KinoKuniya Australia – a story of poor customer service (and how they fixed it)

A friend of mine – karen – is one of the most book-oriented people I know. She has a massive book collection, is thoroughly well-read, and is also a big advocate of comic books and graphic novels. As such, she has long been going to KinoKuniya and advocating that others do the same.

It’s her passion for the store that was largely responsible for my signing up for one of their loyalty cards: you pay $15 for the year, and get 10% off purchases. It’s not hard to do the maths – this means that it’s people who are looking to spend over $150 in a calendar year with the store. As such, you would think that it would be in the store’s best interest to keep these customers happy.

I was surprised, then, to read a few tweets from her that said she’d had a problem with them. It seems that she had gone to the store, made a purchase, and then showed her card a little late in the payment process. As a result, she was told that she would have to pay full price.

Understandably annoyed about this, she turned to twitter.

# Dear @KinokuniyaAust, even tho I spent c$70 in yr store 2day, yr cashier refused to let me use my loyalty card because I showed it late.

# Then I asked if she would reverse the transaction. She refused & said it was against @KinokuniyaAust store policy.

# Which begs the qu, if it’s @KinokuniyaAust store policy, why did she not ask for my loyalty card at the beginning of the transaction?

# My @KinokuniyaAust 10% off loyalty card costs about $15/year, which means I must spend c$150/year (before discount) to make it worthwhile.

# Now, @KinokuniyaAust I love yr store. It’s my fav bkstore in the whole of Syd. I went to you to by 4xPhonogram Vol 2 because I love yr store

# I could have gone to Book Depository who would have charged me $14.86×4=$59.44 incl shipping, which is $13 cheaper than @KinokuniyaAust.

# Book Depository is also $5.80 cheaper than the @KinokuniyaAust loyalty discount & they would have saved me a 1hr trip into the city.

# So I ask you @KinokuniyaAust, where is the love for your customers? I show you loyalty & what do you give me? Why should I shop w you again?

To their credit, they responded relatively quickly, but crucially, they sought to explain why their policy was correct, not try and solve the problem.

# @kbeilz we can’t reverse transactions on our registers because the bank server crashes each time meaning we can’t sell anything for 10 mins

# @kbeilz terms and conditions r printed on the card – sorry if we couldn’t be of more assistance this time

# @kbeilz we could ask every customer if they have a Kinokuniya card at the begining but people have complained that we are like macdonalds

Surely this whole problem could go away if there was an offer of store credit, even for the original, missed discount? After all, we’re only talking about $7! Instead, they’ve made the decision to explain why they were right.

The responses go on, arguing the policy, and even making what would seem to be vaild customer service suggestions. Is it really worth defending a bank that won’t allow transactions to be reversed? Are there other ways to remind the loyalty card customers that they need to present your card? Is it worth keeping your loyalty program quiet for the sake of unverifiable customer complaints being made?

# My @KinokuniyaAust card says “Card must be shown”. Well, my card was SHOWN.

# In addition, my @KinokuniyaAust card does NOT say that if the card is not shown BEFORE the end of transaction, it can’t be reversed.

# If yr bank is impeding the quality of yr customer service, it’s clearly time to change, @KinokuniyaAust.

# And if you don’t ask if ppl have a @KinokuniyaAust loyalty card, how are you going to build a loyal customer base?!

# As it is, @KinokuniyaAust, your responses have been far from satisfactory. I’m sorry but you’ve lost my loyalty. I won’t buy from you again.

By adhering to their existing policies, instead of taking care of a customer who has already spent their own money on a loyalty program, they lose a customer, and have the entire exchange in public.

I think this situation could still be remedied: if the store reaches out using these channels, this could be turned around into a positive story. From what I’ve seen so far, this seems unlikely.

A store that prefers to publicly defend its anti-customer policies instead of seek to use social media tools to create positive experiences for customers is wasting its time having a twitter presence, in my opinion.

Update: 30-Mar-2010
There may yet be a happy ending to the story.

# Just received a lovely personal apology via Facebok from the Managing Director of @KinokuniyaAust re what happened!

# Apology included acknowledgement of poor customer service + goodwill offer of @KinokuniyaAust gift vouchers & refund of loyalty discount.

Looks like they’ve taken some positive steps toward repairing the relationship. The next step, of course, would be to make the apology as public as the initial response, but time will tell how they proceed.

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  1. I was annoyed when I first read the tweets, but now that I’ve seen their reply, I’m just shaking my head in disgust. Something’s missing in management there.

  2. There was a happy ending to the story: I got a personal Facebook message from the managing director. It came on Tuesday because he had been away. He gave me permission to reproduce it on this blog:

    Dear Karen

    My name is Takezawa; I am Manager Director of Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia.

    First, I apologize for late reply to you. I was away until today.

    We, Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia would like to apologize that this incident occurred. Our cashier staff should have returned the book, completed the transaction a second time and applied the 10% discount. Our policy was not reflecting the needs of our customers and our register staff was not adequately trained in customer service to have been able to give you the service we wish to offer.

    Our reply to you Twitter post was also not in keeping with customer service policy – and we would like to thank you for reminding us of how important you are to Kinokuniya.

    As a gesture of apology and goodwill, I would like to offer you a gift voucher for use should you feel able to revisit us and experience the store as it is meant o be. I can either post these vouchers to an address or make them available within the store. Of course, we will refund the 10% discount to you. If you still have intention to revisit Kinokuniya, please ask for me at the Cashier counter and I will make sure the transaction is completed correctly.

    Thank you for taking the time to read my letter

    Kind regards

    Naoyuki Takezawa
    Managing Director
    Kinokuniya Bookstores of Australia.

    So that made me very happy! I’m glad that, from the sounds of things, their policies will change (which is the main thing I wanted) and hopefully they will train better register staff. The book vouchers are also a lovely sweetener!

  3. I am always astounded at the condescension of the staff at Kinokuniya, it’s almost as if they are doing you a huuuuge favour allowing you to spend your hard-earned money in their store. My suggestion is to goto who have great value and excellent range and were fantastic when I had a water-damaged book. They let me keep the copy, fully refunded the sale price and offered me a voucher to make up for the disappointing situation. Not that I am trying to sound like a fishpond employee (In fact I’d rather goto Borders than Kinokuniya and that’s saying something isn’t it). I find the best thing about Kinokuniya is that you get to spend hours pawing through their books with greasy KFC fingers, knowing that they will sell them to some poor sucker for full price AND be smug while they’re at it.

  4. I’ve never encountered any smug employees at Kinokuniya and, considering I’m a grown man who sometimes buys COMICS (!) there, I’d say I’d notice any condescending attitudes.

    Also, they have been great when I can’t find any non-picture books in the store … staff will always patiently show me where it’s located, usually right under my nose.

    Don’t let one bad/poorly trained employee taint your perspective of a store. Kinokuniya is awesome. And hey, the MANAGING DIRECTOR replied after a few Tweets. In that not cool?

  5. Strange… I work for a dept. store who have a loyalty customer card and we were constantly reminded at the training stage to ask the customer if they have a card or if they would like to join (this card is free incidentally and works differently than Kinokuniya’s) at any point but specifically during the outset to give the customer time to retrieve it from their bag, wallet etc. Voiding the transaction you’re currently on or even one you’ve just completed should only take a few seconds. I have noticed that Kinokuniya’s postage rates have risen considerably and having to go through registered post (understandable I guess if there’s been recurring problems). I don’t know…. Can’t put my finger on it but they aren’t the ‘with it’ Kinokuniya of the recent past. The staff over at the informaton desk are helpful. I still like Kino, and the stock is great! All in all, there are so many that forever go on about customer service and yet when it comes time to deliver it’s the farthest thing from their mind. I think that’s where the problem lies -, too much talking and not enough customer service. That’s just my penny’s worth.

  6. I went to kinokuniya last month and bought a magazine. The cashier did not greet me at all she just took my magz &scanned it &after I paid she didnt even said “thank you” or wadsoever so I said “thank you” loudly and left the store……. wad a day……..

  7. I happened to come across this blog page after googling the address of Books Kinokunya.
    After ready each comment I am amazed at the response.

    Sydney in particular is full of establishments with shocking service and sure, Karen & others had come across an example in Kinokuniya; shame, but it seems like a rare and almost ethereal happening that a managing director of a large worldwide chain would apologise personally and give a voucher in compensation – that is a fine example of exceptional service and all who have blogged in to have a jab at Kinokuniya’s service really should be a little more respectful.

    What disgusts me most is that your blog header “a story of poor customer service” comes out 6th in place when Kinokuniya is googled. This should be amended.
    As someone who has Japanese family members & of the Christian faith I find this whole blog absurd and nasty.

    Again, there are rude people and service all over Sydney, if you are going to pick one to focus on an establishment that actually deserves it. Disappointed.

  8. Twelvtie,

    Thanks for your comment, and for visiting my blog.

    My point with the original post was that when you’re responding to an unhappy customer in a public way that it’s much better to seek to make the customer happy than to seek to prove that your policy was correctly enforced.

    I agree with you that it’s a great thing that the MD stepped in and apologised and set things right: I hope that they’re improved their customer complaint resolution process so that he doesn’t need to do this in future.

    You make a good point about the title of the post, and I’ve amended it accordingly.

  9. The email you received from Naoyuki Takezawa is very Japanese like interms of customer service! The strange thing is that despite being a Japanese chain store, the Sydney Kinokuniya store does not exhibit the high level of typical Japanese customer service. The only exception to this is the Japanese books section – if you ever visit the help desk there, you’ll notice the level of service is extremely different to the rest of the store.

    Of course, I don’t mean to pigeonhole everyone working at Kinokuniya as exhibiting bad customer service – in fact for the most part I’ve had mainly pleasant experiences there. I’m just use to Japanese stores having extremely high levels of customer service that’s all. Take for example – UNI-QLO. If you were to visit any of their stores around the world you’ll notice that Tadashi Yanai’s expecation of universal customer service is quite standard.

    Now that Borders and Angus & Robertson are on hiatus due to Pitt Street upgrades, Kinokuniya should really seize this opportunity and lift it’s game 10 fold to draw customer away and retain them. People only really need to walk into the amazing store to be impressed.

  10. I stumbled on this posting trail whilst looking for a book title.
    I agree with the perception that the “contact” staff are often rude, disconnected to their job, and they just plain ignore me when I go to pay…often not even a thank you. I can understand that dealing with loads of people every day makes it difficult by that’s the job, as they say.
    I have stopped going to “Kino” despite being one of their very first customers and even had one of their first loyalty cards (which they stopped) – I buy a LOT of books – I run workshops and used to tell my students to go there to get their books for the course. But the service is “disinterested” and I want to go where the people are friendly and value my custom. Mind you, Kino does have the best design section in Sydney!
    The coffee shop used to be good too…..but now, ah well…it is a book shop and not a coffee shop I guess.

  11. My experiences of Kinokuniya customer service reminds me of Little Britain ‘computer says no…..’ a la Carol Beer. Ive asked for architectural books, art books etc and no effort is made whatsoever to find anything. I find smaller private bookstalls in Surry Hills going out of their way to find other avenues for you online. Hip and young staff who think their too cool for you… Perhaps there is not a positive relationship between the top and the floor staff..that’s really the only reason there should be a negative reaction on the floor. p.s. I buy at least one book there a month.

  12. I have to agree the Japanese customer service desk is so welcoming and bend over backwards. Very courteous. Sadly I think its an Australian thing. I think Australian customer service over the last few years much like courtesy on the street in the CBD , is going down the self-absorbed plughole.

  13. It’s sad to say but I agree with the poor service in the store. I have always found something interesting in the store and used to do a transaction there at least every month. However after the last time where I spent over $100, the sullen looking cashier didn’t greet me or thank me and I think the only words she muttered was the total amount. Perhaps Management need to consider what staff need to be placed up front and who should be packing shelves. I now wander in and look about then head to ‘Booko’, where service is prompt and prices are good and no miserable cashier taking my money to deal with.

  14. I spend an average $150-200 every month and at least $50 when I was in highschool (back in 2005). Kinokuniya books are more expensive than anywhere else so I’m not so sure what exactly I’m paying the premium for. Retail space maybe? Customer service has always been poor and the cashiers are unfriendly. The most I get out of them is ‘next please’ and ‘do you want a bag?’. No smile, no thank you.

    If I wanted the standard service, then I try to buy my books at Borders because it’s usually cheaper but now their stores are closing. :/ What sucks the most is I can’t buy my Japanese magazines anywhere else, and they’re usually marked up to twice its price in yen.

  15. I too stumbled across this blog as I was Googling Kinokuniya and after reading it, it makes me mad. Mad at Karen and all the customers who want to be treated in a special way and who can’t take some sort of responsibility for their own actions and forgetfulness. It’s always the retailer’s fault and there is never any sort of understanding of their processes and procedures. It doesn’t have to be acceptance, just an understanding. You do not know what happens behind the scenes therefore you cannot judge.

    I agree Kinokuniya could have dealt with the situation in a better way. I read all the tweets and letter from the MD. Kinokuniya should not have tweeted back in reply. I think it would have been more professional for them to ask Karen to send an email or phone her and go from there. Karen, you should have sent a letter/email or even ask to speak to a manager at the time of the transaction. Tweeting just shows a bit of immaturity and attention-seeking (it’s on a public forum) and your shorthand language – I wouldn’t take your complaint seriously. Yes you can argue in this day and age of technology/Facebook/Twitter/SMS, the English language has been shorthanded, but I would never follow this trend, especially if I was going to make a complaint.

    I’ve worked on both sides, behind the counter and as a customer. I too have shown my loyalty cards too late and been denied the discount/points etc, but I don’t get mad at the staff. I blame myself. I should remember to use it, especially if I’m such a big fan of the store and I love it, as you seem to be of Kinokuniya Karen. Of course it would be great if I could be prompted before the transaction, but I don’t rely on this. And I don’t threaten to shop somewhere else. That’s just again being immature and attention-seeking. I go away and switch. Honestly, the employees don’t care if you go somewhere else. They would rather deal with polite, easier customers than difficult ones that make a scene.

    I’ve shopped at Kinokuniya before and all I want from them in the end is the book. If the book is cheaper online, I’ll get it online. I don’t look for excuses to shop at Kinokuniya for the sake of loyalty.

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