I went to the convenience store around the corner from the university to pay a bill a few days ago. It was busy: customers milling about waiting in line, stock being shelved and one woman at the cash register working heroically to pick out exactly the pieces of oden (kind of steeped veggies, a winter favourite of many) desired by the woman whose turn it was. Within moments the cashier realised there was a back up and summoned help. I was next in line. Sorry, so sorry, said the woman helping me. It had only been a few minutes and, cold outside, so it was kinda nice to be in a warm spot. Paid the bill and in deference to the busyness of the store, skedaddled as soon as I had, mutual thanks shared.
The following day, a colleague popped by my office and asked if I had gone to the convenience store the previous day. Odd question, but yes, I had, I told her. Oh, good, said she. It is you! She explained that she, too, had dropped in after work & had been accosted by one of the cashiers in a terrible twist who had served ‘a foreigner’ and forgotten to give her the change she was owed! Well, said Kaya, what was she like? Friendly. Nice woman. Comes in every once in a while. Is she a teacher at your campus? There are only two of us (friendly & non-Japanese women) on our campus, so that did narrow the possibilities, and I was found!
I went around yesterday afternoon to finish the business and got the “Full Monty Japanese Apology” which consisted of sincere apology and the deepest, most polite bowing. I confess I tried to get in on the apology a little, since I had been in a bit of a hurry, too, and truth be told, was none the wiser about not having received my change – but soon realised that this was not the way to relieve the tension that had built up over the error, as the bows deepened & the voice tightened; ownership of the mistake seemed precious and fragile territory. Well, alright, I thought, we’re not going to share this. It’s no problem, I said. Thank you. Please accept, she added, handing over a large box of cookies, this token of our remorse for the mistake.
I left the store with the twenty bucks we’d failed to exchange, a big box of treats (fortune cookies, perhaps, for they were labelled with an inscrutable verse-like proclamation) but also, and most priceless of all, a heart warmed and filled with joy.
It turned out that manifold riches had been restored.
Now, that’s what I call customer service!