Monday, April 27, 2009

Customer no-no: standing in silence and waiting to be served

Grab and pay. Don't wait in silence.

Yesterday I went to Carrefour to get myself a radio (something I have been supposed to do for 2 months now). I wasn’t after something fancy, but simply a radio, so when I saw an old-looking, dusty black thing in one of the display window’s at the cashier’s counter I decided to settle for that (decent price as well, 88 kuai). I went to line up, but as usual I was the only one lining and everyone else were just pushing, elbowing and screaming to get ahead. I wasn’t in the mood to engage in that sort of game, so I simply stood and waited until the cashier woman wasn’t busy anymore, and asked her for the black old radio.

My attempted purchase was met with laughter.

-Oh my, that laowai wants to buy that crappy old radio! Said the girl to a workmate and they both giggled. I couldn’t bother to say anything.

But then came a problem. The radio didn’t have a price tag with a bar code, but simply a price tag. The woman had nothing to scan.

-Eh… wait a moment, she told me. By that time, 8964398634 new people had gathered around the counter, wanting to pay for their purchases, and I was pushed to the side.

I watched to cashier woman helping 5 customers, ignoring me completely, until I got annoyed.

-Can I pay for my radio? I said and reached out a 100 kuai bill.

-Eh.. yes. Just wait a moment.

-For what?

-We have to find a price tag for you?

-Yeah, but you are not looking, you are helping other customers. Who’s going to find the price tag?

She gave me an annoyed look and then yelled for a workmate. Another 5 minutes passed by and another 3 customers were served before a guy turned up. The cashier girl told him to look for an 88 kuai price tag. He gave her a tired look and turned around and was immediately pulled in by a potential customer, wanting to see a mobile phone. I watched him show the customer a phone. Then I watched him show someone else a camera. Then I saw him chit-chatting with someone else.

-CAN I PAY FOR MY RADIO!!! I almost yelled. I had been waiting for 20 minutes, I saw everything that was going on and I knew that no one was looking for a price tag but simply helping other.

-Wait a moment, miss! Said the cashier girl. We are looking for a price tag for your radio. You will be able to pay immediately (she used the word ‘ma shang’ –immediately. I hate this word in China because it has absolutely no meaning. ‘Ma shang’ can mean everything from in 1 minute to in 20 minutes).

-No you are not! I said. You are just serving others.

An amused laughter was heard from the throng of people I was standing in. Some giggling and pointing followed the laughter (I swear I heard someone say ‘lao wai hen sheng qi’ –the lao wai is angry!) and I felt close to my bursting point.

-Can I just please pay!! I said and reached out my 100 kuai bill.

The cashier girl looked extremely annoyed, turned around to her work mate who was busy showing someone else a camera, and asked him for a 88 kuai price tag.

-Huh? I don’t have any? He said.

Big sigh from the girl. She then had to bend down, grab a book full of bar codes, and find the bar code for my radio. It took a total of 35 seconds. Then I could pay, and was handed the radio over the counter.

-Eh.. do you have a box for it? I said.

The girl looked around quickly.

-Eh no, sorry. No box for this.

(Gosh, if she would have at least bothered to open a drawer before she said that!? Then it might have sounded a little bit trust-worthy.)

End of story. Well, I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I finally got my radio and it works like a champ! (and looks all retro and cool). But seriously. Customers service here in China… a nightmare. No wonder that people don’t bother with polite behavior such as lining up and obediently waiting for their turn. I bet if I would have continued standing there in silence I would still be standing there now.


she said...

Sorry for your experiences. Now you may understand why someone always trying to complain or find something wrong on the service. For example. the lady really should help you to find the tag for radio first but she did not. I think the service guy in europe market should always help the customer one by one. But in china, there is usually no rule for this, although it is kind of common sense. So if some guy complains severely to the service, it may catch their attention. But if you only wait, they may think you are easy to be pushed aside...

But I thick most service thing in china is getting better. Hope it does not annoy you too much:)

Anonymous said...

That's what you get for buying a crappy radio!

Cecilie said...

You think this is bad service? You should have been there in 1988, the year I first came to China. Even the most hardened anti-Chinese learning foreigner learnt these two words: "Mei you." 沒有

Employees were sleeping behind counters, their hands surfacing briefly to wave you away. Not looking in the drawer? They would shout Mei You before you even told them what you wanted!

Jackie said...

omg...that seems so...strange to me. in the US, good customer service is soooo important. you just can't get away with anything less than great service in anything related to PR.

Emmy said...

Wow! I can't believe it is that bad. I would have been so mad. Glad you are happy with the radio after all of that.

******************** Shanghai MiFeng said...

Jonna , I truely hope you told this nice Lady " Zhen de hao xie-xie ni " you want to be polite , you know . Now I must ask you , did the Radio even work ? Haha

mantse said...

when i first time to "queue" at the rail station for a ticket, i was wondered, why people need to queue behind me so tightly? the breast was on my back and if he can, maybe he wanna hug with me......

WoAi said...

Anyone who lives in China will know EXACTLY the scene you just described and it's a real pity. I experienced a similar situation in a restaurant in Hangzhou last weekend which of course I will be writing about. And you are right, you have to shout loudest to get any attention and if you try and be polite you will never get any attention at all.

But there are places in China where the staff are well trained and efficient and it's those places that are enjoying successful business. It's not rocket science.

flyingfish said...

After the jerk behind you says "老外很生气," that's when you say, as if to yourself but loud enough for him to hear, "五千年的历史." Your voice drips sarcasm. The only problem with this is that, while it may very well succeed in angering the people around you (so at least you will have some company), it will also likely end up making you feel bad almost immediately after you say it. After all, you are a guest.

Have you ever tried saying, "不排队吗?” to the people who are pushing? That always works for me, but I've only tried it with individuals jostling in front of me, not with a whole horde.

But I was wondering what would happen if you tried to organize the line. I mean, if instead of either waiting passively or joining in the frenzied jostle, you suggested that everyone line up, yourself included. With your height, I bet you'd be able to command attention and authority. They might think you were bossy or crazy, but who cares? I bet there's a good chance they'd still follow your lead. After all, lining up is a good idea, and I think people recognize this. It's just that, if no one is going to organize the queue, then it's simply not going to form, because patient lining up is not an entrenched custom.

Well,anyway, better luck next time.

Brad Farless said...

Hm. Seems like you're having a tough time the last week and a half.

I can sympathize with you on this one. I've had some bad customer service here too. That's a rare thing though. Here, the customer service personnel are usually over-helpful, sometimes to the point of being annoying.

I've been thinking about getting a basic radio too, but I can't seem to find one. All the radios are these huge things that do everything except your dishes and have speakers that are huge. I want something plain and simple. For big sounds I would use a real stereo. I just want something so I can listen to the local radio, preferably with digital tuning. Hm.

Anyway, glad you got the radio at least!

Blank-Socrate said...

happy Walpurgis night :)

Anonymous said...

I know how you feel! Happens to me too, but I've learned to push and crowd the counter just like the rest of them when I'm at places with local customer service attitudes. I still don't understand WHY? Beijing showed us that people can in fact queue.

Reminds me of when I was at Costa Coffee, waiting in the queue to place orders. A fellow LAOWAI walks up to the side and places an order! If evil looks could kill, he would have dropped dead then and there!! Thankfully the staff at Costa Coffee pointed out that I was [obviously] next. It hardly phased him, but pleased me. I was so proud of the Costa Coffee staff!

Bagman and Butler said...

I'm not sure this experience is limited to China. Customer service is dying away everywhere as fewer people are employed to deal with more and more customers.

Jonna Wibelius said...

she -no... not too annoyed. I was then though. But fortunately I forget about things like this quite quickly. U r prolly right saying that it's getting better... although there's still a long way to go.

Anonymous -hahahahha, yeah, maybe I would have gotten better service if I had bought something more pricy, who knows? Anyways, my crappy radio works perfectly fine and that's all I wanted :)

Cecile -gosh, u got me with that comment. I'm glad it's not 1984. Must be very cool/interesting to have witnessed all the changes China have gone through...

Jackie -yeah well.. it's funny coz at some places service is really good, but then at some places.. it simply sucks.

Emmy -me too! I dread going to supermarkets over here... (one of the reasons why it took me 2 months to make this purchase!). Hopefully it will 'stay alive' now for a while so I don't have to go again...

Shanghai MiFeng -no, I wasn't very friendly when I finally got my radio... and yes, it works perfectly fine!

mantse -cute thought but I don't think so... I think he'd rather cut in line... ;)

Woai -yeah u r right. when I get good service somewhere here (like the old man in the bike shop I wrote about some months ago) I always go back, regardless of the price. Look forward to reading some more Hangzhou stories!!

Flyingfish -organizing a line?? Hm... good idea although I am not the organizing type. Also, I have this problem of blushing fairly easy, so if I would start yelling and telling people to organize themselves into a line my face would prob turn tomato-red, which would have made people laugh and not take me seriously... although I do often tell ppl to stand in a line. Often they just giggle or give me a tired look as a respond though.

Brad F -yeah it took me a while to find this old radio... but it's really cute! Def worth looking for. It's so small that it fits in all of my bags... :)

Anonymous -ohhhhh a naaaasty line-cutting laowai?!?!? Those are tricky ones!!! It has happened to me too, and then the Starbuck's staff told him off... (and I felt as if I had just won the lottery -gosh what a geek I am!).

Butler and Bagman -f course it is not!!! There's bad customer service everywhere in this world, but since I live in China I am just sharing my China experiences. But yeah, u r right... crappy customer service is becoming more and more usual.

Brad Farless said...

Well, Jonna, as long as you're happy with it, that's what counts. Besides, isn't retro sorta coming back in style?

Anonymous said...

This is what you can expect with decades of a total government-controlled economy. As someone has pointed out here, in 1988, everything was "Mei you" (沒有) when you asked for service or products in a store. That was so true then. I grew up and lived in China then. It sucked. I think it will take another 20 years for the Chinese business owners and employees to care about customer service. Maybe it will happen when the average citizen in inner provinces are as affluent as today's wealthy coastal residents. On the other hand, it's interesting today to observe the more well developed countries like the U.S., U.K., Canada, your home country Sweden, and other EU nations that want to adopt an economic system that China had 3 decades ago. Socialism is well and alive here in the West. Just you wait. When the economy goes, do goes the good customer service.

Zhe said...

That's quite common in China... But maybe a male casher will be more polite to a foreign girl...

mtl said...

I went back to shanghai for summer once.

I was in KFC. A guy cut right in front of me just when I'm at the front of the line. When he got his tray of food I really wanted to overturn the tray and splash the coffee onto him.

I was in a carrefour, in the queue to get my vegetables weighed. When it was my turn, this woman put her veggies on the scale before I could. I got so pissed I picked up her veggies and threw it across the room. The man she was with looked completely embarrassed.

each time this happens I always hoped the cashier would do something about it, but they never do, sigh.

Hang said...


The Candid Yank said...

hands down, the worst part of going to any country besides my own (and canada, I guess) is the act of buying something.

i hate to push, i hate being pushed, i can't stand yelling, i do not haggle. ever. either you have a price for the item or you do not. if you quote me a price that is too high I will walk away. End of story.

in honduras it was more obvious that i was a foreigner, so i got this same foreigner disrespect that you did. or was forced to wait forever and ever because they know that you will not go somewhere else, because there IS nowhere else to buy this item. In the rest of central america it was the same, people pointing and laughing me and my boyfriend and obviously overcharging us for things because we were rich foreigners, I would get so mad that I was there spending my money at all. In Hungary though it was the worst, I inspected some tomatoes in a market, then looked up to ask a question, and the lady selling them found me so hilarious that she couldn't even answer, tears were in her eyes she was laughing so hard. Everyone else standing around also found me particularly amusing. I actually walked away and cried, because all i wanted was a fucking tomato, and now I am being ridiculed by a throng of people solely for being not from here.

seriously you must be a way stronger person than me, because I could not deal with that shit on a daily basis. Germany is hard enough, but at least they can't really tell I'm not from here because Berlin is a pretty diverse town.


What a drag!
...well, you got want you wanted and you were willing to fight for it.

Funny, collectively the whole group was unimpressed with your choice, so they didn't encourage your purchase.

Once I asked my Father-in-law to bring be back some toothpaste from China; just for the fun of it.
He said, "Why everyone in China wants toothpaste from the U.S."?

I did finally get my toothpaste but, after long discussions. It was green like green tea ice cream. Odd but me; curiosity.

Jake said...

I always think "pushing a way out" is a surviving rule to live in China.
This is not a joke.
China is a place full of extremely low level competition. This fact probably won't change in a near future.

Unknown said...

Just as jake said, this is all because of low level competion in China. As you know, China is a most populated nation, so some business owner are not worried about nobady will buy their products or service due to their poor service.

As for the bad service back in 1988, it is because of then state-owned economic system. Since the stores were run by the state-owned companies, the salaries of the shop assistants were not related to the profits, so the assistants do not care how is the business of the stores.

Redbabe said...

That still happening in China now?

I encountered those jostling and pushing when i was in Ocean Park, HK, for a holiday. It was a holiday season, and whole of HK was flooded with mainland Chinese. It was nightmare.

Gosh, when are they gonna change?

Jonna Wibelius said...

Brad -it sure is! :) Hope u find one too!

Zhe -I don't think it makes any difference if it's a male or a female clerk.

dfvxc -whooooa!! you threw away her veggies?! man, I would have liked to see her face after u did that!! I'd never have the guts to do that! hahaha! U r right about the clerks not caring.. it actually amazes me. They can have 826496 people screaming and complaining and pushing at the same time and they don't even look stressed?! I am deeply impressed.

Des -I'm also not a fan of haggling, try to avoid it when I can.. U would love shopping in Sweden. Very quiet, very polite. And when people line up, there is a big space in between people in the line... No one ever cuts in line... only tourists! ;)

Jake & lideting482 -u guys r right... The constant competing... U see that everywhere here in China... in traffic, in lines, when getting on a metro/bus... whatever. PPl are pushing and competing in order to get the 'best share'. I understand it comes from the fact that there are too many ppl here.. it makes sense. Still, one cannot deny that I hope the attitude will change. At least a little bit.

redbabe -not for a long time still I belive...

Christopher said...

What a completely frustrating experience. I hate blatant rudeness like that, I think I would've burst too. To think it only took a few seconds to grab a book and find a barcode. Unfortunately customer service is almost non-existent here.

This picture sums up the queueing thing perfectly:

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear your story. As you have guessed, most Chinese had this kind of crappy service experience so that no one bother trying be patient.

The photo is in Korea though...

Jonna Wibelius said...

Anonymous -good spotting!! Yeah this photo is taken in Seoul. How did u know?!

Alan said...

Des -I'm also not a fan of haggling, try to avoid it when I can.. U would love shopping in Sweden. Very quiet, very polite. And when people line up, there is a big space in between people in the line... No one ever cuts in line... only tourists

Seems quite boring to me. Give me the life and animation of china shopping any day of the week.

"When in Rome do as the Romans do"

Jonna Wibelius said...

Alan -well, to me, what u consider 'boring' is 'the heaven of shopping'... (everything except for the prices). Go and live somewhere where u have to haggle on everything, including your daily apples, for 3 years and see how much fun it is when u r a naturally quiet shopper like me.

We are all different!

Alan said...

Alan -well, to me, what u consider 'boring' is 'the heaven of shopping'... (everything except for the prices). Go and live somewhere where u have to haggle on everything, including your daily apples, for 3 years and see how much fun it is when u r a naturally quiet shopper like me.

We are all different!

I do live in China (for the past 2.5 years) and I find it different and enjoy it. BTW .. in any city in China large or small you can shop at the supermarket and pay the price they have listed. You only have to haggle if you use the markets or want to get a better price.

The Chinese would be happy for you to just buy everything at the price they first quote and then you would not have to haggle, they would serve you better, and it would still be cheaper than in Sweden. Compromise the spice of life.

BTW you can figure out your picture is from S. Korea because the title telss you this when you click on it to make it bigger.