Over 7100 languages are currently spoken worldwide. Each one of them contributes to the diversity of the world. The subtleties and deep complexities of different languages have posed numerous challenges to developing automation technologies around them, such as translation tools and chatbots. However, due to the great potential to improve efficiency, there has been an unstoppable trend to incorporate automation into customer services in different languages. The new series of our blog will explore the 109 languages Algomo supports. The blogs seek to provide you with a comprehensive analysis of each language and the market for customer services in each language. For this week, we will focus on Mandarin, the language with the largest number of native speakers in the world.
Facts about Mandarin
There are 0.92 billion people in the world speaking Mandarin as their first language, making it the language with the most native speakers around the globe. This is due to the massive population of mainland China, where over 80% speak Mandarin. Mainland China, Taiwan, and Singapore all have Mandarin as their official language. Additionally, Mandarin is commonly spoken in Hong Kong (China S.A.R.) and Macau (China S.A.R.), as well as in Malaysia.
Over the last decade, interest in learning Mandarin Chinese has exploded on a global scale. According to Tian Xuejun, China's vice minister of education, in 2021, more than 70 countries added Mandarin to their national curricula, and more than 4,000 universities added Mandarin course options, bringing the total number of students learning Chinese as a second language to an estimated 25 million.
While written Chinese began to take shape around 4000 years ago, Mandarin only started to develop in the 10th and 11th centuries. This “Old Mandarin” came from local dialects in the North China Plain. The new dialect actually spurred a new genre of common literature.
Up until 1955, Mandarin was written in vertical columns, going from right to left. Since then, the People’s Republic of China has Westernized the written language so that it is written left to right, horizontally.
Mandarin has been considered one of the hardest languages to learn. The complex Chinese characters are so difficult to read and write that many people choose to only learn how to speak Mandarin. However, the grammar in Mandarin is quite easy compared to many other European languages. It doesn’t have any tenses, noun cases, grammatical gender, articles, or plural forms.
Although the 50,000 characters in Mandarin Chinese sound daunting, only 3000-4000 characters are in everyday use. Some straightforward pictograph characters can make it much simpler to recall the meanings of characters. One example will be 木 (wood/ tree), which looks like a tree with the vertical stroke being the truck and the strokes on the sides being the branches. It is often used in characters representing plants and trees, such as 林 (forest) and 根 (root).
Customer service in Mandarin (in Mainland China)
Mainland China, where the majority of the population speaks Mandarin, has long been a very lucrative market that global corporations have tapped into for expansion. A comprehensive strategy for customer service delivery in Mandarin is crucial to supporting the growth of your business there because less than one per cent of the population speaks English.
Key customer service trends in China
- Customer service is becoming a differentiator
Chinese society has undergone profound economic and social development due to its rapidly expanding middle class. This has fuelled significant changes in the level of brand sophistication as well as how consumers engage with businesses and develop consumer loyalty. Wealthier Chinese consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about good customer service as they demand more out of the money spent. The arrival of multinational companies, such as Apple, has also influenced the overall expectation of consumers.
Businesses are constantly seeking new ways to differentiate themselves by enhancing the quality of their customer service. Leading Chinese hotpot chain Haidilao is considered by many Chinese businesses as the ‘role model’ in consumer services. Customers are willing to spend hours waiting for a table because they are offered free snacks, manicures, shoeshines and so on. In addition, Haidilao has a stringent consumer compensation policy to resolve complaints in any manner that pleases customers.
- Customer service using WeChat
The trend of providing customer services using Wechat is on the rise in China. WeChat, one of the most popular social media platforms in China, has around 1.27 billion users. It has almost become a necessary messaging app in China for daily communications, which gives it a natural advantage in helping businesses to connect with their customers easily.
In recent years, WeChat has been developing its customer service function. Businesses can integrate both human and automated customer service within different functions on WeChat, such as mini-programs and official short video accounts. When consumers need to consult or seek after-sales services, they can also quickly find the corresponding customer service portal by starting a chat with the official account of businesses.
China has one of the world’s most well-established digital ecosystems. There are more than 850 million internet users. Of these, more than 200 million are digital natives who have grown up with computers, smartphones, and the internet, and are entirely comfortable trying out and trusting new technologies and apps. Seniors are becoming netizens. The proportion of consumers aged over 60 is estimated to be around two-thirds. (Source: Mckinsey)
The digitalisation of consumer-facing areas in China is also leading the way. According to an analysis by Mckinsey, Mobile payment penetration was three times higher than that of the US. China is the world’s largest e-commerce market, accounting for about 45 per cent of global retail e-commerce transaction value in 2018. In addition, COVID-19 has accelerated the use of digital technologies by consumers and businesses in China.
Overview of automated customer service in China
China’s automated customer service market is mainly based on software, accounting for about 80% of the total market size, including software AI algorithms in SaaS services and customised solutions. Hardware and support services account for 8% and 12% respectively.
There has been exponential growth in the market scale. The market has grown 88.1% annually to 3.01 billion yuan (around 37 million pounds) in 2020. By 2025, it is expected that the market will be worth more than 10 billion yuan (around 1.2 billion pounds), with a 35.8% five-year CAGR.
Main application sectors
China Telecom is the pioneer in automating its customer services. The state-owned telecommunication company has been integrating artificial intelligence technologies such as deep learning, and voice recognition into the creation of its automated customer service ecosystem. It has successfully upgraded its hotline number 10000 into an automated guide service. Instead of listening to a long list of menus in traditional call centres, customers can directly express their concerns to the conversational AI and get fast responses.
E-commerce is a dominant force in China’s retail market, with 30 per cent of the annual retail value spent online. (Source: Mckinsey). The demand for online customer service in the industry represents an extremely large share of the entire market since 42.3% of the customers have used automated customer service. The queries and complaints for online transactions tend to be repetitive and simple. This in turn creates huge potential for automated customer services to play a role in lowering costs and improving customer satisfaction.
The demand for automated customer service in the government sector is also on the rise in China. As the country accelerated the construction of digital cities, governments and enterprises across China are rapidly promoting automated government services to improve the efficiency of government affairs. This improvement is especially important in China as the large population and lengthy bureaucratic procedures can often cause delays in addressing public concerns. (source: Frost and Sullivan)
Companies in automated customer service can be divided into 4 categories according to their business specifications. These include comprehensive solutions for automated customer service, cloud customer service, chatbots, and solutions for transforming from traditional to automated customer service. Each type of these companies seeks to develop customer service chatbot technologies and join the market competition for live chats.
One of the main market leaders in automated customer service is Huanxin which is the earliest and largest instant all-media intelligent cloud customer service platform in China. As of 2019, Huanxin instant messaging cloud has served a total of 300,000 App customers and nearly 400,000 registered developers, making it take up 78.2% of the market for the instant messaging cloud. Corporate customers of Huanxin Customer Service Cloud have reached a total of 107,506 while Huanxin Robot has opened a total of 30,000+ robot intelligent services. (Source: OFweek)
The company now provides services to the Top 10 businesses in 20 fields including e-commerce, O2O, Internet finance, online education, online travel, mobile medical care, etc. The main advantage of Huanxin's system is that it supports a variety of deployment methods, allowing enterprises to meet their privacy needs. The Huanxin customer service system also supports multi-channel access and unified channel management.
However, this could lead to challenges in operation by businesses that use it. For example, if users want to refer to transaction records during a conversation session with customers, they need to switch pages back and forth. The complexity of the technologies also means that it is not ideal for smaller businesses that lack well-equipped technical support teams.
Another leading automated customer service company in Mandarin is Xiao-i. It covers a wide range of automated solutions for businesses, including omnichannel cross-domain intelligent customer service robots, intelligent call centre solutions, intelligent training robots, etc.
The Chinese company Xiao-i dominates the intelligent customer service robot market with a 90% market share. Finance and telecommunications are among its industries of focus. Among the top 50 banks in China, 40 have adapted artificial intelligence technology for customer service, while the top three telecommunication companies have also chosen it for automated customer service.
The provision of services at Xiao-i is mainly project-based instead of product-based. This makes Xiao-i more suitable for businesses that are keen to develop a whole ecosystem of automation. The solutions offered will be much more customised and cost-efficient. Meanwhile, the project-based business model could lead to a mix of qualities depending on the resources the company devoted to different projects.
The market for automated customer service in Mandarin is expanding quickly. This is a result of both the development of technology and the growing desire from businesses to offer their customer service in Mandarin. The key trends of customer service in China provide a desirable environment for businesses to start incorporating automation into their customer services.