Concierge-style customer service experts work shop floors

by Asako Sawanishi

Kyodo

As competition to attract customers grows fierce among domestic retailers, some have begun staffing their stores and showrooms with a new breed of customer-service experts — the chic-sounding “concierges.”

The idea is to win shoppers’ loyalty by offering the kind of professional expertise exhibited by hotel concierges when attending to guests.

The Uniqlo clothing chain has introduced nearly 20 concierges at its flagship store in Tokyo’s Ginza district, which opened last March.

Like ordinary shop clerks, these concierges help customers find products, and are supposed to be familiar with the thousand or so items displayed and stocked throughout the 12-floor store.

But they also cater to the general needs of tourist shoppers, who constitute a key customer base, providing directions to the nearest stations and information on nearby restaurants and entertainment facilities.

Since nearly 30 percent of the Ginza store’s customers are foreign visitors, the concierges are picked from among multilingual employees. Each of them speaks at least one of four foreign languages — English, French, Chinese and Korean.

Yuki Obataya, a concierge who speaks Chinese and English, said that visitors praise the Ginza store’s staff for living up to the high standard expected of the upscale shopping district.

“As this area is crowded with tourists, we keep ourselves prepared to reply to any question they may ask,” said Teruaki Matsumoto, the store manager.

Tower Records has also embraced the concierge approach, as ordinary store staff find it difficult to attend fully to customers’ needs on crowded store floors. The company created a “concierge counter” dedicated to handling customers’ inquiries at the Shinjuku store when it was renovated last April.

“Customers hesitate to ask questions when they see store clerks in a hustle and bustle,” a Tower Records official said. “So it occurred to us to create a section staffed by experts who can answer questions concerning any genre of music.”

Meanwhile, Pasona Group Inc., a staffing service company, has trained around 70 people to answer any questions about environmentally friendly home appliances and household energy systems over the past year and a half.

These “eco-concierges” are deployed to showrooms and exhibition booths to give energy-saving tips as well as product information to visitors on behalf of appliance and housing makers.

At the ECO Life Studio showroom in the Tressa Yokohama shopping mall, eco-concierges instruct visitors on how to use an energy-efficient water heater and a battery recharger for electric cars.

They also offer cooking lessons using an energy-efficient induction-heater cooking system.

Sanae Mitsui, a Pasona Marketing Inc. official in charge of eco-friendly business, characterized the concierges as “customer service professionals who understand new products and technologies and explain them to consumers in plain language.”