David Maister - Professional Business, Professional Life
David’s ResourcesAbout David
NEW! Browse my materials by topic of interest:StrategyManagingClient RelationsCareersGeneral

Passion, People and Principles

Is China Different?

post # 366 — May 1, 2007 — a Client Relations post

I’m doing a seminar in Shanghai next week.

I have never worked in China before (except Hong Kong, many years ago.)

My assigned topic is how to be “client-centric” (or client-focused.)

Does anyyone have any experience or insight to share?

Are the principles of “client service” different in China?

Are the specific tactics?

I know this is late to be asking, but, when it comes to client service, is China different?


Sheila Maister said:

Have you had any interesting replies to this one?


posted on May 1, 2007

Michael Netzley said:

Hi David,

Great question. Many of us here in Asia are struggling to learn just what good service means in an Asian context, just as we are trying to do the same with leadership, corporate communication and PR, branding, and more. Generally speaking, the companies I work with and who recruit from Asia do not look to China (or overseas Chinese) for great customer service talent. That nod would go to the people of Thailand and Philippines where the culture produces people who understand service.

Here in Singapore, where we have a huge overseas Chinese community, the same broad stroke would apply. Customer service here is a national issue and challenge as Singapore transistions from a disciplined workforce to an economy where tourism, conventions, and service will be critical. I know this is a very broad stroke, but customer service in Singapore tends to be fairly poor relative to Thailand, Philippines, and the West generally.

You might check out Doctoroff’s book titled Billions. For more general reading, just to get a sense of urban life in China, you might check out the following.


Sorry I missed you at the CEEMAN conference in Berlin last year. I have shared your written comments with many colleagues….very provocative and insightful!

Best of luck with your talk. Yes, China is different. Getting our arms around the differences, however, can be terribly challenging.

posted on May 1, 2007

Matt Mooe said:

I have worked with many Chinese people virtually & I have visited China once – so I am in no way an expert.

However some key factors that people have told me:

– As with most of East Asia, relationships are critical in China. This means new firms may have to partner with organisations that have an existing relationship with the client. The current holder of the relationship may not be adding value beyond that.

– At the same time, customers for professional services are not always sophisticated and will frequently focus on price to the exclusion of quality. Value pricing is a relative novelty.

– Most professional services firms work their relatively junior, relatively inexperienced people hard but not always efficiently. This can impact on client relationships.

– Hierarchy within professional services firms & their clients is important – esp. having a patron who will protect you & advance you. You will be loyal to that patron more than an arbitarily appointed line manager who may be based elsewhere (something hard for US companies to understand).

posted on May 1, 2007

Stephen Downes said:

Contact jeff Utecht, who lives in Shanghai. His blog is ‘The Thinking Stick’. http://www.thethinkingstick.com/

posted on May 2, 2007

Stephen Downes said:

Also, Isaac Mao also lives in Shanghai. His blog is called meta. http://www.isaacmao.com/meta/ You don’t want to miss the chance to talk to him.

posted on May 2, 2007

anne costello said:

Ni Hao David

I’ve lived in Hong Kong (now back in Australia) and have been delivering PR consultancy to clients such as IBM in Greater China for the last 6 years – on the ground and virtually. Some of the things that I’ve found that help me working in China are: being very practical, always being curious to learn more about China, being accountable and demonstrating what I think is highly valued in China (as in the rest of the world), that I’m working hard to bring the best result for my clients.

As other people have commented, personal relationships are key. I was once told in China to “talk seriously only after you’ve laughed together”! Patience is also needed to build professional relationships in China with a large face to face investment needed to establish personal rapport first.

My clients in China really seem to value my belief that their problems are my problems, and I’m doing all I can to help solve them. This can’t just be said of course, this needs to be believed and demonstrated in action.

I hope this is valuable and good luck in Shanghai! And when you’re there, enjoy the great food ;o)


posted on May 2, 2007

Jim Stepanek said:

I help small < ?xml:namespace prefix =" st1" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags"" />US manufacturers sell into China, but in an economical way similar to how they might open a sales presence someplace else in the US. This means helping them generate money faster than they spend it, because nobody in an under-50 employee company has surplus funds to throw at a market half way around the world. We begin by creating a sophisticated Chinese language web presence and launching an e-mail campaign in English and Chinese to firms in China where we understand the buying culture; namely, familiar American enterprises that have migrated to China. The march up the economic ladder accelerates when my clients earn enough money to begin hiring staff and opening sales offices. This really works. But I have an unfair advantage. I grew up in Hunan and know people in Chinese society going back to grade school when they were quite unliberated. The hardest part is helping clients unlearn so much about Chinese culture, focusing instead on the common east and west norms of business behavior, like practicing uncompromising due diligence, remembering that face is a two way street, and above all, modeling our businesses in China according to a very familiar Chinese template: the frugal family owned enterprise. Jim Stepanek, President, Open China, LLC jamesstepanek@msn.com < ?xml:namespace prefix =" o" ns =" "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"" />

posted on May 2, 2007

Guanming Fang said:

When you really get to know Chinese people, they aren’t that different from your other clients. Like your other clients, they need to feel they are your only clients, they want to see you’re competent in your field, they want responsive service, and they want fair and reasonable fees. There is no doubt cultural differences affect people’s business behaviors. It is critical that lawyers and other service providers working with parties of different cultures understand, respect and accept the different cultures involved. This will enhance your chance of making your client feel that they are your only clients. Often times, what appears to be a disagreement in a business negotiation is caused by different perceptions rooted in one’s culture. If the lawyer can see that and help the parties look at the issue from a different angle and solve the difference, the client will value that service. This shows your competence. Knowing the political and economic systems of the client’s home country is also important. It helps you understand the client’s view points. It helps you understand why your client refuses to accept certain contract provisions that are so “routine” and “standard.” At the end of the day, understanding the culture and the different political and econonic systems helps you to be more responsive to the client’s needs.

Hope this helps. Have fun in Shanghai (and check out the old men’s jazz band at the Peace Hotel on the Bund).


posted on May 3, 2007

Michael Netzley said:

Hi David,

I just happened across this research from McKinsey. I thought you might find it helpful.



posted on May 3, 2007