Today I want to share with you some of my experiences of customer service, Japanese style. This is possibly the most famous of all Japanese traits. Anyone who has visited Japan comes back with stories of how they were treated like royalty. I guess in the UK we’re so used to be treated as an annoyance by shops, restaurants, doctors, hotels… in fact any business run by people. Anywho, here’s a few examples of why I love Japanese customer service.
One time in Japan I went to a museum with a friend. I had arrived early so had bought some canned coffee from the nearby vending machine. He arrived, I finished off my coffee and we walked in.
I couldn’t see a bin, so I asked the receptionist if there was one inside, holding up my empty can to demonstrate that I hadn’t just confused the Japanese word for ‘exhibition on ancient Egypt’. Without blinking she replied, “I’ll take care of that” and promptly took the can from me and placed it under the desk.
I’m pretty sure that there actually weren’t any bins in the museum, which means that she had to later go and find a bin outside to put it in, or take it home with her. I am also sure that if that were the UK I would have just been told, “There’s no bins here, because food and drink aren’t allowed. Please dispose of that outside.” Actually, ‘please’ might be a bit hopeful.
And it’s not just in going-the-extra-mile that Japanese customer service shines. It’s the standard stuff that makes you smile. Like at Starbucks when they echo your order throughout the entire staff. Admittedly this might be a ploy just to make you order the most complicated (and hence expensive) drink, but it really is quite fun to order, “White Chocolate Mocha Frappucino” and listen to it being repeated by a chirpy chorus of baristas and waitresses.
But if you really want to see customer service in action, then you need to go to a Japanese convenience store. I will wax lyrical on these in more detail some other time. But they deserve an extra spot of recognition here for the customer service they provide.
It begins when you enter the store and are greeted by a chorus of, “Irashaimase!” This is essentially an insanely polite way of saying, “You are here.” And it is shouted extra-loud. I assume both to display the staff’s appreciation of you entering their store, and to knock any final sleep you had out of your eyes. As with the Starbucks order, this greeting reverberates through the staff, who are somehow always dotted throughout the entire store. You know that thing Meerkats do when one stands to attention and the rest follow suit? It’s like that: heads appear over the top of shelves and from behind doors to smile in your direction and reassure you that you are indeed in a Japanese convenience store.
Then there’s the speed with which the staff will get from their position re-stocking the canned coffee (God bless them!) in the far corner of the shop to the checkout. Even if there’s already a manned checkout, staff will perform parkour to ensure that they reach the second till before you have time to create anything resembling a queue. And then–and this never fails to make me smile–they tell you with a look of utter seriousness, “Terribly sorry for keeping you waiting so long.”
And even if you don’t buy anything–if you just wander around the store and then walk out again–you will be serenaded as you exit with a cheerful, “Than you for visiting. Please come again!” Which of course you will, because convenience stores in Japan are amazing!
I could go on. But instead I’ll had that task over to you. Do you have any examples of great customer service? You don’t have to stick to Japan. In fact, they don’t even have to be positive examples. This can be like a communal counseling session. Remember, sharing is caring!