Wabi Sabi is a set of Japanese design principles which we use as a foundation for not only the product design but also our company values too.
We have already talked about FUKINSEI (不均整) “imbalanced, imperfection, asymmetry” and today we are going to talk about another principle DATSUZOKU (脱俗) - it means “unconventional” - it’s simple but brings about profound changes for your product, business and life.
I was watching a business documentary which interviewed the boss of an electronics company in Japan - his name was Suzuki. Suzuki was sitting in a room filled with employees who were giving presentations for him to decide which prototype got the (karate) chop and which would go to market.
One of the employees called Tanaka showed him an electric fan and said “we want to sell this for 12000 yen (about 120 USD).”
Suzuki replied “What are you talking about? That’s not very customer-centric is it? It’s a good product but figure out a way to sell it at 9000 yen (90 USD) instead. You got to start seeing things from the mindset of a consumer you know?”
Tanaka has a few tried and tested ideas which are typically used by manufacturers - they are…
1. Tanaka chooses to use cheaper materials and sacrifice on quality - the fan still works but hey its only 9000 yen - who cares if it breaks after a year when the warranty runs out. Besides, the boss Suzuki would be happy.
2. Tanaka forces the vendor to reduce the cost of components and threatens to take his business elsewhere if demands are not met. The vendor can’t afford to loose this gig as he has already lost a load of clients who have moved their production to China. The vendor has no choice but to increase working hours of their employees or reduce their wages to make a profit.
3. Tanaka puts in extra hours but decides not to clock in the overtime.
There is a general principle in Japan which says “The Customer is God” - in America I believe they say “The Customer is Always Right.”
This principle is obeyed by almost all Japanese businesses and especially drilled into those working in the service sector.
Society has molded us to put the customer in 1st place but we at Smart Doll Land have decided to be unconventional (DATSUZOKU) and put customers in 3rd place - this is because our employees and their work environment will always come 1st. Happy healthy employees will produce the quality that we associate with Smart Doll which is why Quality naturally follows in 2nd place.
We don’t have any shareholders or bosses like Suzuki to answer to so we pay vendors whatever is required to maintain the quality of the Smart Doll brand. As we do everything in Japan, costs are admittedly high - but we believe in the quality of our products and have been supported by tens of thousands of customers worldwide who also believe in our product too.
Putting customers 1st usually means bad working conditions for employees brought about by making them work silly hours on low wages and subjecting them to being dehumanized - this is so common in Japan that there’s even a term for “working to death” called “Karoshi” (過労死).
Quality is then sacrificed to reduce costs of the product for the sake of the customer who wants stuff cheaper yesterday. So what you end up with are unhappy employees (overworking to meet those yesterday demands) and a potentially great but half baked product.
But because companies are all competing with each other by making more half baked products at lower costs - the market becomes flooded with products of lower quality and questionable safety.
Putting customers 1st also cultivates dangerous behavior - if you live in a city with public transport, the chances are you would have seen posters of how “violence against our drivers will not be tolerated” - but at the end of the day drivers *do* continue to tolerate it. Just because a customer paid a dollar for a train ride they believe they have the right to beat up the train driver for arriving late. This behavior must stop but society continues to tell us that the customer is always right.
When I was a student I also worked part time as ground staff for Japan Airlines guiding lost Japanese passengers around Heathrow Airport. One day I was looking after a tour guide and his party of passengers but the plane was late. His passengers started to look irritated and looked at the guide as if it was his fault. The guide then grabbed my necktie and started to choke me screaming “Japan Airlines better take responsibility for this!”
I could not fight back or even ask him to let go - he was the customer - he was god. All I could do was keep my finger on the walkie talkie button as a cry for help to other members of staff. He finally let go. I was on the floor loosening my necktie - clipboard and walkie talkie by my side. Red face with tears in my eyes. I was just doing my job and this...
Humans have a habit of dehumanizing other humans who “serve” them - it’s this sort of behavior that brought about slavery in the past but today, “Customer First” is just another form of slavery.
I want our product and values to serve as an example that we can create a successful business without treating customers as a celestial being - that we can run a business without the fear of saying “no” to a customer who starts screaming their head off because they demanded a discount.
A customer wrote to us after placing an order - he said “Your stuff is way too expensive.” My wife answered him offering a cheaper shipping method. He replied “No, no, no - you don’t understand. In America when we say that something is expensive - you say something like 'oh would you like a discount?'”
I replied on behalf of my wife telling him “we don’t do that here” (Avengers Infinity War reference). He said “that’s not a professional reply.”
I see “That’s not a professional reply” being said a lot but the type of people who uttered it had just unconsciously admitted that they feel they should be treated number one - and that anybody serving them is not human. As you can see - people in the service sector are expected to speak to customers in a certain way.
I have been transparent with our product design philosophy and now I need to set expectations for potential customers who want the celestial being treatment - you will not get that here in Smart Doll Land. If a customer comes into my shop screaming at my employee - I side with my employee and will ask the customer to leave and not let them in again. Though in Japan they would make the employee bow down to the customer and say "please come again!" lol.
So what bought about this post? Running a business is the most challenging thing ever. Every single day that passes presents just another opportunity to throw in the towel. Anything can and will (and does) go wrong and sometimes I ask “just why?” But I’m optimistic - when poo hits the fan, I clean it up and make a chocolate cup cake. I try to cover up the smell with some fresh cream on top but sometimes I can’t completely hide the undigested carrots.
I may always preach wise words to you but I’m not completely immune (yet) to trollism - especially when it comes from customers who I trusted. My team and I work very hard on our products but when folks expect that we sell them for less than what they cost it makes me sad - and angry. It demotivates my whole team.
The worst thing is that we are expected to exist to merely churn out stuff for the customer - at the price that they demand - in a timeframe of their requirement.
The last thing I want is people buying into our brand only to discover “WTF?! no professional treatment in Smart Doll Land?” - it’s not good for them and not good for us.
I do apologize to folks who have invested into our brand only to discover this now. I ask that you share this with potential customers so that they don’t end up making the same mistake by investing in Smart Doll expecting treatment that we don’t offer.
And that's all I have to say about that (Forrest Gump reference)
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