One night after running up and down a hill in our neighborhood for exercise with a good friend from the area, I managed to get him to have a quick conversation about his experiences in customer service.
The following will be snapshots of our conversation and tidbits of speech that I enjoyed listening to.
My friend is from the States and we had the chat in my kitchen in Nara, Japan.
Johnna: Have you ever worked in customer service? What was it like for you to work in the States?
Brendan: I worked at the front-end of a warehouse at a Sears. Whenever people had problems with lawn mowers or snow blowers, they would come to me and ask how to fix it.
What was the most difficult part about the job at the time?
Brendan: That people would come to me with problems that I would have no idea how to solve.
Were there customers that you had to hold your patience for?
Brendan: Oh yeah, all the time. I worked in a Sears and it was out in the country. Angry shoppers would come to me with problems and not be happy that the person that they had to talk to was an 18-year old kid.
Would you ever lose your temper?
Brendan: There were days that I wanted to. We had a big trash compacter to take out our frustrations with. We would throw in things like computers and televisions and watch the machine break down all the trash. It did help to release the tensions of the day. I am pretty good at staying calm though.
Did you have any co-workers that you admired for their customer service expertise?
Brendan: I had a lot of co-workers that knew a lot about what they were selling. When you understand your product, it is easier to deal with people that ask you questions. If you don’t know what you are talking about, it’s a lot harder to walk them through it.
What do you think the differences in customer service are between Japan and America?
Brendan: For one, there is customer service here.(Laughs) No, I’m joking. The thing about the service here in Japan is that when you have a problem, every person working in the store rushes in to help and stands there looking like they are doing something, which is good and bad sometimes. If I have a problem that takes one person to solve, I don’t need four people come and help me with it.
I was in the library and asked if they had any books in English. I waited a half an hour while five people walked about looking. If just one of those people knew, the job would have been done. In America, the conversation would have gone something like: “Hey John, we got any books in Japanese?” ……… “Nope, sorry Phil”.
The interesting thing about the customer service in Japan is the way they address the people that come into the store. At the end of names they have many endings such as -san, -chan, -kun. But those that come into shops or or those with a higher position have the -sama ending. It is the same ending used for God as well. Okyaku-sama (customer), Kami-sama(God).
Brendan: Oh, thats interesting. I didn’t know that. I don’t know how I feel about being treated as a God though.
Changing the subject a bit, what do you think about people who are overly enthusiastic about helping you or serving you?
Brendan: If people over-do their enthusiasm, it breaks the illusion of their helping me. They are being super nice because they want my tip money or they want their boss to think they are doing their job. I would be happy with a simple, “Thanks for coming, have a good night”. If they act normally, then its believable. If they are over the top then its clear that it’s an act.
What if they are just really happy people? What if it is just their personality?
Brendan: You can tell, I can tell, and most people can tell when people are faking it or being genuine. Some people make it clear that they are trying to make a good impression for a reason. They have a goal in mind.
Again, going off the topic, but so far from what I’ve told you, what do you think of Buffer?
Brendan: It seems like they genuinely care. Their Number One concern is how their customers feel about them and their product. It seems like they put a lot more effort in that part of the company than others do. If you call the customer service at Apple for example, they send you to a separate company that takes care of the details for them. The joke in America is that if you call a company for customer service support, you get forwarded to different country where the people on the other end of the phone speaks English as their second language.
It seems like the people at Buffer have their employees in the company actually talk to their customers. In short, from what I know so far it doesn’t seem like a bad place at all.