.
After she helped me with my tea selection, she invited us to drink some tea at her table. This is common in a Chinese teashop. But what was different was that she poured herself a cup, toasted to our good health, and drank with us while engaging us in a nice conversation using her limited English and our even-more-limited Chinese. All I can say is that her energy was so pleasant and I was very comfortable in her shop. We ended up buying more tea before we left.
Is your customer service sincere? Sincerity, in my opinion, is the hardest unique selling point to copy.
At our recent ActionCOACH Global Conference in Beijing, Ron Kaufman, the master in service excellence came to speak to us about creating a service experience that is more than what customers expect. I believe that paying attention to cultural expectations is one of the ways you can create a uniqueness and competitive edge for your business.
Coach Cynthia owns an ActionCOACH Business Coaching franchise in South Jakarta that guides owners to increase your business results with a proven 17-week guarantee. For more information on business coaching, go to www.acsj.co.id