How a team run by a working mother produces truly excellent customer service
UNITED ARROWS LTD.’s Policy provides is “Great service ― finely tuned customer service of the highest quality.” As part of our series on staff members who truly embody that motto, we sit down with a female staff member–and a working mother–for the first time. Mari Miyata of Jewel Changes Yokohama tells us all about how she uses her time efficiently, what kind of image she tries to project while on the sales floor, and how she charms her customers. As a woman, how does she encourage smooth and flexible teamwork, and what are her best customer service techniques?
For this working mother, nothing is more important than fast communication and heartfelt gratitude.
—Ms. Miyata, you are a working mother. Are you working reduced hours? Can you tell us what your schedule looks like on a typical day?
Miyata: I get up at 6:30 a.m., prepare breakfast, and eat with my family. I get myself and my daughter ready for the day and we leave the house at 8:15 a.m. By the time I’ve dropped her off at nursery school, it’s 8:30 a.m. I take the train to work and arrive at the store at 9:20 a.m. My workday begins at 9:30 a.m. I clean, put the merchandize in order, and open the doors of the store at 10:00 a.m. At noon, I have lunch. I return to work at 1:00 p.m. and work straight through until 4:30 p.m. Around 5:30 p.m., I go to pick up my daughter. We have dinner at 6:30 p.m. and take a bath around 7:30 p.m. I put my daughter to bed at 9:30 p.m. Sometimes I fall asleep at that time as well, sometimes I stay up to finish some housework. I go to bed by 11:00 p.m. at the latest.
—It sounds like your day goes by very fast. Do you have any tricks that help you make the most of those 24 hours?
Miyata: I use my bike to move between the house, the nursery school, and the station. Mornings are always especially hectic, so I’m glad to have a fast bike. And I always make sure to check the weather report. I can’t take the bike when it rains, and besides, knowing what kind of weather we need to dress for makes it easier to choose clothes for myself and my daughter. My husband walks our dog every morning, so he tells me when it’s raining or when there’s an unexpected chill in the air, and so on. So I get real-time information to base my decisions upon lol .
—Did you make any arrangements with your co-workers so you can combine your work and childcare?
Miyata: We mostly just function on the principle of “communicate quickly, give thanks quickly.” I contact my co-workers immediately if there’s anything wrong, for instance when I’ll be a little late. We also make sure to tell each other about positive things as soon as possible, for instance when a customer says something nice. And I always make sure to thank my co-workers for helping me out, even if it was something very small. That may not sound like much, but I think these many instances of reliable communication and sincere gratitude help us trust each other.
—By the way, how do you manage the mental switch between “mother” and “working woman” every day?
Miyata: The time I spend in the train is my “me time” right now. That’s when I make that mental switch. Reading a book on the train really refreshes my mind. Being submerged in a different world, even for a short time, just makes something click inside my head. Then when I get to the next station and see all the other commuters marching towards their jobs, my mind gets into workmode naturally. It really is a kind of “switch time”.
I enjoy feeling my focus broaden from “my customer” to “our customers”.
—Please tell us more about the attitude you like to take on while serving customers.
Miyata: My motto is, “Keep an eye on what’s in front of you, but also on what’s not in front of you.”
—What do you mean by that? That sounds a little difficult.
Miyata: It’s great if you put all possible effort towards pleasing one customer, but if that causes you to pay no attention to what’s going on around you, you really have your priorities backwards. This is very basic, but you have to keep one eye on the front of the store even while you’re folding clothes, to watch for customers. Even while I’m helping a customer, I try to stay aware of what’s happening around me in the entire store. That way, I can signal another staff member immediately when I notice another customer in need of assistance. After all, “the customer” is not just the person who happens to be standing right in front of you at any particular moment. But there’s obviously a limit to how many customers I can serve all by myself. That means customer service is really teamwork.
—You mentioned the word “teamwork.” In fact, a co-worker told us that you don’t just excel at developing your own brand of customer service, you also “export” that service to everyone in the store.
Miyata: It’s true that I don’t think of the customers as “mine”–they’re “our” customers. Especially now that I’m not always present in the store, I try to involve the rest of the staff so that the quality of service doesn’t change when I’m not around.
—You really get them involved lol!
Miyata: I always try to use the names of the customers and the staff members in conversations. I’ll say things like “How do you feel about this piece of clothing that our staff member X is wearing?”, or “Ms. Y can’t quite choose between this and that piece, what do you think?”. That way, everyone feels involved in serving the customers lol. This approach guarantees that the customer will be much more inclined to agree with us, and it always makes for a lively exchange of opinions. I also make lists of customers’ names, when they visited our store, and what they bought, and I verify whether staff members managed to remember the names and faces of customers.
—I see. That’s very thorough of you.
Miyata: It always makes me very happy when a customer of mine arrives while I’m already busy with someone else, but waits for me to finish, because they want to be served by me in particular. But really, I’m even happier when that customer can connect with another staff member. It gives me joy to be able to tackle customer service as a team.
We’re helping the customer put together their wardrobe, all of us together.
—What sort of things do you keep in mind when recommending clothes to a customer?
Miyata: We’re really just helping the customer put together their wardrobe. It’s that simple. I look at what they’re wearing when they come into the store, imagine what they might like, and recommend merchandise that would complement their look. If the customer decides to buy what I recommended and then comes back again, I recommend something that goes with the previous purchase, and so on, and so on. To be able to do that, I study the customer’s background first. I talk with them to figure out what their work and living environment is like, what their tastes and hobbies are, things like that.
—Right, understanding the customer’s personality is important.
Miyata: I always try to imagine the wardrobe they might need. For instance, if a customer tells me that they’re going for a one-month visit to America this summer, we’ll plan for that trip. I’ll say things like “We’d better find you something comfortable,” “You should take things made of easily washable materials,” and so on.
—By the way, what sort of moments give you joy at work?
Miyata: When a customer is satisfied because they like what I recommend to them. It always makes me happy to see customers enjoying their shopping time, but when they choose to buy the items I proposed to them, I feel such a sense of achievement!
—What’s the happiest thing you’ve experienced at work so far?
Miyata: One of our customers talked about us on a social networking site, with the hashtag #Jewel Changes. That made us very happy. We remembered that customer, because it was someone three of us together had helped out, me and two other staff members. One of the other staff members noticed that there was a run in the customer’s stocking and discreetly pointed it out to her. When I rang up the customer’s purchases, I informed her that there was a socks store on the fourth floor of the building. The customer’s social media post talked about what she’d bought and how we helped her out, and said that our service “gave me the energy to get through the day.” And it didn’t end there. The one who found that social media post was actually the manager of another store–they noticed the hashtag and told our company about it. The whole episode gave me so much energy and courage. That kind of experience is why I do my work, really.
—And it all happened because of teamwork.
Miyata: If you take your time to help customers properly, your team will end up including not just the other staff members, but the customers as well. That’s my way of doing customer service–how I aspire to do customer service every day, maybe.
Joined the company in 2005. From 2007 on, she worked as shore manager in the Nagoya PARCO and Roppongi Hills stores. In 2013, she had her daughter. She returned to work at the Yokohama store in 2014, where she still works today. In 2015, she became assistant store manager there.