Thursday, July 18, 2013

Customer Service in Vietnam

In an economy, which is highly dependent on customer service, whether it be tourism, exporting or manufacturing, one would expect the level of service to be very good.  On the face of it, it is.  However, while the staff are often extremely friendly and eager to please, the reality is that the service falls far below what foreigners, and more importantly, foreign companies would expect.  It is true that foreign companies need to understand the country they are doing business in.  They need to understand the culture of the people and the customs that they follow.  However, differences in culture aren’t always a good enough reason or excuse for errors that occur in business or even daily life.

So often we hear that in Vietnam, or in many nations in South-East Asia for that matter, that ‘saving face’ is very important.  However, this isn’t acceptable in Western society.  Not admitting an error or seeking clarification is simply unacceptable.  In a coffee shop it means the customer will not come back.  For a business it can mean the loss of a big contract with a multinational company, which could have ensured the long-term success of the enterprise.   In fact, owning up to a fault is since as courageous and good customer service in the West and Vietnamese schools should be encouraging the young generation to do this.

Another annoyance is that because labour cost are relatively cheap in Vietnam, there are often a lot staff in a resort, factory or shop, yet there are very few customers, or the staff are only responsible for one element of the business.  This causes problems.  When a customer goes to a shop in Vietnam, quite often, 2 or 3 staff will go to the customer.  This is often very annoying, and if the customer says, ‘I’m just looking’ the staff will follow the customer around which is even more irritating.  Additionally, as staff are often only responsible for one thing, if they are absent, it often causes confusion so others who don’t know how to do their job.  This can mean that important documents don’t get signed, deliveries don’t get processed and deadlines get missed.
This brings me on to my next point.  In the case above, is something is unable to be done, the guilty party won’t admit to the fault or inform the customer / client of the delay.  The most frustrating thing is that a smile or saying ‘it’s ok’ isn’t enough to make the situation ok.  Also, the time delay can cause serious inconveniences for the customer, which could be mitigated if they knew about the problem.   From people I’ve spoken to, delays and missed deadlines are the biggest problems with doing business in Vietnam.   It often seems to be forgotten that ‘the customer is King’.

Finally, I’ve never been to another country where staff in customer service where staff are allowed to use their phones.  You go to the bank, and the tellers answer their phones in the middle of serving customers and shop assistants would rather finish sending a message than tending to a shopper.  In the West, this is completely unacceptable, and although I’m used to it now, I still wonder why so many companies allow their staff to use their mobile devices whilst ‘working’. 

 cell phone ban

Vietnam has such great potential, particularly in customer service.  The people are naturally friendly, smile and are willing to help.  However, the lack of communication when problems arise, overstaffing and the use of cell phones are all detrimental to Vietnamese businesses, especially when dealing with foreigners.


  1. Thank you, as a young Vietnamese, I will improve what I can. Hopefully I can make some others change their mind.