Customer Service is Alive, Well and in Ginza

On a recent trip to Japan I was flabbergasted by the quality of customer service. I knew Japan’s great reputation, and I had high expectations, yet they were exceeded every single day. And boy did my credit card feel the full front of this effect.

Search the internet and you’ll find millions of people sharing their anecdotes of the unprecedented kindness they received from strangers in Tokyo, and I have my fair share of these stories too. A business man in the lobby of my hotel helped me purchase a stamp and then took it upon himself to post the card. Outside the Ryōgoku Sumo Hall after a sumo wrestling tournament I was singled out of a crowd of thousands and given a traditional bag of souvenirs by a fellow spectator. The woman explained to me that she had two and handed me a beautifully gift-wrapped bag of sumo chocolates, snacks and china bowls. Talk about a random act of kindness.

This is what generosity looks like

This is what generosity looks like

But what really charmed me was the Tokyo shopping experience… and how much of my savings I was willing to part with in the Mitsukoshi Department Store.

I am still embarrassed by the amount of money I spent on a designer hand-knitted jumper. But I don’t feel any of the usual buyer’s remorse or guilt. Why? Because the whole shopping experience was so beautiful I have nothing but happy memories of the day. From the staff who wrapped our umbrellas in plastic covers as we walked in, to being greeted by everyone as we walked around, and the actual purchase; everyone made me feel special and looked after. The woman who helped me took the clothes I had selected, placed them in the changing rooms, took them off the hanger and handed them to me. She stayed nearby to help with sizing, complimented me and then kept my selection behind the counter until I was ready to purchase.

At one point during that fruitful-shopping day, I went to make a call and came across a message I had sent a friend a month ago after being frustrated with Perth’s department store alternative to Ginza; “Customer service is dead, this is why everyone shops online.” Yes it was a little dramatic but after spending 15 minutes trying to find someone to take my money for the suitcase I had chosen without any help, I was a little disheartened. Reading this text message while standing the stunning department store I was struck with how different I had felt a month ago standing in Perth. A mere 30 days ago I was determined that everything I wanted I would just buy online because the in-store shopping experience left a lot to be desired.

Sure online shopping is convenient and cheap, but this trip to Ginza opened my eyes to a new level of customer service that’s the future of retail. Was my jumper available online? Yes. Was it convenient getting to Ginza? Well there was a snow storm in Tokyo that day, but I was determined.

And here’s the simple, probably unsurprising moral of the story: if my experience is anything to go by, people will be willing to walk through a blizzard and spend %*$&!# yen on a jumper, if staff are courteous, helpful, and kind to you. And it’s as simple as that.

– Emily

You Get What You Pay For

We’ve all heard the saying ‘you get what you pay for’. This is especially true in budget businesses such as discount retail stores, accommodation, air travel – you name it.


In October 2010, I returned from a trip to Japan in complete awe of how fantastic their customer service is (you can read the blog article about it here). So you can only imagine the initial shock I felt when I read an article slamming a Japanese airline for their poor service and careless attitude towards handling complaints. It just didn’t seem right for Japan. Sure, maybe America but not Japan!

To summarise the article, the Tokyo Metropolitan Government filed a complaint against Japanese budget carrier Skymark Airlines after it posted notices informing customers it would not be accepting complaints during flights. Even more shockingly, Skymark’s ‘service concept’ stated that cabin staff “would not help passengers stow their bags and that attendants were not required to use ‘polite language’ when talking to customers.”

My astonishment was almost immediately washed away when I read that this was a budget airline. When you sacrifice price, everything else goes out the window. Lower fares meant less staff who received less training and less pay. As a result, they couldn’t afford to care about anything more than the bare minimum. Put simply, if you want to pay less you can’t expect the best service.

Cheaper rates might see more first time customers through the door, but the cheap service won’t see them return a second time. Outstanding customer service and attention to detail is what brings people back for more and at Messages On Hold, it’s what turns first time clients into long term, loyal customers.

– Kym Illman

Say “Hai” To Customer Service

What an eye-opening trip! I’ve just returned from Japan again and, as always, I’m in awe of their customer service culture. It’s not just businesses practicing great customer service either; their entire culture is built upon respect. Almost everyone I came into contact understood “polite”. They were all well presented and had a genuine desire to want to help.

The presentation of the cab drivers was immaculate; collared shirts, ties, gloves and in some case a jacket! You rarely see that in Australia.

The second ‘ah-ha’ moment came one morning while I was in the lobby of theConrad Hotel. While I was standing there, I observed the front office manager watching the check-out procedure. After speaking with him, he offered me this pearl of wisdom “the check out procedure is just as important as the check in.” Now how many businesses can you think of that place an equal amount of importance on the final stages of a transaction as they do on the early stages of a sale?

What’s more, how many managers or business owners do you think take the time to just observe their processes? It’s this unwavering attention to detail that sets customer service in Japan eons ahead of the world.

Here’s another example. I’d paid for my purchase at a boutique when the team member emerged from behind the counter and handed me my bag with a bow. The whole process wasn’t rushed or strained – at that moment I was her only focus. I remember Deb at the Nautica store on the Gold Coast presenting my purchases by stepping out from behind the counter and it had a profound impact purely because nobody does it! Brilliant.

Hours after touching down in Perth I was back in the office to share my experiences with my team, finding ways we can further integrate this kind of attentive service into Messages On Hold’s culture. So the question I put to you is: what’s your ‘come out from behind the counter’ moment? What do you do in your business that leaves your customers thinking “wow, that was different”?