Igniting Workplace Enthusiasm

Mr. Kurokawa’s Real Japanese Customer Service

I am sure you have you seen notices explaining that this location is going to close while the building is being reconstructed and that it will reopen at a specified day in the future?  Given the increasingly stringent earthquake code here in Tokyo, we are seeing many businesses opting to re-build their premises.  One notice however has become much talked about amongst Japanese retailers.  Toraya are a famous traditional Japanese sweets manufacturer and retailer.  Mr. Mitsuhiro Kurokawa is the 17th generation of his family to lead the business and his "we are rebuilding" notice is considered outstanding, even in a country where omotenashi is renowned.
Most such notices tell facts, supply relevant data and provide the obligatory greetings about serving us again when they reopen.  Kurokawa san did all of that but much more.  He put the current change in historical perspective, noting the business started in Kyoto in 1586 toward the end of the Muromachi (1338-1573) period, moving to Tokyo in 1869 and to this location in 1964.  By doing this he is assuring us of their long traditions, longevity and capacity to change with the times when needed.   He then started to tell some stories about the customers they have had at this shop on Aoyama Street in Akasaka, over the last 51 years.
He mentioned that every three days, a male customer visited the shop to enjoy oshiruko (bean paste sweet soup with grilled mochi).  This is considered a bit unusual in Japan, because men don’t normally have such a sweet tooth, so this customer stood out from others.
Another customer, a kindergarten aged boy came with his mother to the shop every day and bought a bite sized yookan (sweet bean paste block).  One day he came by himself to shop.  The staff were worried about him and so they went out with him and found that the mother was secretly hiding and watching that he was OK. 
A 100 year old lady regularly came by wheelchair to the shop.  She later became hospitalized and her family came to buy namagashi (fresh Japanese sweets) and higashi (a dried sugar sweet), to take to the hospital for her.  Even after she couldn't eat anything anymore, they found if they crushed the dried sugar sweet she could still enjoy it.
He mentioned that he couldn’t include all of the episodes they have shared over these 51 years with their customers, but he said he and the staff keep them, one by one, in their hearts forever.
Telling customer stories is powerful.  Kurokawa san made the customers experiences come alive and he linked them to the products they enjoyed.  Rather than just a cold statement of the facts, he crafted a statement of love for their customers.  The feeling of the notice is that there is a special bond they feel with all of their customers and even though they won’t reopen on that site for another three years, they won’t have forgotten them and look forward to serving them forever.
Are we communicating we feel a special bond with our customers?  Often, corporate communications becomes machine like and wrapped up in what can sound like marketing department dross.  Kurokawa san conveys a lot of heart felt feelings in this simple notice about the main store being rebuilt.  Are we weaving enough customer stories into our communications?  I don’t mean fake propaganda stories, but real episodes that the reader can visualise in their mind’s eye?  Kurokawa san’s notice gets attention in Japan because of the sincerity in the message.  He is regarded as really epitomising the spirit of a family that has served customers for 17 generations.
We may not be the 17th generation in our business, but we can bring more heart into the service we provide our customers.  We can start right now with the service we provide and how we communicate that service.
Action Steps
1.Are we really thinking about creating an emotional connection with our clients
2.Are we telling enough happy client stories in our communications
3.Are we fully aware of the content of all the touch points we have with our buyers
4.Are we serving from the heart or just the head
5.Are we instilling the right frame of reference into our staff, regarding how to properly serve the client.
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