This week’s interview makes me especially happy, because I have to confess I am an IKEA addict and cannot imagine living without IKEA furniture at home. Furthermore I admire anyone who can handle incoming calls in a call center (I simply would not know how to stay upbeat everyday listening to complains of other peoples). Renee Kida works as a Contact Center Manager, HR Responsible at IKEA Japan. I was very curious to hear more how the concept of IKEA works in Japan, plus whether Japanese customers are really complaining so much.
Sibylle Ito: Japanese tend to move before April, because they are starting new job or entering new school/university. Do you see at your sides then as well waves of complains due to increased consumer activities compared to the rest of the year?
Renee Kida: Yes, absolutely this is a busy season for us. Shinseikatsu, Spring Break, and then right around the corner is Golden Week. Our spring busy season is around 3/20 to 5/11, depending on when the dates fall in the calendar. The amount of contacts we get whether they are complaints or questions is directly correlated to 3 things – how many visitors we have, how much we sell, and how much marketing, PR or other news our company has out in the public sphere.
SI: Creating a “better everyday life for the many people” is the slogan of IKEA. Do you think there are local Japanese differences in the expectations?RK: I believe our product line fits Japanese needs very well, but with our huge range there are more easily sellable items than others. What I mean is we are now displaying our smaller storage units, which would fit into a Japanese size home better. And we have begun to show how there are options that work with tatami rooms or Japanese style closets. I think our strength is giving customers inspiration and we are trying to customize that more for actual Japanese living needs. For example a huge issue in most Japanese homes is the issue of storage.
Another issue is we are still relatively new in this country and many visitors are not familiar with how to shop the IKEA way. It is very different than compared to a Japanese department store. Our concept is “you do your part, and we will do our part” and that is how we are able to provide such a very low price to the many people.
So we are increasing our efforts to improve communication on how to shop both in the store & on the web, so we can better meet the customer and create a positive shopping experience.
SI: I believe Japanese customers are gobal most demanding with quality. Compared to other countries did you have to take extra steps for the Japanese market?
RK: To be honest, I don’t know so much about a lot of other countries expectations. I am American, and I actually believe that Americans are also very demanding but in a different way – we are the kings of returning stuff.
The biggest issue we face in Japan is not the issue of actual quality, but “perceived” quality. Very often anything that is priced very low is perceived to be also innately lower quality and vice versus – high price, high quality. Many people know that we offer very low prices but they don’t all understand about our low price with a meaning – we actually put a lot of value & quality into the designing of our products. Again, this is something we are intending to focus on promoting more as we move forward.
SI: Due to the economical down turn, do you see customers try to negotiate with you a special deal to safe money?
RK: No, we don’t have customers bartering with us for lower prices, but we are seeing more people using our coupons or special offers specifically so we do sense that many people are very concerned about money and really thinking when, how, and on what do they want to spend their money on.
SI: Working as a manager at a larger contact center you must be facing a larger share of complaints and negative emotions. How do you keep an optimistic outlook on life?
RK: I certainly face my share of ups and downs. People are very complicated, and truly open, constructive communication can be a challenge. As well, the rate of needed change in business can be very hard for people to keep up with or accept.
But I have a passion for people. I feel I have a great team of truly hard working, committed people. And I believe in my heart the best, maybe only way for business to succeed is through its employees. So I keep trying and challenging myself.
Thank you so much Renee for taking time to answer my questions. Personally it is interesting to hear again about the unique challenges that exist in Japan. Growing up with IKEA, I never thought much about the price/quality connection or then the need to get ideas from a store on how to set up or decorate my home. For me no matter where I was living in the past going to IKEA was for me like a trip abroad: “Testing” unknown furniture, trying to read name tags that I could not pronunciate, going with the flow to see what I might encounter and then last but not least eat at the restaurant unknown food.
More info in regard to Renee Kida can be found at
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤）