One of the first things I learned living in Asia is that customer service is not at all like it is in the US. In the US you come to expect that if you are unhappy with a company it will always be made right. There were always 800 numbers listed on products where you could reach out to the company for help, and these have transitioned to social media accounts where companies staff agents ready to help.
Of course, you can also return things to a store if you are unhappy. After the holidays, there are longer lines at the returns counters than there are for the cashiers.
When a company trips up and harms their customers there is usually a quick mea culpa and an action plan on how they are going to get back in to the public’s good graces.
In the US, the concept of the “customer is always right” is ingrained into everyone regardless of which side of the transaction they are on.
When I arrived in Asia I discovered that there is a whole no paradigm on customer centricity, basically it doesn’t exist.
Here’s the most egregious example I saw during my entire time in Asia. A online seller on Alibaba had an employee who stole from customers. There email somewhat apologizes for the theft, but also closes with a pivot for more sales!
Very few if any stores will ever take a return. Many products are sold without a warranty or they will charge extra for a warranty. I was confronted with this for the first time when I purchased a TV from an electronics store similar to Best Buy. Immediately after swiping my credit card, the clerk came around the corner with a razor blade and slit open the box. Shocked, I asked him what he was doing, and he responded that he wanted to ensure that the TV worked. I asked what would happen if it did not work once I was home, and he said that I would be on my own to deal with the company. If that TV had failed an hour after purchasing it, I would have had to open up a warranty claim with the manufacturer which is obviously not a great experience.
Response times to customer complaints could take weeks.
As a comparison, I made the same exact complaint to Grab (Uber’s Southeast Asia competitor) and Uber. Uber responded within 1 hour and Grab never responded at all. They closed the support ticket with a comment that they had too many support requests to help.
One final discovery on customer support in Asia is that credit cards don’t offer $0 fraud liability like they do in the US, and disputing a charge is nearly impossible. Both of these factors combined depress the usage of credit cards – and its accompanying impulse buying because of fears of getting ripped off.
The key takeaway here is that if you are doing business in Asia, you do not need to invest in customer support like you might in the US, but if you do, you have a massive differentiation opportunity.