23
Apr
2013

What does luxury service mean in China?

A very bad service experience in a bank late last week triggered me to think about service in China and in particular luxury service in the eyes of Chinese consumers?  Generalsing, China has a poor service culture, much of which I personally believe is based upon the countries history during the Cultural Revolution. It wasn’t until ten years ago that people, started to gather some understanding that being civil to others and providing basic service was a reasonable thing to do.

The banking escapade was in fact something that really annoyed me, but was not unsurprising based on my years of living here. Staff in state owned or run enterprises in particular are normally on low salaries and quite honestly, just do their job in ‘auto-pilot’, going beyond what they are programmed to do is not a requirement or expectation. Even when you are annoyed, they smile sweetly at you, but make no attempt to understand or rectify the cause of the issue.

This led me to think about ‘luxury’ service in a country where good service is more often than not missing from society. Luxury brands are struggling to provide luxury service because for most staff the concept itself and the understanding of what it is is missing. Yet wealthy consumers, who have received what they regard as luxury service elsewhere in the world, are demanding it.

This raises the question as to whether these consumers want or know what true luxury service is, or whether they just want respect, and to be treated as superior beings to those who serve in the store? My experience is that probably both apply to differing consumer groups; the sophisticated luxury consumer wants staff to pre-empt their requirements and to understand their needs, rather than just reeling off possible product choices, whereas the newer and less experience consumer really wants ‘good’ service, and respect as I did in the bank.

Until general service levels increase in China, we will not see true luxury service delivered, yet it is such an area of differentiation for brands that implement it and promote it. The populous has to know good service first, after which the fine detail of luxury service will be noticed. At present, delivering luxury service in store requires staff that understands detail, and consumers who will actually appreciate it. Poor service standards in general are not an excuse for those selling what are very expensive products to think that their customers do not deserve better, or to treat them with contempt.

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