Monday Feb 11, 2008

Too Early

The delivery guy came to pick up some stuff early this morning. Too early. This is typical. But this time he was so early we weren't ready, and we had to send him away and have him return later. So, he said he'd do some other things and return at 12 noon. To me 12 noon means12 noon give or take five minutes before or after. Or just 12:00 pm is fine, too. But this is Japan, and time is different here. So, what time did he return? 11:30 am. Early again. Typical. I expected this, of course, so we were ready this time. But I have to wonder. This desire to be hyper efficient to provide extreme service by being too early actually leads to inefficiency. And it's potentially dangerous, too. My delivery dude, after all, had to make two trips, right? That's not efficient. I certainly appreciate the intent, though. Anyway, after we set the delivery guy free, we started walking out to the store -- where we were promptly almost run over by a pizza delivery guy flying by on his jet-fast, three-wheel motor scooter. Rushing to be early, I'm sure. These guys nearly clip me at least once a week. I wonder what a death here and there does to their on-time- delivery rating?

Saturday Jan 12, 2008

Why Early?

I've lived in Japan for about 18 months. Why is it that the service guys -- you know, the people who come to your house to fix something or install something or deliver something or whatever -- are always early? It drives me nuts. I can see being on time or even a few minutes late, even, but why early? And why early every time? How is this possible? Is it genetic, or something? If you say you'll be there at 9 am, and we all agree, why must I then have to do a mental calculation that goes something like this: ok, this dude is Japanese, so 9 am doesn't actually mean 9 am, it actually means any time between 8:45 and 9 am but most certainly before 9 am. That's when the phone rings. He's "just around the corner" or even "already waiting outside" my front door. Every. Single. Time. Absolutely insane. This was never a problem in California, by the way. Or Boston. Or New York. Why here?

Monday Sep 04, 2006

More Japanese Customer Service

Story One: The Gas Station

We went for a walk on Saturday with the kid. We're still doing lots of errands to get all kinds of crap. It's never ending. Moving sucks. Anyway, as we waited for the light to change on this one corner, I was glued to the scene unfolding at the gas station right in front of me. It was a long light, so I could really pay attention. Cars would drive in to one of four bays. It was a pretty big station. Eight pumps. Someone greeted each car with a bow and a smile. Each car, that's correct. Next the door window lowered and some words were exchanged. Then the station attendant -- that's the greeter I'm talking about -- put gas in each car and while the fuel was flowing he washed the windows and the mirrors. All the windows and both mirrors. Each car had its own attendant, by the way. I've never seen the mirror bit, too, so that part fascinated me. And all the windows? Even the side windows? That's what I saw. Wild.

Now, my mother and father told me that this behavior was really quite common in the United States in the 1950s when service really meant something. But personally, I've never see it. No matter. I don't own a car here in Japan, so this really doesn't matter much. However. I had to wonder. How much does that pervasive service bump up the price of a gallon of gas here in Japan? Or, a liter, I mean. I did the conversion, and the gas at this station was about $5.75 a gallon. At that price, I'd expect some nice service! But I don't know how much of the price is the service. I suspect not very much. But even if it's, say, .30 or .40 cents a gallon, then I think there's plenty of room for improved service in the markets where gas is still dirt cheap, like San Francisco and Los Angeles and New York.

Story Two: The Book Store

I'm taking a class in Japanese. Go figure. So, I had to get my text book last week at a book store right near where I work. Very convenient. Two books, actually. A text book and a work book. After some pain in asking for the books in English to some very kind people who spoke only Japanese, I finally got my books and walked up to the counter to pay. The young woman said a bunch of stuff and smiled. I just smiled. I gave her my books and she scanned them. They came to about $35 or so. But in yen, of course. So, I put 5000 yen in the nice leather tray she put before me. And then something really cool happened -- she started wrapping my books. And I'm talking really wrapping like someone who knows how to wrap. Perfect edges. Crisp corners. Nice and tight. I didn't ask for this, mind you. Actually, I couldn't ask for this, so it must be part of the deal. Now, you should also know that the books already had perfectly lovely covers. In fact, the books were beautiful. Perfect typography. Nice paper stock. Beautiful printing, design, and layout. Some genuine care clearly went into producing these two books, and that care was clearly extended to the person wrapping them for final delivery. After they were wrapped, the books were carefully placed in a beautiful -- yet understated -- bag and then carefully handed to me. Then I got my change delivered in the leather tray. Bills and coins all lined up. I'm not kidding.

This entire final delivery system wasn't simply an exchange of goods for cash. It was more like an artist proudly offering a piece of her work. And at no time did any of this seem forced or insincere of over the top. It just seemed really rather normal for them to do this. So, I took the bag, smiled, and walked out. Now, do you think I'm going to take better care of those books? Absolutely. They were well cared for -- double wrapped and everything -- before I got them, and I have the distinct feeling that I'm expected to also care for them.

Amazing. On so many levels ...



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