Is excellent service quality part of everyday aesthetics?

Is excellent service quality part of everyday aesthetics?

Tube, credits Vinny 83 (Flickr)

A couple of days ago I was in Tokyo Station, buying a ticket for a colleague for a seat on Narita Express, the airport access train. The lady at the wicket asked me which airline my colleague was travelling with. I said, “Air France”. She checked and said: “Terminal 1, then.” I asked, “There should be no difference in fee between terminal 1 and 2, since they are near each other, why did you ask?”. She replied, “In this way your colleague shall not be confused, on where to get off”. I was amazed by the service quality of this lady, who had no duty to print the number of the terminal at Narita.

A few hours later, at another wicket, another specialist made a departure time and class change for the ticket of my colleague who had finished work before what we had thought. She just said “Yes”, and in less than two seconds touched at least seven or eight keys in the computer she had in front of her and the new ticked was printed and handed to us. I have never seen such a speed in touching a ticket issuing machine in my life. Competence and accuracy are given here as a part of service quality.

Central JR train, credits rapidliner (Flickr)

It was beautiful to see competence and work ethic so wonderfully applied by Central Japan Rail, one of the railways companies privatized in 1987. Is excellent service quality part of everyday aesthetics? Definitely yes, since quality in life is part of the environment and it helps us in becoming better ourselves.

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6 Responses to Is excellent service quality part of everyday aesthetics?

  1. sisio77 14 giugno 2012 at 11:46

    Ammiro la capacità dei giapponesi di trasformare lavoro e dedizione in una forma d’arte utile a tutti.

    • Kazuo 19 giugno 2012 at 18:51

      A program in the Japanese television showed an apprentice maid in a ryokan (traditionalJapanese inn) in Aizu Wakamatsu, about 100 Km from the Fukushima nuclear plant.
      Last year, due to the radiation spilling from the plants, all customers canceled their bookings and the okami (the maitress) told the staff, mainly young girls, that they were free to look for another job. Nobody quit. The okami was moved by this attachment to the ryokan.
      A guest family arrived, and they were eating ice cream as dessert in their room, when the male banto (a man in charge of heavy tasks, such as lying the futon (bed set for the night) arrived in the room, non knowing tha the apprentice had told them that he would come in 20 minutes.

      A simple problem of bad communication had transformed a merry moment in a hurried moving to another room because the futon were to be laid in their room (in Japanese traditional houses the same room is used as a bedroom and a sitting room, according to the time of the day). The apprentice, when she understood the mishap, ran to the room and apologized for her mistake.
      And wept when returned to the staff room, feeling miserable for her behavior.
      This true episode tells quite a lot about what I mean by good service quality, and by customer satisfaction.

      Have you ever assisted at cases of really excellent service? If so, please write. Thank you.

      I agree with Diego in saying that large organizations in Japan, such as banks and public offices, are often quite different from what I tried to depict in my post. There is room for improvement everywhere.


  2. sisio77 14 giugno 2012 at 11:49

    I admire the ability of Japanese people to transform work and dedication into an art form useful to everybody.

  3. Diego 15 giugno 2012 at 05:02

    Yes, the service you described possesses a an aesthetic value. However, Japanese service, and especially the incredible amount of time spent on various series of checks (kakunin) often results in extremely long waiting times. If you need to check something at your local bank, you need to take half a day off. Redundancy is not my description of good service. Redundancy is not my description of aesthetic value, either. In the example you described, the service was quick, efficient and caring. However what is often marketed as ‘care’ is in fact something else: stiff and old bureaucracy, for example. Care and protection could be also understood as mistrust for the person who is in dialogue with you. I could also take a clerk’s excessive care as offensive: ‘do you think I am dumb?’

  4. Diego 20 giugno 2012 at 11:02

    Dear Kazuo,

    thanks for the reply – this is an interesting episode, but I don’t see it as necessarily an example of excellent service. I can see how miscommunication made the apprentice feel miserable: was this needed? Couldn’t the problem be resolved with a joke and a laugh? Not in Japan: the strictness of rules and rigidity of codes put such pressure on workers that the minimum issue ends in tragedy. I don’t see this as excellent, nor ethical.

    Excellent service should be considered on both sides, as all relationships are mutual. The Japanese ethics pushing workers to feel miserable when they fail (often ending in depression – a malaise too often hidden in Japan) does not consider the workers as equal in the moment of exchange. Of course the worker will in turn be a customer on a different occasion – but again, on that occasion the relationship between customer and worker/servant will be univocal.

    Japan is often thought to be as the country of ‘essential beauty’, of ‘simplicity’, and yet one of the things I think the most when I’m here (in Japan) is: ‘soko made iranai’ (there is no need to do all that). So many elements of the stories we are discussing are in fact redundant, exaggerate. Did the worker need to feel miserable just because the family could not eat ice-cream in peace?

    I am playing devil’s advocate here, but I find the discussion very interesting.


  5. emanuele 13 maggio 2013 at 19:22

    Ciao! Vorrei solo dire un grazie enorme per le informazioni che avete condiviso in questo blog! Di sicurò diverrò un vostro fa accanito!


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