Japan KAIZEN™ Study Tour - Saishunkan Cosmetics (Part 1)

Customer First at Saishunkan

One thing I find rather annoying is when our home phone is ringing while we’re enjoying the tranquillity of a candle-lit dinner with some Smooth Jazz setting the warm ambiance in the background. But what really drives me up the wall is that hard-hitting sales person on the other side thinking that I am now ready to lovingly open the treasure chest of our family to buy something I do not need now (or ever!)

This is exactly the problem (from a customer’s perspective) that Saishunkan Cosmetics faced before changing their sales and marketing approach. Furthermore, this problem also adversely affected the organisation’s reputation and many products where returned – a huge money and time waster for the organisation. Heaps of returned products are now on display in their foyer as a reminder to every one of the time when they were applying hard-selling techniques but did not create value for the customer.

Also think about the problem of low morale in a call centre where employees are constantly bombarded with abuse by disgruntled customers (especially in the Western world) who does not want to be chased for an order while having their tranquil dinner.

After Saishunkan Cosmetics placed themselves in the shoes of their customer a number of years ago they improved their strategy: “We let the customer call us, we don’t call them.”

Their newly defined purpose to always put the customer comes first can be seen in the following:

  • They visually track the number of in-bound calls waiting and will respond to an increase in demand immediately. Everyone can see the visual displays hanging from the roof in the massive open-plan call centre. This information is updated every second to ensure quick response to customer needs.
  • Sample testing is not performed – every product is tested to ensure high customer satisfaction.
  • 200 people are working in manufacturing while up to 800 people are working in the call centre – an indication of their commitment to customer service.
  • To have happy customers you need happy employees. So, they go out of their way to create a positive environment for staff. A top-notch relaxation area, beautifully maintained gardens, a kindergarten on site, and subsidised dining at their buffet-style cafeteria are just some of the initiatives to promote staff engagement, loyalty and satisfaction.
  • The “Voice of the Customer” is not only an airy-fairy mission statement on a wall – 70% of their sales are generated through customers phoning the call centre with the other 30% of sales via the internet. They want to hear directly from the customer what they want and the staff are trained to do almost anything to satisfy the needs of the customer. The customers also contact the company with orders when THEY are ready – a pull system instead of a push system.
  • Staff members make notes as diligently as your health practitioner would do during every call of their 10,000 plus customers. These notes are kept in their data base and accessed by any staff member when the customer calls again. They have even implemented technology that records their hand-written notes directly into this data base in an e-format. This is how seriously they take their customer needs.
  • The Research and Development team (R&D) is based on the same floor and they can listen to the conversations of the customers to enable them to develop and change the products according to their needs. They are situated at the point of value creation – very close to the customer. They are not separated from the other teams/departments in the business – they are an integral part of a value stream.
  • By listening to the “Voice of the Customer” R&D have changed the design of the bottles to assist older people with reading disabilities. They can now identify the different products by feeling the shape of the bottles. The caps of the different products also make different sounds when turning it to further assist with the identification of products. Whow, that’s listening to the customer needs.

To ensure customers call Saishunkan Cosmetics instead of them chasing and annoying the customer all the time, they have ensured that the eight products (yes, only eight cosmetic products and a small range of Chinese traditional medicines) are of the highest quality, reliability and serving its purpose. They have developed products that people DO want but WHEN they are ready for it.

This smells like serious respect for the customer, the employee and the business they work in. This respect can even be seen in the ecological friendly way they manufacture, their obsession to conserve energy and how they recycle food waste from the cafeteria into their vegetable gardens.

Saishunkan Cosmetics gave a great lesson in how to create customer value - anything else is Muda.


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