Tencent's Ominipotence: A Visit to the Customer Service Center in Shenzhen

Category Technology

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After visiting China and experiencing the changes since the pandemic, such as the use of digital wallets everywhere, the writer decides to visit and get help from the Tencent Customer Service Center in Shenzhen. Upon visiting, the writer witnesses the Tencent's omnipotence via their full-body security checks, bright lights, and teams of shifty, restless guards as well as the helplessness of many Chinese people from lower income groups, who must turn to services that are as flimsy as their incomes.

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It’s been a while. I just got back from several weeks in China. It was my first visit since the pandemic, and I noticed some changes: half the cars running on the streets of Shanghai are now powered by electricity; I had to scan my face to ride the high-speed trains; and I did not use a single coin or credit card for my entire trip—digital wallets are accepted literally everywhere.

If you didn’t know, the first software that launched Tencent’s empire was QQ, the go-to instant messaging platform in China during the desktop internet era. From there, Tencent grew into a powerful conglomerate offering blogs, email services, music and video streaming, gaming, and eventually WeChat. For a long time before WeChat’s success, a QQ account was essentially a digital identity—people used it to connect with each other and access all kinds of Tencent services.I tried to recover my account, but I hit a wall because it was registered with my childhood mobile number, which had long been deactivated. I basically gave up on it—until I learned about the customer service center in Shenzhen.

Tencent has monopolized key areas of the Chinese consumer market, covering everything from online gaming, mobile payments, social media, and web portals to music streaming and videostreaming

In January, a 16-year-old Chinese teen went viral after he traveled over 800 miles by himself to the Tencent customer service center. Like me, he’d had his QQ account suspended. After months of communications with Tencent and formal complaints that went nowhere, he finally got his account back thanks to his visit.

When I walked into the reception room, six people were in the line in front of me. We were directed to go through a security detector and store all our bags and drinks. No recording, photography, or loud conversations are allowed in this center, the signs on the wall said. I tried to record audio but was soon noticed by one of the three security guards there. "Sir, you cannot record here," he said, before watching me delete the recording.

Tencent’s messaging app, WeChat, had 1.2 billion monthly active users in the fourth quarter of 2020, 17% higher than the previous year

After passing through the security screening, I was led to a waiting room, where more security guards—all wearing white shirts and black pants—were watching over the visitors and acting as support staff in instructing people to pre-fill their complaint information, like details of my QQ account to prove I was the rightful owner.

After waiting for an hour and going through some procedures, including taking a video of myself for Tencent’s mandatory facial recognition ID verification system, I got my QQ account back.

Tencent has also established a significant presence in retail, e-commerce, online media, automotive, and healthcare by investing in startups and creating joint ventures

Not everyone in the center was as lucky as I was. The mother who came with her son was told that "a specialist dealing with underage users" would get back to them in a day. "But I took today off to come here and need to return home tomorrow. I won’t be able to come again," she said. The Tencent staff assured her she would receive a call tomorrow, adding: "You are wasting your time waiting here." .

The woman whose WeChat account had been suspended over counterfeit sales got into a quarrel with the customer representative. She didn’t believe she’d been reported by the brand (it was Dyson who contacted Tencent, the representative said) but insisted that a foe had snitched on her, and she wanted to know who the snitch was. The argument ended with the woman falling back to the couch, crying that the suspension had basically cost her her livelihood. "I might as well give up this business," she sobbed. "Things have already been very difficult." .

In 2009, Tencent overtook rivals Baidu, Alibaba, and Being Holdings to become the first Chinese tech company to reach market capitalisation of US$100 billion

As I left, I felt a mixture of shock and awe. On the one hand, the place serves as a physical proof of Tencent’s omnipotence, with its full-body security checks, bright lights, and teams of shifty, restless guards. But at the same time, it also reflects the helplessness of so many Chinese people—especially those from lower-income groups—who, in order to make a modest living, had to turn to services that are often as flimsy as their incomes.

Tencent is now the world's 4th largest company by market capitalisation, behind Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft

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