Customer Service Q&A. A chat with an artist friend from the neighborhood

IMG_0337One 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.

The Snake Handler, Mr. Matsushita and a Blue Wig.

These days I have been getting into a funny new habit – selling postcards on the street after work. I haven’t been out this past week because I couldn’t find a place to sleep in the city, but I will get out again next week if the timing works out.

photo-178It all started when I finished a Chai tea and a sandwich at the coffee shop near Shinsaibashi-suji. One by one the shops in the area closed down for the night, leaving only the footsteps of those coming home from the office, or the ones on the way to their questionable midnight jobs. By this time it was around 11:00 PM and against the shutters of the medicine shop, I see the artist Matsushita on the street open for business. There hasn’t been a night that I haven’t seen him sitting there, yet I had never approached him. I didn’t like the idea of making small talk when I had no intention of making a purchase. This particular evening was different however, and I decided to go and ask if it would be okay for myself to start selling postcards along this road. He explained to me that it would be no problem as long as the shops around were not open. I was excited to start laying out my small postcard collection. I admired this artist and the stand that he started packing up after his long day. Matsushita and his snake-handler sidekick Daisuke were about to leave. With a few words of advice about selling and pricing, they reminded me to watch out for old drunk men, and left shortly after.
I was alone and some people actually came up and started a conversation, commenting on my art and the blue wig that I wore, which was an attempt to hide myself from any potential acquaintances that could walk by. I enjoyed meeting these new people of the night, feeling very incognito.
One man who spoke English came up and introduced himself. We talked for a good twenty minutes, and he decided that it was his job to help me get more customers. His business strategy began with trying to lure people to my little chair by practically harassing them in English. His theory was that people walking by would be more interested if I started speaking in English to them and leave out the Japanese. In my experience however, that is 100% not the case. In Japan, people are afraid of things that they are not interested in. I wish I could be as confident as he was, but I don’t think I could fall into that way of selling.photo-177
After a while, and a few postcards lighter, Matsushita comes riding back on his bike. He was worried about me and came back to check on how I was doing. It was so thoughtful of him to go out of his way.
No other customers came to buy postcards after that, but we talked for hours about his life, what I do for a living, and our opinions of the conventional way of approaching work in Japanese society. His family had different expectations of him, but he choose to be a full-time artist. Now around 30, he questions his choices in a positive way and doesn’t regret them. He told me that he loves what he does and is glad even though he struggles doing it sometimes.
He has lead an interesting life, one very much opposite to the usual briefcase carrying salary-man you see all the time.  I admired his relaxed disposition, and desired his lifestyle.
What would your mind be like after meeting different personalities and observing the world all day?
I hope to go back to the shopping street and see my artist friend and his funky art very soon.

The chance to learn

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I am on the train going back home after an evening of serving. It is 12:00 am. The restaurant that I work at will be closing soon and I will find myself in a new work environment- Universal Studios Japan.
I had training there last week and was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. From 10:00 AM in the morning to 6:00 PM at night, I was taught how to stand correctly and how to relax your face with smiling exercises.
Thinking about new work scares me. In the start of any new endeavor, I am always afraid of doing things incorrectly. When I first began at the Spanish restaurant, I was nervous and slightly dreaded the pressure of having to answer to my boss if I made a mistake. Confrontation is not my strong point, but the restaurant experience these past five months was the perfect balance and I am thankful I had the chance to work there.

Juggling the house work, studies, multiple jobs, exercise and play I sometimes I feel like I am in over my head. However, at the end of the day after an evening of waitressing, I smile as I walk home because I am so happy to have the chance to learn.

Can’t keep it in.

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When I have this feeling I feel like I can do anything.
When I have this feeling I want to flip the tables and forget about all of the phone calls. I don’t want to think about the 9 to 5s, the To-do lists, the bucket lists and the shopping lists. At times like these I am just excited and want to create. I don’t want to do anything else at times like these. I want to put all I have in my head, the good and the bad, and have it find its way to blank canvas before me. I want to be sucked into the raw act of art and forget where I am, who I am. I want to digest all of my daily experiences through sketches and through my lowly attempts at making the memories last. I want to show them to people and share them to further domino the effect.

I am just too excited now to keep it all in.

Keeping the kitchen sink clean

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I have been doing a lot of moving around Japan and have also been doing a lot of thinking. All of the people that have crossed my path, all of the same old ideas, fresh ideas, are going in circles in my head. I am trying to take in all of these things. I am trying to understand the confusion, the slight leaps of joy that my heart takes, the indifference that I feel when there should be emotion. I am wondering why certain things decided to play out in my life and I cannot be too sure if it will have a positive or negative effect on me. Some say that life is what you make out of it. A beautiful idea, but also a scary one for me considering the struggle I have to even keep the kitchen sink clean.

From a young age, I wished to be in control of my life. I would make lists and itineraries for myself to finish each day, and that would give me my sense of security. Making those lists and checking off the things I had to complete is what made my world comfortable and beautiful. Now I am skeptical to whether or not you can let beauty be forced rather then just let beauty be. Lists have their benefits, but for me they left me feeling passionless. They got me somewhere, but when I arrived I felt as if all my effort had been in vain. Nothing I did would ever be enough.

Recently, I have been reading things that have put my mind at ease. I am reading things that I enjoy, that I can understand through my own experiences. You may tell yourself that you are inadequate, but it’s okay. There is beauty in that. There is beauty all around, in the people, nature, and your own self.
It doesn’t have to be clawed out, but will shine through once the walls that the world made you build around yourself get torn down. For myself, I can only hope that something beautiful can someday come out of this wrenched soul. I can only hope.

In the meantime, I will hop on my bus back to Osaka and start my new job at the Bistro. I am looking forward to seeing what stories may come out of this experience.

The Train Stories: His Foggy Eyes

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We are attached to false feelings of belonging. We become addicted and we forget what it truly means to touch another persons life. The man sitting beside me clearly has the wrong idea.

(One year ago)


I can’t remember why the man sitting next to me had the wrong idea, but I keep getting reminded of how easy it is to become infatuated. When reality comes knocking, you feel ashamed of how blinded you had been and wish you could have been more in charge of your feelings. Cloud-9 really knows how to fog up a persons view. So whatever the man sitting next to me was doing, it’s okay because we are all human. From recent experiences, I now know how easy it is for the path to become blurred.