[From October Issue 2012]
In Japan, more and more companies are adopting their own in-house qualification systems lately. Although qualifications obtained may only be useful for selling goods or providing services at a particular company’s facilities or stores, they are said to be highly effective in ensuring customer satisfaction and enhancing workers’ motivation. Also, many companies give preferential treatment to those with in-house qualifications.
For example, major retailer Aeon Retail Co., Ltd. introduced their “Advisor Education System” which provides a total of 28 in-house qualifications. This is because having someone knowledgeable about products on the sales floor can improve customer satisfaction. “Enabling staff to meet customers’ needs helps raise their motivation as well,” explains a company spokesperson.
The spokesperson acknowledges the benefits of this system, saying, “Sales clerks with expertise win the trust of customers. As a result, this leads to more sales.” Moreover, it delights customers, “If they get advice on the features of products and how to handle them, they can choose what’s most suited to them, rather than if they were selecting items on their own.”
OZAWA Hajime, manager of the Mihama Saiwaicho store of Aeon Bike, who holds the qualification of “cycling advisor,” applied for the system because cycling is his hobby. Speaking about what he finds rewarding about his job, he says, “When I serve customers, I always try to help them by addressing their problems and concerns, rather than just selling things to them. Having customers appreciate my knowledge and skills is really encouraging.”
Starbucks Coffee Japan, Ltd. has introduced a “Black Apron” qualification. To acquire this qualification, employees have to complete an in-house “coffee program” and take an annual test. The test comprehensively evaluates the employee’s knowledge of coffee beans and their ability to describe coffee flavors as well as their day-to-day performance at the store. In 2011, 487 employees obtained the qualification and the best of these is called a “coffee ambassador.”
Describing the effect the introduction of the qualification has had, spokesperson TANAKA Aki said, “The qualification contributes to enhancing employees’ passion for coffee. As a result of their passion for coffee, coffee seminars given by Black Aprons are held more frequently and attended by more people each year.” One of the staff who holds the Black Apron qualification says, “If you attend a coffee seminar, the coffee you make at home will taste different.”
The Black Apron system (coffee master program) was created in the USA, but it was given its trial run in Japan. Based on the success of this program, it was introduced to the USA. Improving employee motivation and giving precedence to those with certain levels of skills and ability, these in-house qualification systems developed in Japan will surely spread to other parts of the world through the overseas expansion of Japanese companies.
Text: ITO Koichi