Government control used to dominated every aspect of life in China. But when the developing service sector really wants to develop, giving up on control is crucial, writes China veteran Tom Doctoroff in the Huffington Post. That means a true change of culture.
The problem is also deeply cultural.
A service ethos requires the courage to go off script, probe into customer motivations, tailor individual responses, and even make mistakes. It also requires challenging past practices and experimenting with empirically untested solutions. In framework-fixated China, the qualitative dimensions of world-class service are scarier than bungee jumping. Hence the blank stares that greet unfamiliar requests at five-star hotels and the swarms of sales girls at high-end department stores who accost customers without first asking what they want.
The same goes for consumer-led online transactions. Bargains, not personalized engagement, rule.
To reach the next level of prosperity, Beijing’s mandarins will need to resist a basic instinct to control, well, everything. Yes, foreigners do not appreciate the exquisite delicacy of the central government’s balancing act as it pursues a reform agenda that does not destabilize. But, still, the PRC’s upwardly ambitious middle class has achieved critical mass. The country’s institutions need to evolve with the times, lest the Chinese people lose faith in a paternalistic government’s ability to slowly but surely implement an economic agenda that delivers broad-based opportunity.
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