Serving the Customer

In Japan, attending to the needs of the customer is not only a pre-requisite, it is a minimum requirement to participate in the domestic economy. The Japanese consumer is a particularly fickle shopper. The mere whiff of attitude will drive away shoppers and with it, the business. Back when I lived in Tokyo when VCRs were the way we watched movies at home, my local video rental establishment was a place called Tsutaya. My experience with them some 15 years ago is but one illustration of Japanese service that I pull out to explain how customer service works in Japan.

One rainy Sunday, I returned a video to Tsutaya, unwatched. I explained to them that this was so because my VCR was broken. Sensing not only a potential loss of repeat business but also, I am certain, an opportunity to go above and beyond, the guy behind the counter helpfully chirped that he would be happy to take a look at my stricken machine to see if he could repair it.  I came back later that afternoon, dropping off my VCR for a look see. I really was not expecting anything. I am a bit handy myself and after popping the lid could see that a belt needed replacing and knew that the cost of these types of repairs usually outweigh picking up another machine secondhand at the local electronics store.

Much to my delight, later that evening, I had a message from the Tsutaya guy that he had replaced the belt with a new one and I could come by anytime to pick up my refurbished VCR, all at no charge. When I came by, not only did I have a working VCR, they also let me take home the original movie I wanted to watch, free of charge as well.

You see, in Japan the customer is at the center of entire ecosystem. When a single customer walks in the door, that person is not an individual sale, that person is a lifetime relationship of repeat business. That person represents a net haul of customers that include that person’s friends, relatives, and a gaggle of second cousins and classmates. Win this one person over and close them for a repeat visit and you’ve added one more stone to an unassailable pyramid of revenue. The investment of a hour of labor and a spare rubber belt was tiny compared to the business returns from not only myself but others that I know, including those who read this story again, 15 years later.

This faith in the value of word-of-mouth marketing is something that has been passed down to Japanese through the ages. It was there before Facebook Fan Pages, before the Social Media Marketer. This is the mind of the Japanese merchant. Tsutaya has successfully evolved from CD & Video rentals into a major corporation with a fancy new flagship store in Daikanyama and I wish for its continued success.





5 responses to “Serving the Customer”

  1. Angela Leung Avatar
    Angela Leung

    hi Ian, how are you? Hisashi buri! just so happen to catch this update of yours. You’ve hit the spot on the value of customer service in Japan…sadly there’s not many places quite like it esp here in Aust. How’s the family? Angie

    1. iankennedy Avatar

      Hi Angie, we’re doing great. Just got back from vacation in Hawaii so not doing to bad at all. Still wish we could get to Japan more often – have you been back lately?

    1. iankennedy Avatar

      Thanks for sharing these John.

  2. The Importance of Being Human | everwas Avatar

    […] What is ironic is that, to the Western ear, the high-pitched tones and honorifics used by the people that answer the phones sound almost saccharine tone (check out the video). There are strict protocols on how to address the caller that come from a long tradition of customer service in Japan. The customer is not only always right, in Japan, the customer is God. […]

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