Family Mart relaxes customer service rules in recognition of clerks who aren’t native Japanese speakers, also allows dyed hair.

Convenience store clerk is not a particularly lucrative or glamorous job. It’s still a front-line customer service position, though, which means it’s a position that Japanese companies take very seriously.

As such, it’s a pretty big deal when convenience store chain Family Mart, a ubiquitous part of the Japanese landscape, enacts policy changes, as it did in March (just before the start of the Japanese fiscal year in April). One change: clerks are no longer required to tell customers “Thank you very much. Please come again,” as they complete their purchases, and instead merely need to say “Thank you very much.”

Why? Because Family Mart thinks the “Please come again” part is difficult for its increasing number of foreign employees to remember.

That might sound like an offensively dim view of the communication capabilities of Japan’s foreign residents, but the linguistics behind the previously required phrase are actually pretty complex. In Japanese, the standard way to say “Please come again” is “Mata kite kudasai,” but that’s nowhere near what Family Mart employees were required to say.

For starters, the basic word for “come,” kuru, is generally considered too casual for use in customer service. Instead, clerks were supposed to use the more polite verb kosu, which also means “come.”

Kuru (left) and kosu (right)

Okay, so they had to change “Mata kite kudasai” to “Mata koshite kudasai” (koshite being the form of kosu used for requests/commands). Big deal right? But that’s not all. Japanese has a systematic form of grammar used for respectful speech, which requires adding an o- to the beginning of a verb, lopping off its last syllable, changing that removed syllable to its corresponding stem ending (for which there are multiple methods depending on the base form of the verb), then adding the preposition ni and the appropriate form of the verb naru (usually “become,” but meaning “do” for this purpose) onto the end. So koshite would be no good. It’d have to be changed to okoshi ni natte, which would now give us “Mata okoshi ni natte kudasai.”

▼ Changing mata kite kudasai to mata koshite kudasai, and then changing that to Mata okoshi ni natte kudasai.

Except even that’s not the correct phrase for interacting with customers. Kudasai may mean “please,” but for respectful speech, it should be changed to the more polished kudasaimase. And then there’s one more step to the process, dropping the ni natte, since okoshi can also function grammatically as a noun, finally giving us Mata okoshi kudasaimase, the phrase meaning “Please come again” that Family Mart clerks were previously required to say.

▼ The compete transformation from mata kite kudasai to mata okoshite kudasaimase.

So with a growing number of employees who aren’t native speakers of Japanese, Family Mart has decided it’s simpler to just have its clerks say just “Arigato gozaimasu” (“Thank you very much”) instead of “Arigato gozaimasu. Mata okoshi kudasaimase” (“Thank you very much, and please come again.”).

The chain’s policy was quietly changed in March, along with the abolishment of a rule that prohibited employees with naturally black hair from dying it. In consideration of youth trends, Family Mart now allows clerks to have dyed blond or brown hair, though wilder hues are still prohibited. The company has also not relaxed its rule prohibiting clerks from wearing earrings or necklaces while working, citing hygiene concerns (convenience store clerks do double as food prep workers, after all, cooking and serving up fried chicken, croquettes, and other items prepared in-store).

In the three months since the new rules went into effect, Family Mart says it has yet to receive a single complaint regarding the dropping of “Please come again” or brown/blond-haired clerks, suggesting that the relaxed policies are here to stay.

Source: IT Media via Hachima Kiko
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Follow Casey on Twitter, where he remembers having to use lots of keigo when he worked in the hotel industry.