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The insider’s guide to etiquette in Asia

13th Feb '16

Paul Russell’s fast-growing business teaches customer service and leadership to staff in Asia. He tells Iain Aitch what Brits must do to succeed there

Company: Luxury Academy Trading in: China, Malaysia, India, Brunei Sector: Training

“Your clients want to know you as much as the company they're dealing with”

It may come as a surprise to people in the UK, but British manners and etiquette are still considered the gold standard within global business and the hospitality industry.

Multinational training company Luxury Academy is proof of this lasting status, with offices in London, Delhi and Visakhapatnam in India serving as a base for work across China, Brunei and Malaysia.

“The British still have a strong reputation for decorum, politeness and manners,” says Luxury Academy’s co-founder Paul Russell.

With 26 full-time staff and a team of 18 contractors, Luxury Academy is seeing growing demand for its services as China and South-East Asian countries seek closer ties with Western markets.

The business, founded in London in 2012, offers high-end training in business development, leadership and customer service for staff in Asia. But it is the business etiquette strand of its operation that has most caught the eye in the region.

Here, Paul Russell shares his advice for British companies hoping to set up in South-East Asia, as well as some pointers on etiquette.

Paul Russell

Manners maketh man: Paul Russell teaches business etiquette in Asia

Avoid cultural problems by pre-empting them

Don’t just rely on British etiquette, but brush up on local customs yourself. Hand gestures, gifts or terms of address can be winners or pitfalls.

“We have been lucky enough not to have encountered significant problems delivering our services in China and South-East Asian countries,” he says. “I feel that is down to our understanding of both culture and etiquette, as well as our appreciation that the former dictates the latter.

“Your clients want to know you as much as the company they're dealing with. My first experience of this was when I was invited to the home of a client for dinner. I was about to decline.

“Thankfully my local expert accepted immediately on my behalf and later explained to me that had I declined it would have been such an insult that all dealings would end there and then.”

Making business go smoothly

Your business interactions start at ‘hello’, so be sure to get it right from there. “We teach business etiquette to executives who regularly interact with Western companies and communications skills to staff who deal with high net-worth individuals,” says Mr Russell.

“We also teach international etiquette to partners of senior executives. So, for example, we may teach them correct behaviour when attending social events and hosting techniques for when they are posted abroad.

“We start by explaining the idea of separate, defined courses and the different cutlery and glasses that go with that. Most surprisingly, many clients struggle to overcome the idea that their plate will not be whipped away as soon as they've finished eating, but be cleared once everyone has finished eating.”

Forget what you know in your home market

China and the South-East Asian countries are so different from what many British businesses are used to. So be prepared to start again or re-jig your offering as customers tell you what they want.

“Don’t assume that what meets customer requirements in the UK will automatically meet those of customers in China or the South-East Asian countries,” says Mr Russell. “Go back to basics and be willing to provide bespoke solutions.

Paul Russell

Culture vulture: brushing up on local customs

“During a mock dinner party for wives of businessmen, we ended up having an impromptu training session on business etiquette for their husbands. What came of this though was a number of recommendations to their colleagues and this moved us in a completely different direction to where we thought was the market need.”

Do you need an office?

Working out of a business centre or hotel is not a problem if you are finding your way. Premises can be expensive, so take your time.

“Consider whether you need an actual base in China,” he says. “As we are able to deliver our training on site at clients’ businesses we are able to do without an initial base of operations. Of course, this may change over time, as was the case in India, where we have added a second office to cater for the volume of demand.”


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