It has been two weeks into my part time job at this restaurant, and I am starting to pick up the little tricks and knacks of the widely renowned “customer service” exclusively provided by the Japanese. No surprise, since I have been trained by my seniors and bosses, all of whom are Japanese.
“Safety first, followed by customer satisfaction” is the motto of this restaurant. Highly realistic one, I thought at first, but as I am slowly inculcated with the required knowledge and skills of dealing with customers, it dawned upon me that there is a secret manual to the legendary Japanese customer service.
Needless to say, good customer service does not exist only in Japan; if you have enough money to dish out to dine in a high class restaurant in any country, not only do you instantly transform from a Pariah to a Brahmin, even your menu changes. Vegetables is now known as “Chinese Broccoli Sauteed with Garlic and Fish Sauce”; Beancurds is now known as “Deep Fried Tofu with Curry Leaf and Black Bean Sauce”; Eggs is now known as “Thai-Styled Omelet with Crispy Shallots and Chilli Sauce”. Sometimes I wonder if the extra amount of money paid is channeled into the print of more words in the names and descriptions of the dishes.
It is, however, only in Japan, where this high quality of service pans out to a rather wide range of classes of restaurants. In other words, you can expect to receive good service even at a lower-middle class dining place.
Want to become a top-class waiter and an expert in customer service? Let me teach you the Japanese style!
The saying goes, “The customer is always right”, and that the customer always has the last say. But ironically, the secret in the Japanese style of customer service offers a totally contradictory idea: Yes, the customer is always right, but never let the customer have the last word. No matter what the customer does, it is right and we have to take responsibility and apologize profusely for it. Even if he does not do anything, just say something along the lines of an apology!
For example, it is normal to apologize to the customers when the food arrives late, but it is only in Japan that the waiters “apologize” whenever the food is served, whether it is served late or not. We say, omataseshimashita, which is translated into “Sorry to have kept you waiting”, but literally it means, “We have kept you waiting”.
Every action and gesture the waiter takes has to be accompanied by an apology, because every inch you move, the air particles clash together and rattle into the face of the customer. Every inch your face gets closer to the customer, you are depriving him of the fresh oxygen. Every object you place on the table, you create noise that shatters the silence , disturbs the customer, breaks his train of thoughts or wakes him up from his nap. Every object you remove from the table, the table has to re-strike its balance due to the sudden loss of weight on it, thus creating vibrations which may mislead the customer to think that it is the vibration of his phone, or an earthquake. As you step away from the customer, you have to excuse yourself, for the customer might have wanted to call you.
Let’s begin with a scenario where a customer comes into the restaurant.
When the customer opens the door, you apologize, saying that you should have opened the door for him and not let him waste his twenty joules of energy pushing the door and now he has to eat three more cubes of bean curds to replenish the energy. But when you open the door for him, you should apologize too, for thinking that the customer is not strong enough to exert fifty newtons of force to push the door.
When the customer hangs his coat on the chair, you apologize for not taking the initiative to help him hang onto the hanger. But as you take his coat to the hanger, you apologize for dirtying his coat with your filthy hands of which you have used to touch Chinese Broccoli Sauteed with Garlic and Fish Sauce or Deep Fried Tofu with Curry Leaf and Black Bean Sauce or Thai-Styled Omelet with Crispy Shallots and Chilli Sauce.
When the customer calls you to take an order, you apologize for not noticing that he has decided and not stepping forward before you can call to you. And by making him raise his voice in the restaurant, not only does he risk getting a sore throat, but he has gathered unwanted attention from the rest of the customers. But, if you go to a customer before he has decided, you apologize for standing there and giving him pressure to rush in his decision, thus increasing his heartbeat and making him lose his appetite.
Now the food comes. (Remember to apologize for serving the food too early/ late) If a customer drinks his soup and scalds his tongue, you say, “Sorry the soup is too hot!” On the other hand, if the customer drinks his soup without scalding his tongue, you say, “Sorry the soup is not hot enough.”
The customer finishes his meal. Apologize for not realizing he has finished (and thus not clearing his plates) or for putting him under pressure to finish his food by standing within ten metres, or when you clear his plates, apologize for standing near him and fighting with him for oxygen. The same thing goes when he calls for the bill, collects his coat and opens the door (by himself or by you).
After he steps out of the restaurant, you say, “Sorry for making you come all the way to the restaurant on such a rainy/ hot/ cold day or such a pleasant day that you could have spent better time playing frisbee with your cats. And of course, “sorry for dirtying your coat, stealing your oxygen, pummeling air particles into your face and underestimating your strength to push the door.” As he walks away heavily satisfied with the customer service, you smile and bow or wave him goodbye, but hope he does not turn back and return a wave, for he might risk twisting his waist or fracturing his arm by turning and waving.
Easy, isn’t it? No wonder Japanese are such polite people.
This is the end of the article, and I apologize if this is too exaggerated, or too realistic that I have blemished your impression of the Japanese society.