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Customer Service in Taiwan: A Day At Guanghua Digital Plaza

When I lived in Germany many Taiwanese I met there told me that service in Taiwan is much better than in Europe. "The customer is king," they often said. I heard this opinion so many times that I obviously came to believe it. Since I myself considered service in Germany and Italy - the two countries in Europe where I lived longest - overall pretty bad, I was looking forward to coming to Taiwan and experiencing an entirely new level of customer service.

I will write in another post about the myth of Taiwan's customer service. Here I will just share my experience at Guanghua Digital Plaza (光華商場) which is, I believe, the most famous consumer electronics market of the Taiwanese capital. 

I'd been thinking about buying a new laptop for quite some time. Today my old one was so slow I could hardly use it, and I decided to buy an "emergency" laptop before purchasing a better one in Europe (if you're wondering, computers in Taiwan are not cheaper than in Europe).  

Guanghua Digital Plaza is very easy to reach. Since I like walking, I just walked from Taipei Main Station along Civic Boulevard (市民大道). I passed by Shandao Temple and Huashan Creative Park, turned left and then right, and there I was. If you don't want to walk, you can just reach it either from Shandao Temple MRT Station or Zhongxiao Xinsheng Station (Guanghua is just between the two stations; check out the map). 

Here is the building from the outside:

Improvised food stalls right in front of the department store 

square in front of Guanghua Digital Plaza

I have to say that when I went inside I wasn't very impressed. Since Taipei is one of the world's computer capitals, I was expecting more. Here is how it looks like inside:

Now, let me tell you first something about electronics stores in Europe. 

In Germany and Italy we have some big chains of electronics department stores such as Saturn or Media Markt. My favourite ones in Berlin are located near Alexanderplatz. 

Usually these department stores are structured in the following way: There are unboxed products on display which you can check out on your own. If you want to buy something you just take one of the sealed boxes from the shelf and go to the cashier to pay. It is quite simple. Customer service is usually not bad. The staff won't talk to you unless you talk to them and ask something, but in my own experience they are quite nice. 

Guanghua Digital Plaza is organised in a completely different way. The whole building is made up of show room areas and booths guarded by an army of staff that are usually doing nothing. When I went there, there were shop clerks eating, chatting, staring at their phones; very few of them were actually serving customers.

The whole atmosphere was quite stressful. Many booths were small and overstaffed, looking like rows of small shops. I found that most Taiwanese electronics stores are like this. 

Now, when I entered the building I quickly found exactly the laptop I wanted. I asked a shop clerk how much it cost, but he said the laptop was only on display and if I wanted to buy it I had to go to the second floor. So I went to the second floor. There I asked again, and the shop clerk told me the price. I asked him a few more questions. I have to say that I spoke to him in English. That's because my Mandarin is not good enough to talk about DDR memory, battery life or SD card slots. 

The clerk asked me to sit down. After a few minutes another guy came. When he saw me he looked kind of frightened. He could speak no English at all. "Follow him," said the first shop clerk. 

I wasn't sure why, so I asked if I had to return there to pay. "No," he said; the other clerk would show me the laptop and I would pay upstairs. So I went with the other man. I told him - in Chinese - that I could speak Mandarin and he didn't need to worry. In fact, he looked as if he had never seen a foreigner before. I asked him if they have many foreign customers. He said they usually don't have foreign customers. The conversation ended here. 

So we went to the 4th floor, to yet another shop, with a few clerks that were doing nothing. They all stared at me. "He can speak some Mandarin," said the clerk to the others. They prepared the receipt, put some stamps on it, and then I paid. I was asked to sit down. Then the man brought a box, opened it and showed me the laptop. He booted it up. Then he left me alone and went to chat with his colleagues. I was not sure what I was supposed to do. The laptop worked fine, so I shut it down. The guy came over, put the laptop back into the box and the box into a bag. He gave it to me and left. I stood up, but no one seemed to care any more. I said good-bye, and they said good-bye. 

The whole process lasted about one hour, maybe a little less.   

So, if I compare my customer experience in Europe and in Taiwan, I'd say the first was way better. When I lived in Germany and Italy, I loved to go to buy electronics. I enjoy walking around, checking out things on my own, so I can think about what I want to buy. I usually went to a store several times before deciding to purchase something. I like the fact that the staff won't talk to me and that I can just go to the cashier with the product once I've made up my mind.

At Guanghua, on the contrary, purchasing something was needlessly long and complicated. I had to talk to several people, go to three different floors and wait quite a long time only to buy a laptop. I could have done that in 10 minutes. I don't understand why you need so many people working in these small booths and shops and why they keep sending you from one place to another. The whole thing is long and ceremonious, but I wouldn't describe it as a good customer experience. Moreover, if you are a foreigner and don't speak Chinese all this talking is simply a waste of time and it's a nuisance for both you and the staff. My impression was that many shop clerks are not used to handling foreign visitors (despite the fact that I saw a few foreigners there). 

Other shops in Taipei are quite similar. Two years ago I bought a netbook at a store near Taipei Main Station. I had to talk to the staff, then go upstairs to have the laptop unboxed. However, there were already a couple who were waiting for their Apple notebook to be unboxed, as well as two women who were complaining about a hairdryer that wasn't working. I stood there for about half an hour just to finally get my laptop.


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