The fourth best thing about Japan, after Japanese ladies, Cupie Mayonnaise and the kotatsu is the attitude to customer service. Americans can give good service, but it’s different: it’s good because they want you to tip them. Not so much a service as a transaction. Australian service is better than it used to be, but people still confuse being of service with being subservient. Grudging niceness. Convict heritage.
The Japanese seem to understand better than most cultures that people like to be made to feel special. Attention to detail, extraordinary packaging and an unmatched willingness to correct any defect or problem in their product.
There is a tradition in Japanese retail of greeting the customer when they walk into your shop. The greeting Irrashaimase or its more casual form Irrashai rings out a million times a minute across the land. Such a simple thing to do. Acknowledge the customer the second they walk in your door. It carries more than one message: ‘I know you’re here. Thank you for coming. I’ll be with you as soon as I can’. Part of our unwillingness to do this in Western cultures I think stems from the ‘rude to shout’ value system – the staff are usually not next to the entrance. But if I had any retail clients, I’d be recommending public greetings as Standard Operating Procedure.
Businesses in Australia seem to be under the impression that once you’ve arrived in their store they’ve made a sale. Maybe so, but that doesn’t mean they’ve made you a customer. Every time I go to a coffee shop or restaurant I am re-assessing their worth; will I go back there or not? I think most people work on that principal.
Location is important, of course. But I don’t shop regularly for groceries at the closest supermarket. Nor do I regularly use the closest bottle shop. Because I don’t like those stores and I have a choice. My local coffee shop has my business because I am recognised when I go there. The little Indonesian girl sings out my name in greeting when I arrive and farewells me by name when I leave. And I have a rapport of some sort with the pretty girl that doesn’t smile enough and the shy ethnic ladies who work in food prep.
My third visit to a nearby Dome Coffee House earlier today will be my last. Blank-faced processing by the guy behind the counter. Not a single extra word taking my order or delivering my coffee. I realise there is a skills shortage but I don’t think it’s as serious as the training shortage.