Inside Tencent’s weirdly secretive customer support middle

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It’s been some time. I simply acquired again from a number of weeks in China. It was my first go to for the reason that pandemic, and I seen some modifications: half the automobiles working on the streets of Shanghai at the moment are powered by electrical energy; I needed to scan my face to journey the high-speed trains; and I didn’t use a single coin or bank card for my complete journey—digital wallets are accepted actually in all places.

Considered one of my stops in China was Shenzhen, the southern metropolis that’s house to many Chinese language tech firms, like Tencent, Huawei, and DJI. I had a number of causes to go to Shenzhen, however there was one which made me nervous: I needed to go to Tencent’s mysterious customer support middle to get my 15-year-old social media account again.

For those who didn’t know, the primary software program that launched Tencent’s empire was QQ, the go-to immediate messaging platform in China through the desktop web period. From there, Tencent grew into a strong conglomerate providing blogs, e-mail providers, music and video streaming, gaming, and finally WeChat. For a very long time earlier than WeChat’s success, a QQ account was primarily a digital identification—individuals used it to attach with one another and entry all types of Tencent providers. 

I’ve private archives—together with diary entries, chat histories, {and professional} emails—in QQ that span greater than a decade. However I haven’t been capable of entry them since November 2021, when my account was all of the sudden suspended. Within the months earlier than that, I had used it to report on a narrative about QQ’s censorship of LGBTQ content material and to attach with sources for different tales I used to be engaged on. Nevertheless it wasn’t clear whether or not that exercise resulted within the suspension. 

I attempted to get well my account, however I hit a wall as a result of it was registered with my childhood cell quantity, which had lengthy been deactivated. I mainly gave up on it—till I discovered in regards to the customer support middle in Shenzhen.

Coping with customer support can all the time be irritating: lengthy wait occasions, boilerplate responses, and unhelpful representatives are the norm. Tencent provides a bodily middle as a final resort. In case you are prepared to journey to Shenzhen, you may meet with a consultant in individual to make your case. 

In January, a 16-year-old Chinese language teen went viral after he traveled over 800 miles by himself to the Tencent customer support middle. Like me, he’d had his QQ account suspended. After months of communications with Tencent and formal complaints that went nowhere, he lastly acquired his account again because of his go to.

I arrived on the customer support middle on a damp April day. The middle is on the primary ground of an workplace constructing unrelated to Tencent, but just a few miles away from the corporate headquarters. It felt weirdly secretive: there was no signal on the outside signifying what it was. A safety guard stood exterior the door and was desirous to query all passersby about why they have been there. 

After I walked into the reception room, six individuals have been within the line in entrance of me. We have been directed to undergo a safety detector and retailer all our baggage and drinks. No recording, pictures, or loud conversations are allowed on this middle, the indicators on the wall mentioned. I attempted to file audio however was quickly seen by one of many three safety guards there. “Sir, you can not file right here,” he mentioned, earlier than watching me delete the recording.

After passing by means of the safety screening, I used to be led to a ready room, the place extra safety guards—all carrying white shirts and black pants—have been watching over the guests and performing as help workers in instructing individuals to pre-fill their criticism info, like particulars of my QQ account to show I used to be the rightful proprietor. 

As I waited on a sofa for the Tencent consultant to course of my case, I used to be additionally eavesdropping on fellow guests within the ready room. A girl got here as a result of her husband had just lately returned to China after a very long time overseas and couldn’t reactivate his digital pockets. An previous man had hassle speaking his case with the guards as a result of he spoke in a thick accent. One other lady, who works as a daigou, or product reseller, was complaining that her WeChat account stored being suspended on the market of counterfeit merchandise, whereas she insisted she hadn’t achieved it. A mom got here together with her 16-year-old son, who had spent over $10,000 on a Tencent-owned cell sport, utilizing her checking account with out her approval. The boy, in all probability understanding he’d tousled, stored staring on the ground and talking in a low voice whereas he was reproached by the help workers for not telling them the proper details about his gaming actions.

The individuals within the middle jogged my memory of how essential tech firms have change into to every day life in China. Right here within the US, you may in all probability nonetheless dwell comfortably with out utilizing any Meta or Google merchandise, but it surely’s onerous to think about dwelling in China immediately with out coming throughout WeChat or one other Tencent app. 

I felt the imbalance of energy between customers and Tencent extra acutely once I was bodily in that Tencent workplace, being advised to adjust to completely different procedures and being watched to verify I wasn’t taking any pictures. And I knew, standing there, that in 2020, a person died by suicide by leaping from the highest of that very constructing. Whereas Tencent denied having had contact with the person that day, a relative of the sufferer mentioned he went there as a result of his WeChat account had been suspended and he couldn’t get it again after repeated complaints. 

After ready for an hour and going by means of some procedures, together with taking a video of myself for Tencent’s obligatory facial recognition ID verification system, I acquired my QQ account again. 

Not everybody within the middle was as fortunate as I used to be. The mom who got here together with her son was advised that “a specialist coping with underage customers” would get again to them in a day. “However I took immediately off to come back right here and have to return house tomorrow. I gained’t have the ability to come once more,” she mentioned. The Tencent workers assured her she would obtain a name tomorrow, including: “You’re losing your time ready right here.” 

The lady whose WeChat account had been suspended over counterfeit gross sales acquired right into a quarrel with the shopper consultant. She didn’t consider she’d been reported by the model (it was Dyson who contacted Tencent, the consultant mentioned) however insisted {that a} foe had snitched on her, and he or she needed to know who the snitch was. The argument ended with the girl falling again to the sofa, crying that the suspension had mainly price her her livelihood. “I’d as properly surrender this enterprise,” she sobbed. “Issues have already been very troublesome.”

I didn’t get all of the solutions I needed that day. The customer support consultant, standing in entrance of an indication on the wall that learn “Tencent: all we do is for our clients,” couldn’t inform me what precisely acquired my account suspended within the first place. Maybe it was as a result of I left my contact info in too many group chats, she mentioned, after I defined I largely used it to search out individuals to interview. “What number of group chats is just too many?” I requested. “There isn’t an absolute quantity,” she replied. 

As I used to be leaving the middle, the safety guard was nonetheless standing in entrance of the doorway, alert to anybody approaching. A person in a white shirt handed by, and the guard instantly requested what he was right here for. “I’m simply searching for a rest room,” he awkwardly answered. After I used to be a number of steps away, I rotated and took a photograph of the middle. I hope I gained’t ever have to come back again once more.

A photo I took of the Tencent customer services center.

Have you ever ever handled Tencent’s customer support representatives on-line or in individual? Inform me your expertise by writing to

Meet up with China

1. An ex-executive of ByteDance’s US unit has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit towards the tech firm wherein he made some juicy claims, together with that the corporate has facilitated bribes to China’s web regulator. (New York Occasions $)

2. Chinese language police arrested a person for fabricating information of a prepare crash with the assistance of ChatGPT, making it the primary ChatGPT-related arrest within the nation. (The China Challenge $)

3. TikTok’s Chinese language sister app Douyin requires creators to label content material generated by synthetic intelligence. (Semafor)

4. A former DeepMind researcher compares AI to conventional Chinese language medication: the speculation is slim and unsatisfying, but it surely by some means works. (Wired $)

5. The famed Chinese language-Singaporean singer Stefanie Solar is all of the sudden “releasing” dozens of songs day-after-day. Followers are utilizing AI instruments to swap her voice into different common songs. (TechCrunch)

6. Telecom carriers throughout the US are required to “rip and change” their Chinese language-made gear, however the expensive course of is forcing a few of them out of enterprise. (New York Occasions $)

7. A four-year-long landmark lawsuit may determine whether or not single girls in China are permitted to freeze their eggs. (Reuters $)

8. Tesla is recalling 1.1 million automobiles in China over potential security dangers—virtually the whole lot of its gross sales in China since 2019. (CNN)

Misplaced in translation

On Might 12, OPPO, one of many main Chinese language cell phone firms (it makes 8% of all smartphones on the planet), abruptly shut down its microchip enterprise Zeku and laid off its 3,300 staff. Based on Chinese language tech publication 36Kr, the announcement stunned virtually all Zeku staff, for the reason that firm hasn’t been in substantial monetary troubles.

Established in 2019, Zeku was as soon as thought to be one of some hopes for Chinese language smartphone firms to make their very own chips as a substitute of counting on international firms like Qualcomm. Earlier than it was shut down, it managed to develop two high-end chip merchandise which are utilized in OPPO telephones, and a 3rd was being examined for manufacturing in TSMC factories. The sudden resolution has bewildered the Chinese language semiconductor trade. One cheap potential rationalization is that OPPO is worried about sky-high R&D prices whereas the worldwide smartphone market is headed for a long-term contraction. 

Different Chinese language chip firms are racing to seize the highest abilities popping out of Zeku, however it might take a very long time for the trade to soak up all those that have been laid off.

Yet another factor

The most recent viral advertising and marketing trick in China is to get on a Occasions Sq. billboard, as Chinese language publication Sixth Tone reported. An 18,000-square-foot LED display constructed final yr has made it attainable to broadcast a 15-second video clip within the coronary heart of New York Metropolis for under $40. Chinese language manufacturers, influencers, or simply abnormal individuals who want an progressive birthday current for his or her buddies quickly caught on. In fact, most passersby gained’t pay a lot consideration to those movies. It’s all about getting bragging rights on Chinese language social media.

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