Guest Author - Ching Kin Min
In their mission to provide top quality customer service, big companies in the service industry in Japan train employees rigorously. Besides having to learn to use the proper respectful language – a mammoth task in itself, considering that even the Japanese themselves find respectful language difficult to master - these employees have to go through Spartan-like training in the name of achieving customer satisfaction. The exact methods vary from company to company, but they're all pretty similar.
First, let's take a look behind the scenes at a Hanamaru Udon branch. A worker for Hanamaru Udon, a fast food udon restaurant chain, has to go through several Standard Operating Procedures when he or she arrives at the workplace. The first thing the worker has to do is greet his/her co-workers “good morning” (regardless of what time the worker comes in). Next, he/she has to go up to a poster of a list of the restaurant's version of The Ten Commandments (consisting of statements that go along the lines of “Welcome” and “Please come again”) pasted on a wall, and recite them loudly one by one, before bowing to that very poster. Next, the worker would wash his/her hands for one full minute, using a kitchen timer to time him/herself. After drying his/her hands, the worker would spray his/her hands with alcohol. Finally, after shouting to his/her co-workers “yoroshiku onegaishimasu!” (it loosely translates to “let's do it!” in this context) and hearing it echoed back to him/her, the worker can now start to do what he/she's paid to do.
At workplaces where most staff start work at the same time (at a department store, for example), the Ten Commandments List is not used; First, most staff would line up military-style in front of a senior personnel. Then, this “platoon commander” would recite those commandments one by one, with the rest of the “platoon” repeating after him or her.
At big department stores, employees have to stand in position at designated locations within the premises every morning shortly before it opens. Their job is to bow to and greet the first batch of customers who walk in – not that any of the customers care anyway... Some schools even get their teachers to greet their students in a similar way every morning.
Anyone mildly familiar with Japanese culture will know that bowing is very important when greeting people. Employees in the service industry are trained to bow the “proper” way, which includes the right standing posture and how far your upper body bends down when bowing.
Besides wearing a (plastic) smile, looking into the eyes of customers while talking to them is also important for employees in the service industry. In the West, this is not such a big deal. However, Japanese people generally have a tendency to not look straight into the eyes of anyone they're talking to, as it can seem intimidating and uncomfortable to the other party. On the other hand, this can appear rude, and hence employees are taught to look into the eyes of customers when conversing with them. Whether the customers look back or not (generally, they don't) is not that important, though...
Sukiya, a fast food beef rice restaurant chain, is another example of the numerous companies that employ “militaristic” methods to train their staff. One such training method involves a trainee pouring water into a glass, then holding the glass and walking in a straight line for about ten metres, before placing it down on a table – all within a set time limit, and without spilling any of the water.
Providing quality customer service is certainly not a bad thing. Depending on where you live, you might have bad experiences with rude staff at restaurants, supermarkets and the like on a daily basis. Hence, you might yearn for some of the Japanese-style customer service that treats customers like kings and queens. But from the vantage point of the employees, is it worth all the blood, sweat and tears? And looking from the eyes of customers, is such a level of service really necessary? What price service?