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Everything I Needed to Know about Customer Service I learned in a Tokyo Convenience Store
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By Mark Kolier

During a recent trip to Tokyo, the differences to everyday life in the United States were often very obvious and culturally driven. But there were many occasions where customer experiences, behavior and expectations transcended the cultural differences between East and West.

Tokyo living spaces are small, so homes are set up for maximum usage of space. Small refrigerators are the norm. Most people donít go to Costco (yes, thereís a big one just outside Tokyo) since they donít have the room to store the bulk products sold there. Consequently convenience stores and grocery markets play a much bigger role. The Japanese go to convenience stores nearly every day. These offer some (rather unappetizing) prepared food and a vast array of drinks, sundries, candy and various staples. And while that is not notable, the convenience stores (every single one) are immaculately clean. So clean you could seemingly eat off the floor. The array of products are well displayed, itís very easy to find what you want (and I donít speak Japanese), and the selection of products is surprisingly large for the size of the store. Compared to the experience of shopping in convenience stores in the United States Ė well, there is no comparison.

But the biggest difference, beyond the cleanliness and surprisingly wide product selection, was the level of customer service that Japanese convenience stores provided. I was always greeted warmly when I walked into the store, thanking me for coming in and then thanking me profusely again when I paid and, of course, the Japanese cultural norm is to bow as you take your purchases and leave. It made me feel like going back to see what else they had. And in terms of keeping the store shelves properly stocked the Japanese have also got that down pat. Instead of stocking everything all the time, they practice a sort of just in time marketing. They know what time of day people buy particular products and change the displays accordingly. Itís a very complicated task but from what I saw the Japanese convenience store operators relish the challenge, since they take such great pride in every job they have.

So, my six big customer service takeaways were:
  1. Get Clean. Make your place of business (or website) friendly and inviting and sparkling clean Ė people notice.
  2. Get Thankful. Thank your customers for coming (on-line or off-line) and then thank them again. And again.
  3. Get Personal. Get to know your customers on a personal level and find out what things you might offer, and when you might offer them, for purchase in your store or online business.
  4. Get Smart. Understand why your customers do business with you specifically and continually look for ways to offer them what they want, when they want it and how they want it.
  5. Get Creative. Is your business proposition distinct in its category? What makes it distinctive? If it is not then find ways to be unique and stand out.
  6. Get more relevant data. Knowing when and what sells is critically important. Find a way to measure as much as you can (everything you can) and then act decisively on that knowledge.

About CGSM
CGSM is a privately held direct-marketing agency specializing in the marketing strategy, creative design and production of on-line and off-line direct marketing campaigns. Its media neutral approach and production skills combined with a focus on improved targeting make it possible for CGSM to offer a unique approach to customer acquisition and retention. For more information please visit www.cgsm.com

Mark Kolier is the President and Founder of CGSM.
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