When I first moved to Beijing from Nanjing, I hit a snag at the police bureau. I’d just returned from a trip back home and had two days to get a student visa before my old working one expired. But it turned out my school had given me one wrong document (which was nearly identical to the correct one). I asked if they could let it slide but obviously that was out of the question. So I asked if I could pay to extend my current visa; something I’d done before and knew I could still do. Here’s how that went:
Visa woman: You think this is a game? You can just get whatever visa you feel like?
Me: No, there was just a mix-up with the school so I want to extend my current visa until I can get it straightened out with them. I’ve done it before.
Visa woman: No, you’ll just need to go back to the US and apply through the Chinese embassy.
Me: Are you fucking kidding me?! I just got back from the US. I’ve extended my visa before, I know I can do it.
Visa woman: (Shakes head dismissively, waves me off and refuses to say another word)
I began to understand why there was a bulletproof glass barrier between her and me. I made some calls and got my school to hash it out, but I later learned I was totally right about extending my current visa. The visa woman was ready to make me go thousands of dollars and a few weeks out of my way just so she could avoid two minutes of extra work.
She’s the disinterested bureaucrat who’s paid to sit there and she’ll be damned if she’s going to do anything more. She’ll abuse her miniscule authority to create shortcuts for fixers and anyone else willing to make it worth her while, but those expecting her to just do her job are about to get their day ruined. If you’ve ever tried to get something done in one of China’s infinite state-run monopolies, you’ve met her.
But I went to open a bank account a few days later and discovered a little invention that could revolutionize China in the most profound way since Reform & Opening Up:
It’s a customer service rating machine. After your interaction, you simply press your level of satisfaction and the total results affect the employee’s job. By no coincidence, the service at the bank was fantastic.
I had similar results when I called to get my internet hooked up. The first two reps I called talked to me like I was a moron for wasting their time in trying to patronize their company. But the third couldn’t have been more helpful. I found out why when, after the conversation, there was an automated feature that asked me to hit a number corresponding with my satisfaction level.
Imagine if every bureaucrat, secretary, doctor, police officer, petitions office worker, train ticket clerk, inspector, etc. had incentives tied to meeting a certain quota on one of these machines. Customer service and efficiency would skyrocket and petty malfeasance would drop precipitously.
After the scheme’s success is proven, who knows, maybe these machines could even be put in little booths every 4 or 5 years and be tied to people in even higher positions of power.
I call on the government to begin immediate production on tens of millions of these machines. I can’t imagine a better investment for the country’s continued development.