Everyone I’ve ever met that has gone, comes back with a different perspective on the consumer/business relationship. In every store and at every restaurant customers are treated with the utmost respect. By far, the best service I have ever received was in Japan…
… and I wasn’t even a customer!
I was on a business trip to Japan. People from around the world had converged in Nagoya to attend a conference and experience some training in Lean Management and Just In Time inventory methods. I’m talking real exciting business stuff here! But the story and the greatest lessons learned were not in the meetings they were learned in our spare time.
Several cliques quickly formed. I was hanging with a guy from Spain, two from Finland, another from India and a lady from South Africa. While there were a few catered or group dinners during our visit, we also had a couple free nights to spend as we chose.
Time for dinner
Many of the attendees were reluctant to explore a foreign land. Luckily the group I hooked up with was more adventurous. One evening we decided to go out and experience a real Japanese dinner at a local restaurant. We had no preference for a particular style of cooking we only knew we wanted something “authentic”. We inquired at the concierge desk about any non-chain Japanese restaurants and were quickly provided a suggestion and directions. Out the door we went.
My friend Ernesto from Spain was in charge of map as we began navigating our way. After about 6 blocks and couple of turns we came to the realization that our path and the directions provided were not matching up. We were not lost… we just didn’t know where we were going.
After a few minutes of deliberation the suggestion was raised to ask for direction. With no Japanese language skills were all reluctant. Eerik, from Finland stopped a passerby to ask help, but the language barrier was too great. As he struggled, I grabbed two young ladies walking towards us from across the street. Luckily one of these ladies spoke English. She was home visiting from Australia where she currently lived. Her name was Keiko(sp?)
Watch out for the Yakuza! (Gangs in Japan)
When Keiko looked at our “map” and the name of the restaurant, she was uncertain. She spoke with her friend who also had no clue about the restaurant in question. Keiko politely suggested, “If you are looking for good Japanese food but you are not particular about which restaurant you eat, I could help you with a different one.” Famished, we all looked at each other for two seconds and agreed.
With a smile from our agreement, Keiko said “follow me.” And we did! Keiko turned around and returned the direction she and her friend came from. She led us across the street and two blocks up. We turned left at the light to cross another street and continued down 3 more blocks…
At this point we began to question where we were being led and why would a stranger be taking us on this journey. A few of us (OK at least I) began to get nervous as Keiko led us down the proverbial “dark alley.” Within a couple more blocks we were stopped in front of a little eatery.
The glass case in front was filled with the famous Japanese plastic foods, virtual displays of what is served on the menu. A noren curtain of waves and Koi fish was hanging in doorway. It was at this moment nerves began to calm, thoughts of the Yakuza surrounding us faded.
Now that’s customer service!
Akshay spoke first, questioning Keiko. He asked her why she would go so far out of her way to escort us to this restaurant. It didn’t elude any of us that Keiko and her friend was traveling the other direction to begin with. Keiko’s answer was simple, “because you would not be able to find this place otherwise.” “But still, to take time out of day and go to such lengths to show complete strangers where this restaurant is, I don’t understand, why?” We asked. Keiko could only reply; “because it is the proper thing to do.”
Of course, we invited Keiko and her friend to join us. As it turned out, the evening was 10 times better due to her company. She interpreted the menu and even ordered for us. Keiko encouraged us to try new and different things we would not have known to order. She shared stories of growing up in Japan and spoke of her culture. Certainly, this was one of the most memorable dinners for any of us.
We also tried further to understand why a young lady would willingly escort a group of strangers. Keiko was never really able to explain it succinctly. This desire to help other, she said “to serve” was just a part of the Japanese culture.
We import millions of things from Japan but the one thing in Japan that would benefit our Nation the most cannot be bottled and transported. Customer service is a choice of the server.
photo by Steve Nagata’s
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