Recently I spent a long weekend in Taipei; I once traveled to Taiwan about nine years ago. At that time I was amazed by the local cuisine, but this time I had more time to get a “feel” for the city, its culture and people.
What “amazed” me was the people working in the service industry. They were all so kind and pleasant: The taxi drivers, bookstore workers and also people who work in department stores, hotels and museums.
The first time when I stepped outside of my hotel in Taipei and got into a taxi, the driver said “thank you, thank you for taking my taxi…” For a second, I didn’t know what to say in response. I’ve never received such appreciation from a taxi driver before. I’m used to being asked by taxi drivers where I want to go and then there is a good chance they will tell me they do not want to go to a particular place and that I need to get another taxi.
I wonder if it was the softer tone in their dialect making the conversation more pleasant or it’s just that the people there are more patient, polite and kind. I enjoyed every minute I spent in Taipei, where I shopped, spent more money than I planned, just because the shopping experience was so nice.
When I was shopping in Taipei, I didn’t mind waiting, as people seemed more relaxed there. When it was my turn and the clerk was talking to me asking what I needed, other customers were also very patient and polite.
After I returned to Hong Kong, I started to think that maybe there is room for our service industry to improve; the city is known as a “shopping paradise” after all, and let’s face it, we’ve all had bad shopping experiences! We’ve all heard complaints from our friends about employees at cosmetic or luxury bag counters who did not provide good service because they think “you will not buy anything”.
Government data show that retail sales in Hong Kong have been declining year-on-year for three consecutive months from February to April, so now might be a good time for us to pause and think about how can we improve the shopping experience for consumers, and this could be helpful to the entire retail industry.
Chinese mainland netizens mock a sign used to be seen in stores decades ago in mainland cities, which read “do not beat or insult customers”. The sign speaks for itself about what the service industry was once like on the mainland!
But we all see how far the mainland has come, from “don’t beat the customers” to “be delightful”. If you have dined in Haidilao, the famous Chinese hotpot restaurant chain, you know what I’m talking about. The waiters and waitresses are so charming, so polite, always smiling; they really seem to enjoy their work. So even the restaurant charges more, people still prefer to go there. It is very difficult to get a table there during peak hours.
I consider people who work in the service industry in Hong Kong very professional and they clearly respect their jobs, so maybe companies in Hong Kong need to improve their “corporate culture”, and do more team building, or just go to Haidilao and ask the owner what he has been doing to make his employees so happy.
Once the employees are happier, I believe they will treat their customers better.
The author is business editor at China Daily Hong Kong Edition.