Service Shock in Shanghai

Services foreigners received in Shanghai contributed a lot in their culture shock in Shanghai. I heard too many stories about it. Can I call it “service shock”?

Yesterday, I went to the Bank of China Tianlin Branch. When I queued to register my ChinaPay service at my Bank of China credit card, I witnessed a foreigner arguing with the agent behind the thick glass of the counter.

The story was like this: The foreigner, well dressed, young man, about 28 in age, wanted to open a bank account at Bank of China. He can speak a little bit Chinese but cannot read or write Chinese. He insists the person serving him to fill-in the form on his behalf.

At the other side of the counter was a young man in uniform. He insisted the customer find someone else in the lobby to help him. He said according to the regulation of the Bank of China, service representatives like him must NOT fill in any form on behalf of the customer. I guess this is to avoid fraud by the employees. Although I doubt whether the policy works or not, there is a reasonable explanation for it: thus the service representatives cannot fill in a form and withdraw money from a customer’s bank account.

Well. Here is the paradox. The foreigner repeated his argument that 1) “I am your customer”. 2) “I don’t want others to know my information”. He refused the help of the secure guard who wanted to help him to fill in the form. He said “I don’t want him to know my personal information. It is my privacy”… Reasonable! The service representative has the liability keep all the information confidential while others may not.

Ha-ha. It is an interesting argument. Finally, the young man in uniform was forced to call their head quarter for further instruction and the foreigner waited at the counter angrily.

I don’t know the result of the argument. At least it was not settled before I left the bank.

Expected and Delivered, Big Gap in Service

Shanghai’s service industry needs to improve to meet the international standard. Due to less competition, banks agents are still sitting there comfortably where customers in line and wait for half an hour to get served. My CitiBank account manager called once a month to update me about my bank status, although I didn’t deposit much money there, but ICBC and Bank of China never called for a single time. That is the difference.

Shanghai Still Need to Do a Lot of Work to be Foreigner Friendly

From my observation as a local resident, I still feel Shanghai is not foreigner friendly. By unfriendly, I don’t mean discrimination, attack, against, or words like this. It is just the information and the service level.

Not many people can speak English now. Of cause the places foreigners are expected to go, like hotel, tourist company, stores designate for foreigners, even Xiang Yang market, people are able to speak English. However, for expats, who really live here and must deal with local services, like utility companies, banks,

housing, things are much harder.

Fortunately, Shanghai has a large number of foreigners and foreigners find out their own ways to survive and make money from this gap. The most comprehensive English guide for Shanghai is That’s Shanghai. There are companies like Easy Mandarin are teaching people to learn Chinese. Real Estate companies like to help expats to find places. And there are portals like for expats to gather.

16 thoughts on “Service Shock in Shanghai

  1. Interesting article. However, allow me to put forward a slightly different viewpoint.

    In Japan, even nowadays, including in Toyko, most people are still not good communicating in spoken English. Nonetheless, the above incident will almost certainly never happen in a Japanese bank. First, bank branches in cities will more than likely have at least one employee who can handle simple conversations in English. Second, more importantly, Japanese bank staff will find a way to accommodate the customer’s not unreasonable expectations, which is the case in the above incident.

    Many years ago, I spent a few months in a Japanese retail bank, & managed to witness how Japanese bank staff treat their customers.

    Language is clearly a factor, but it’s the service mentality which makes a difference in customer experience. One’s hopeful that the state-owned banks will raise their service level, but this takes time. Jianshuo, perhaps you can shed some light on whether the smaller banks like Chinese Merchants, Pudong Development or Minsheng are starting to differentiate themselves through better service?

  2. I believe that one of things a service representive in a US bank can and will love to do for the customers is to fill in their bank account application forms. Cutomer only have to provide their information, sign their forms and input passwords directly. Unless there are some major holes in the current system of that bank, filling in an application form shoud have nothing to do with the customer’s authorization of accessing the money in the account.

  3. Agree with JH’s view above.

    Filling an application form has nothing to do with the money. The banks should allow their employee to handle it for the customer.

    I just wondering, how come the form is all in chinese? I think at least to print a chinese-English translation comparison paper isn’t that hard which can definitely help to solve this kind of incident and help foreigners nowadays.

    Wondering if I can taking a picutres of a typical bank’s application form, and add translated English annotations and send it to Jianshuo to have it posted on this blog site, hopefully, more foreigners can see it which may do them some favors.

  4. I understand why the bank would have that rule. But I have worked at a large chain bookstore before, so I also understand what it’s like to work under rules that seem to run against common sense. Sometimes I wanted to do something to help the customer that made sense to me, but was against the company rules. In the end, I could do nothing but apologize. When a customer runs up against a rule like that, the best the she/he can do is ask to talk to the person who makes the rules and can override them: the manager. There’s no shame in asking to speak to a manager; it’s their job to fix little (and big) problems like not being able to fill out a form.

  5. At least one thing for which our State-owned banks are not to be cast away. The bank service time. I remember when I finished my work, they were still opened until some 6 PM. Actually this convenience had been realized before I got SERVICE SHOCK in Japan. Each bank here Japan is to be closed in exact 3 PM, and of course no Saturday and Sunday service. I wonder how a full-time job employee can catch time to visit a bank ? or leave it all to his full-time housekeeper wife ? Sigh …

  6. When I first arrived in Shanghai, I went to the nearest BoC branch (on a Sunday), and opened an account. When the teller saw my friend helping me with the application, she called me over and filled it out herself. Either my experience or the experience of the foreigner you met was an anomaly, I guess.

  7. Though I don’t know about definition about service representative of Shanghai, I don’t understand well why the foreginers kept arguing with the bank clerks while people waited in a long line. If it’s the way to do in there, let’s do it in that way. WilliamW, I know Japanese bank’s services are not bad, but at the same time it does cost. In fact, many of Japanese banks are troubled with their high-cost corporate structure, and depositors are suffering from extremely low interest rate – virtually zero.

  8. sir

    im olso a foreigner in small city shaoxing in zhejiag province , i have two bank accounts in bank of china and agricultural bank of china , yes they gave me form to fill which was only in chinese, but she took photo copy of my passport and just asked me to sign and write my name where she had marked on form , rest all details she filled by herself ,,i really appreciate the manner in which chinese bank staff helps chinese , even in language sure they are learning and will learn soon how to match international standards.

  9. I agree totally with JSW. I moved to Shanghai in July of 2004. It was a big shock to find out that Bank tellers are not there to serve people. But it is the customers that need to beg for services. It is shameful to call myself Chinese after all.

    I went to a bank, there is simply no one to tell you where to line up, and people do not line up vertically, they line up horizontally. There is absolutely no smile on the tellers’ faces. I can easily waste 30 minute at 1 bank for a small thing. And for transfering USD$100 I could be spending 3 hours just moving around banks, then find out that it cannot be transfered at last.

    (Development Bank of China)

    I had the same situation, when I had to desposit money in another person’s account.

    First, the teller told me that I had to go back to that beneficeary to get a deposit slip from him. Boy, I need to visit my friend who is 30km away?? Then after asking 4 counters, I found out that the desposit slip can be bought for $0.8 per pack; what the….

    Secondly, They asked me to fill in the “amount declaration”. I filled it in English; they said no way. And I said I did’nt write Chinese. Then the teller unpolitely told me what I should have done; and then reluctantly filled it for me. I was like, f…, is this a bank?

    These people are still like 30 years ago, when Mao owned every single dime.

    I had bad services from all the banks I used: Agricultural., Industrial & Commercial., Developement., Traffic/Travel..

  10. I have good experience with Renmin Yinhang, China Bank.

    I use Dongchanglu Branch in Pudong, Shanghai.

  11. I went to China Merchants Bank and they filled most forms for me. It’s online too. All went quite fast and i got a Union Pay card on the spot.

  12. but why arn’t there some forms in english for customer in bank of China? maybe already have had it if i not fail in memory.

  13. I’ve lived in China for a couple years. Overall I love it here, but I hate the banks. They are incredibly indifferent, the lines are way too long and you have to talk to employees sitting behind a giant thick glass wall. The employees almost never smile, and are very quick to tell you no no matter what the request is. Not all of them are bad of course, but you can see quite a few of them have an attitude before you even start talking to them. Even little things end up being really complicated. I can speak Chinese, the language isn’t the process. Fortunately a lot of other things are good and most Chinese are very friendly, if everything was like the banks, I’d have left long ago. I love doing business in China, just dread going to the bank.

  14. I once entered a Japanese bank in Singapore. The Japanese staff took one look at me and asked me in the RUDEST way anyone had ever talked to me before “What Do YOU want”? At that moment, I felt like I was in 1945…

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