Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Day that Customer Service Died

This year we could have a quite peaceful New Year celebration, staying at home in the Salaryman HQ as Mother came to visit, it passed by with little fuss and we could avoid the worst trappings of a traditional Japanese New Year's celebration (e.g. huddling around freezing, horrible traditional "osechi" food" etc.). Although Mother is technically Japanese, she's lived in Sweden now for over 40 years and basically forgotten all the traditional Japanese stuff and has no particular craving for it either.

On the 2nd of January, things are starting to revert back to normal and nowadays most of the big sales start already from the 1st making Tokyo seem a little less of a ghost town. On the 2nd I ventured out to our local mall/department store to just check out the sale and scout a little for an additional TV that we are thinking of getting. Although everything was basically open for business the crowds that regularly haunt the mall on a weekend were nowhere to be seen and the place felt quite deserted. As I went in to the local electronic goods shop to possibly scout for a bargain TV, first checking out what was on display and waiting for one of the usually so aggressive sales reps to put his claws in me. As I was looking around, very much looking like a potential customer for a few minutes, no sales rep came around (usually they are very aggressive as they usually get incentive based on their sales, and TVs are probably one of the more attractive areas for them). Looking towards the service counter I could see three of them hanging around looking bored and tired.

As I realised that no one would come around to discuss my potential purchase, I went over to the service counter and said to one of the guys "Hey, I'm thinking of buying a TV and was hoping to get a little help?". The sales rep looked like I had put a huge burden on him, let out a big sigh and followed me over to the TV section. I pointed out one of the TVs that I had been considering and said "I'm thinking of this TV, is it available?" and without almost no delay I got back a "Nope, that one is not in stock and it'll take a while before we get in new ones" (followed by silence). In a normal case, what I would have expected here is a follow up with alternate suggestions or some kind of pitch, but the rep seemed satisfied with his response and went back to looking bored. So I followed up with a "Ok, but how about these versions that are around the same price, are those in stock?". Again met with a big sigh and a "Fine, I'll go check" as he noted down something in his notebook that probably was meant to be the product codes but looked just like doodles to me. After a few minutes he came back "Nope, those are also sold out, dunno when we'll get them back in stock". With that I gave up and left the store, as TV-less as I had been when I went in there.

On the way out, I stopped by the Subway sandwich shop to get some lunch for the Salaryman family. I've shopped there countless of times before and service is usually flawless, fast and never with any mix-ups. However this day the two girls working the counter seemed completely depressed and for the second time I was met with a huge sigh as I placed my order. The standard politeness was completely gone and replaced with complete and utter indifference. 

But in the end, I completely sympathise with these poor souls that have to work on the 2nd of January serving the few people that actually venture out when the rest of the country are chilling out at home. We went out today again and things seemed to have reverted more back to normal, but the 2nd of January seem to be the twilight zone of Japanese customer service when they can't be bothered to keep up pretences.


I'm no big fan of Japanese popular music, neither the mainstream music nor the alternative scene (I hate visual-K with a vengeance) but I must admit that the hit song "Laser Beam" by commercial electronic pop girl-group Perfume has burrowed itself down in my brain.  

16 comments:

Ἀντισθένης said...

Are you sure you weren't shopping in Toronto? Sounds familiar...

Evacomics said...

The crowds and good services are all at outlets and fashion department stores :P

Sarahf said...

That sounds like British customer service. Although, there were hoards of women in the clothes shops, I guess no one buys a TV on 2nd or something.

Martin said...

woah! I was also out trying to shop yesterday (in the old country). Eventually I ended up buying the stuff I needed online instead. Both cheaper and faster* and I found a bundle of great stuff to add my electric shopping cart. Thats how to do it 2012.

*The boutique didn´t have anything good in stock.

aimlesswanderer said...

Here in Aust, the 2nd was also a public holiday, so it's quite understandable that they weren't as perky as usual - after all, they probably drew the short straw, and would like to be relaxing like everyone else.

Chris said...

"But in the end, I completely sympathise with these poor souls that have to work on the 2nd of January"

Oh fuk them. They can get another job if they don't like what they are doing buncha fucking mommas boys.

Customer service is a myth in Japan. Same good and bad as anywhere else.

They CAN'T be getting sales bonuses if they were acting like that...you had SELL TO ME written all over you.....wtf?

kathrynoh said...

Yeah definitely sounds like Australia too. And retailers wonder why people are starting to shop online.

Indi said...

(long time reader, first time commenting!)

I was scared shitless to even leave my house and risk facing another battle with the AEON parking garage! Around Christmas time, I stupidly went to the mall for some last minute gifts and ended up spending over an hour sitting in my car on the 3rd floor of the parking garage...

Ms.Godzilla said...

Even weirder is going out on the 1st... even Shibuya is empty. I imagine that is what the apocalypse will look like ;p

Will said...

Not laughing with delight. Been caught off guard a few times with some pretty horrible service...

Medea said...

We're just normally used to such good service in Japan this seems bad. I'd expect this in Canada. Once at the Bay someone told me to go shop elsewhere in the mall because the shopkeeper was chatting with her friend.

There were 3 songs on Kohaku that referened laser beams, including this one. How odd.

Labyrinth said...

I think it was either Alan Davis or Phill Jupitus that said on QI, when discussing customer service in Britain, that they would rather someone be in a huff about having to do a crap job, than be all fake and smiley, because you at least you know you’ll getting honesty and not just someone after a tip. And as a fellow British person, I would be inclined to agree with them.

When I go abroad and get immaculate customer service, with all smiles and fakery, I can’t help but think...what a complete arse.

kamo said...

Thing is, there's no tipping over here, so the staff aren't being all smiley for that reason.

I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I've had impolite service in Japan. 'Impolite' isn't the same as 'bad', however, just as 'polite' isn't the same as 'good'. There's a large overlap but I think a lot of people get them confused...

Mr. Salaryman said...

Ἀντισθένης - No, not in Toronto to the best of my knowledge, but I will try my best to avoid it from now on!

Eva - Yeah, they must've been as our mall had very modest sales and no crowds fighting each other for stuff...

Saraf - Well, our local mall probably isn't the best place to go to for the most up to date fashion (ok, it's not too bad, a standard Jusco/Aeon, but still). Mostly it seemed like everyone just stayed at home or went to a real mall with real sale...

Martin - Actually, shopping online is the best way to do it! The only thing with electronics here in Japan is that you can get some good discounts when you buy it live in the store, the rest I buy online nowadays

Aimlesss - Yep, most likely. But the second is not that "holy" here in Japan, the first I can really understand since it's like Christmas Day in most Western countries...

Chris - Ok, that's it! Now you pushed me over the edge and I'll do a post on my perspective on customer service here in Japan! You didn't expect THAT, did you, huh?! ;)

Kathryn - Yep, online! That's the way to go! Especially since we moved out from central Tokyo, don't know how much money I've pumped into Amazon since we moved...

Indi - Welcome around and thank you for commenting! But yeah, Christmas was pretty bad... We also spent quite some time battling the crowds at our local Aeon...

Ms. Godzilla - It's actually getting better, just ten years ago basically everything was closed the 1st to the 3rd making it completely pointless to go out to try and buy even groceries at most places... But it's the time when Japan turns every town into a ghost town.

Will - Yeah, pretty annoying. I have more difficulties forgiving Subway since they usually are pretty good and it was the same staff as regular days, seemed like they just took the day off while working on the 2nd...

Medea - You don't honestly expect me to understand where, what and/or who "the bay" is, do you? ;) And even though I don't really want to admit it, it was seeing this song performed on Kohaku (which I just watched a bit of, mind you) that made me remember it...

Labyrinth - Actually I can sympathize with that view and especially in the US and tip heavy businesses. But it also depends a bit on what you expect to "get out" of your visit to a store... I'll post on this later on when I get around to it :)

Kamo - Yes, I agree, very true actually. I'll get around to my view in that post I'm talking so much abut now...

gaijinwife said...

I used to complain about the in your face customer service but then got rather offended when we went shopping (with Japanese husband so being scared of the foreigner doesn't count) for a washing machine. I had 25 man in my wallet, in cash, all ready to buy right then and NOBODY came over for ten minutes so I said a few things under my breath, quite loudly, and pulled hub out to a drive half an hour to a different shop. Stubborn. I should have just asked :)

Learn Indonesian in Bali said...

2nd of January should have been a great time for them I think.

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