8:15 am - 08/10/2012
Customer Service (and Customers) in Japan vs. the West: A Japanese Perspective
One of the things almost all foreign tourists to Japan comment on is the quality of customer service. The phrase “the customer is god” is hammered into Japanese customer service and restaurant staff and the politeness and thoroughness with which they tend to you certainly does a great job at making you feel like one.
Yet while there are plenty of stories on the net about Japanese customer service from a foreigner’s perspective, what do the Japanese think about the rest of the world’s manners?
Reiko Kawakami over at Excite Japan shares her observations about shopping and customer service in the West vs. Japan based on her experience living abroad in England, Italy and Romania.
So how does a lady hailing from a country where the customer is king view these 3 Western countries? Her analysis follows below:
■ How staff treat customers
Japan: Always put the customer before yourself. You don’t have to go so far as to say everything looks good on them, but you should avoid offending them at all costs.
The West: “The customer is god? Yeah, right!” While there’s still the idea of respecting the customer (they do carry the wallet, after all), they are usually treated as equals. It doesn’t matter if its your job to serve them: if a customer does something you don’t like, you let them know it. I once pointed out to a store clerk in England that they made a mistake at the register and they just shot back at me with: “All I did was put it through the scanner.” I go to the service counter to look for help but no one is there. No one comes to help me when I can’t find something in the store. And it’s even worse in Italy and Romania, where staff and customers will yell at each other in loud voices—a scene that would leave any Japanese person stunned.
■ Talking in-store
Japan: There is no personal chatting between staff while on duty. You should be ready to attend to a customer’s needs at a moments notice.
The West: Feel free to chat about whatever you want with whoever you want. Some staff even stand there staring at their cellphones and paying no attention to what’s going on around them. While in Romania, I once asked a store clerk for help finding something while they were in the middle of a conversation and, without pausing to address me, they just pointed their finger as if to say “over there!” When I went to report this to the store manager, I was told that he was away on vacation for a month.
■ Eating in-store
Japan: You do not eat in front of customers. In fact, unless you work at a restaurant, you shouldn’t even think about eating in the store at all.
The West: At a clothing store in England I witnessed a young lady behind the counter snacking on potato chips and then lick her fingers to clean(?) them after a customer approached. Please…for the love of god…wash your hands… Why are you even eating potato chips during your shift in the first place? Another time, while waiting in line to buy tickets, the elderly woman at the ticketing counter turned to me and said: “Could you wait until after I have a sip of tea?” and proceeded to take a drink from the cup on her desk…in front of everyone in line. Sure, she seemed tired from helping customer after customer, but it’s not like we have all day either, right? …at least, that’s what I thought until I noticed no one else around me seemed to care.
Japan: While Japan is learning to be less wasteful with gift-wrapping, it’s still an important part of keeping a presentable store. Use waterproof wrapping on rainy days, double-bag for heavy items: you should do what you can so as not to inconvenience the customer.
The West: A lack of taste and skill unthinkable in Japan. I’ve found myself offering to gift-wrap for them time and time again. Even in fashionable Italy, make one false move and you’ll be handed a bundle of wrapping paper held sloppily together with cellophane tape. Somebody please teach these people how to wrap!
■ The customers: taste-testing vs. blatant in-store snacking
Japan: Taste testing is done at designated areas with sample food prepared by staff. All other food is not yours until paid for and should be treated with care.
The West: The moment it hits the cart, that food is yours. In Romania I saw one customer rip open a pack of fruit and start picking away at it and another place their opened bottle of juice down for scanning at the register. While waiting to pay at the counter with a friend I wondered out loud what a certain candy tastes like and my friend opened up the package on the spot and handed me a “sample.” “I hear recently some people are being told not to do this,” my friend tells me… No, no, no: you should never have been doing this in the first place. It seems recently young people are better about waiting until they get home but elderly folks have no reservations about holding personal tasting parties whenever and wherever they please.
■ The customers: trying on clothes
Japan: Major clothing stores these days have combined male-female dressing rooms, but guys are never allowed in underwear or swimsuit dressing rooms.
The West: Many male customers accompany their girlfriends when buying underwear…all the way to the dressing room. Some excited guys peek in to check on their girlfriends or even ask them to try on something else they found. I’ve even seen guys mistakenly open the curtains to the wrong dressing room while the occupant is in the middle of changing. And then there’s people leaving their trash in the dressing room after they finish… Dear store staff, please manage your customers a bit better, would you?