Flamingo Tokyo explores the next big thing in the retail scene
Views about what constitutes acceptable “customer service” vary greatly according to cultural context. In Italy or Greece, a customer may need to address the waiter with the grandeur of “Maestro” just to get a cup of coffee. While in the U.S., waiters typically introduce themselves by name and freely offer personal recommendations and anecdotes, assuming that establishing such “personal connection” will ensure a good tip. In contrast, every morning across department stores in Japan, the day’s first customers are greeted by armies of staff who line up to welcome and bow to customers as they enter.
In Japan, providing polite and consistent customer service has long been considered of utmost importance.
The origins of this somewhat rigid and regimented style of customer service are reflected in Japanese tea ceremony, or “sado”, in which the host engages his/her whole being in the creation of an experience designed to bring aesthetic, intellectual and physical enjoyment and peace of mind to the guests. Similarly, within the context of customer service, strict protocols exist around every aspect of customer-staff interaction. The result is incredibly consistent, high standards.
While such high levels of customer service continue to be of paramount importance to mainstream, traditional Japanese, different expectations and desires are emerging. In Japan, a long-stagnant economy and continued economic uncertainty has contributed to social polarisation and more individually-defined consumer needs. In this context, a standardised “one-size-fits-all” service model is increasingly losing relevance.
Perhaps even more significant in changing consumers’ expectations and desires for retail experience is technology. As the internet has become a forum for product curation, recommendations, reviews and purchase, how do traditional notions of customer service fit in? How should retail re-invent itself to stay relevant?
In this series we will introduce the vibrant retail scene in Japan, which offers powerful examples of how the retail setting can be leveraged to maximum effect.
- Article by Aya Kanda