It seems that Japanese commercial establishments in Europe are experiencing great success by introducing Japanese style customer service . Initially, this news left me cold .To me, Japanese customer service is exemplified by employees bowing to customers as they enter the store or as they prepare to take the escalators, not something that would add to my shopping experience . Living in our egalitarian society in America , I find such deferential behavior demeaning .
Usagiyama, a Japanese-style inn on the outskirts of Zurich , is one such establishment trying to charm locals with its service. The idea seems to be working. One customer, a 39-year-old lawyer, was impressed by the deferential deportment of the staff. “I was quite surprised when a maid kneeled before opening a sliding door to enter a room,” he said. The inn goes all out to meet customer needs, preparing unique Japanese dishes using locally produced vegetables. Making the very best out of things that are at hand is the motto of Japan’s tea ceremony and this attitude carries over to Customer service , Japanese style.
However, Japanese style customer service is much more than bowing and scraping.
At the Uniqlo casual clothing shop near the Opera National de Paris , 30 shop clerks gather to rehearse their lines shortly before the store opens in the morning. They chant in unison “Bonjour” and a phrase meaning, “Please tell me when you need any help.”Once the store opens, as soon as customers begin flocking around a checkout counter, a clerk rushes to man another register and serve shoppers as quickly as possible. Service standards require a shop clerk to wrap a product, hold out a receipt to the customer with both hands and look at him or her in the eyes with a smile, all within 90 seconds. Such alacrity is rare in Paris stores where shop clerks often chat with colleagues instead of serving waiting customers.
Not surprisingly, the shop is so popular that it has to restrict admission on busy days.
Nissan Motor Co. also goes to extraordinary lengths to satisfy customer needs. The door of its Infinity luxury car , European edition, for example, unlocks automatically when a person holding its key approaches. When the car door is opened, the driver’s seat shifts back, turns several degrees toward the driver and lowers slightly to make it easier to climb in.Ironically, it was Nissan President Carlos Ghosn and other foreign executives who helped the automaker rediscover uniquely Japanese traits that were long forgotten by its Japanese staff. Under their guidance, Nissan ‘s overall business strategy has been to meet every conceivable customer need.
The cosmetics maker , Shiseido , is typical of Japanese companies that try to stress the importance of cordial interaction with cutomers.It’s service manual titled “Omotenashi ( hospitality ) credo is printed in twenty-one languages for the edification of its employees around the world.
Being attentive to customer needs is a basic tenet of customer service , but the Japanese have carried it to another level. Initially, it may have been a coverup for inferior quality , as some foreign critics have alleged.Those days are long gone as Japanese products are generally of superior quality. Nowadays , the attention to customer service is an additional asset that enhances the desirability of Japanese products. In part, it was necessitated by having to cater to Japanese customers , among the most demanding in the world.Japanese sales people have learned to work out another person’s feelings, without asking directly,which makes their attentions seem like magic.Such warmth is prized at a time when person -to-person relationships have become so tenuous.
As the U.S changes from a manufacturing to a service economy , one would expect that the quality of customer service would improve . In actual fact, exactly the opposite has happened. Customer service today is nowhere near as good as it used to be . For today’s cash strapped customers ,price is the only consideration. Retailers try to cut corners to keep prices down and one area is customer service . Sales people are not well-trained and the low salaries they’re paid ensure they are the bottom of the barrel. Many of them seem to feel the job is beneath them and are not bothered to even make an effort to satisfy the customers. At the supermarket , lines build up with no reaction for several minutes; only belatedly does the manager think to open another register. At burger joints , the crew manning the counter don’t care what you need and are disinterested beyond belief. In their defense , I must say it’s difficult to maintain a helpful attitude when the customers are often rude and demanding.I wonder if the decline in customer service is a reflection of our society which is noticeably less civil than it used to be thirty or forty years ago.