For LQ, With Thanks
Posted by MyLaowai on Thursday, February 4, 2010
Back in December I received a polite email from a Chinese reader. This reader had reposted a couple of my articles on a local forum, one which appears frequented by people in the export community, and wanted to make sure that this was okay with me (and to buy me a drink by way of thanks).
I took a look at the forum, and it was clear that most of the commenter’s missed the point I was trying to make, and instead focused their attention on whether or not the ‘local’ characters in my posts had a high enough English level.
Now, MyLaowai is not beyond being constructive at times, so I wrote a long reply myself, on the Frank Exchange post. However, that forum is the single most confusing website I have ever seen – it took me ages to work out how to sign up and I’ll be damned if I could figure out how to post a comment even then.
So now it’s here, instead. This post is directed towards Chinese businesspeople in general, and those who are dealing with foreigners in particular. Please be aware that this is supposed to be read in English, as I cannot be certain of the quality of my Chinese. I apologise in advance for any errors.
I am the original author of “A Frank Exchange”. I have been reading your comments with interest, and there are a few things I would like to say.
我是”A Frank Exchange”的作者。我读了你们的评论，想发表我的一些看法。
First of all, the article is intended as parody, i.e. a humorous version of a true thing. Although the email exchanges did not actually take place, they are based on true events, and those events occur every day to me, to all of my business friends and colleagues in China, and to pretty much every person doing business in China, regardless of the language used.
Secondly, and more importantly, I notice that many of you focus on the issue of whether or not the Chinese company employee has a high enough English level. Of course, any company wishing to do international business, or who wishes to sell their products outside of their local market, must have someone who is reasonably fluent in the language of the customer. I assume that you all understand the words in the article, which means that your English level is quite sufficient for most non-technical communications in English. That said, however, the problems illustrated in my article are not related to an insufficient grasp of English – they are much more serious:
- The company employee does not read the emails from the customer. S/he makes an assumption based on the first few words, and does not take the time to read the remainder properly. You cannot answer a question or solve a problem until you know and understand what it is that the other person is saying, and for that you need to read / listen fully and completely. If you don’t understand something, you must say so directly and then ask questions relating to the part you don’t understand.
- The company employee does not answer any of the customer’s questions at first, and does not provide information in a clear and concise way. Attachments that are huge, in strange formats, and that contain out of date or incorrect information will only make a customer angry. Be organised with your information.
- If the customer needs to know something, then he needs to know it. Telling him “don’t worry about it” is probably the worst thing you can do, unless you tell him exactly why he doesn’t need to worry about it. Vague reassurances only serve to worry people more than ever, and create mistrust. Giving your customers honest, timely, direct and complete information (whether or not they ask all the questions), will lead to more, better, happier customers every time.
- The company’s employees do not share any information with each other (or with the company!). We all know the reasons for this, but the simple fact is that without trust, no family / company / society / country can truly make progress. Social development is a by-product of trust – without trust, there can be no meaningful relationships and no worthwhile future. It all starts with trust, and although there are times when that trust is abused, it should not stop you trusting again.
I know these things because I am a customer, as well as a supplier. I have been in business for many, many years (and in quite a few countries), so I know what I am talking about. The problems described here and in my article are all extremely common in China, but I do also appreciate that some people (such as yourselves) would like to improve the situation. Please take what I have said as constructive criticism; that is the way it is intended. After all, if you improve your skills, then my job gets easier too.
Thank you, and may you enjoy a wonderful New Year.