Steven's Blog

Proffer Value, Don’t Presuppose

Japan Rail Shinkasen’s first class is called the “Green Car.” It is the most comfortable first class of any high-speed train I have ridden, whether it’s France’s TGV or Amtrak’s Acela. Japan Rail has outdone even itself introducing a class higher than the Green Car called “GranClass” on some lines. Yet, GranClass has got to be one of the best kept secrets in Japan and I doubt this is because Japan Rail wants it that way. It’s just that Japan Rail employees act as if they do.

I had no idea that GranClass existed until I booked it for a trip to Karuizawa using an automated kiosk at Tokyo station. I booked the highest class available, not realizing it was something other than the Green Car. I was pleasantly surprised by the experience in GranClass and resolved to always book GranClass whenever available. I don’t know what kind of marketing Japan Rail does for GranClass, but I can’t imagine it has been very effective. I was the only GranClass passenger in the carriage both on the way to and from Karuizawa.

Last week, I took my wife and son for a short holiday in Kanazawa. We booked tickets for the Green Car; this time with a human Japan Rail employee at the ticket window. However, I was surprised to learn after boarding that the carriage at the front of the train was GranClass. Had the Japan Rail employee at the ticket window informed me that GranClass was also available when I had asked for Green Car tickets, I would have bought them. I was more than a bit annoyed.

During the journey, I decided to take a peek in the car with my wife and son just to show them what GranClass is like. The automatic doors opened to reveal two Japanese women attendants in their stunning GranClass uniforms, dedicated solely to serving the passengers in the GranClass carriage—which there were exactly none. Yes, that’s right. No one. And I don’t think that is because there are no would-be takers.

In Kanazawa, I had booked a deluxe room at the ANA-Crowne Plaza hotel through the InterContinental Hotels Group website. After the purchase, the website queried me if I would like to upgrade to either of the premium suites in the hotel should they become available by the time I check-in. I did not even know the Kanazawa ANA-Crowne Plaza had premium suites. I selected ‘yes’ to both.

Customers always know what they want, but sometimes they simply don’t know it exists. There is value in proffering options. There are always customers who prefer the higher value to the lower cost. These are always your best customers. It is always better to proffer value than to presuppose. Click To Tweet

I am not talking about elaborate or sophisticated marketing here. You don’t have to make salespeople out of frontline staff. You don’t even have to contrive incentive schemes to push them to “up-sell.” Proffering additional value by asking a customer a simple question is usually enough. The general manager of a major Tokyo hotel once told me he could easily double the profit of the hotel lounge if he simply got all servers to consistently ask, “Would you like another drink?”

If your frontline staff regularly proffer higher value as a matter of course, that is great! If you are not sure, find out! After all, you have to wonder how much business from your best customers you might be foregoing.

Japan Rail has foregone some of mine, and they will never get it back. That train has already left.

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