Why Was Mercari CS Turned Into Autonomous Divisions, and What Does This Mean in Concrete Terms? We Asked the Leaders of the Organization
Mercari CS will be turned into a system of autonomous divisions:
Takashi Kudo, the VP of Customer Service, is credited with being the first to breach this topic. Customer Support (CS) is one of the most integral organizations to the history of Mercari. And with the establishment of the Sendai Office in 2014 and the Fukuoka Office in 2017, CS has expanded steadily. Now Mercari CS is getting ready to embrace a new facet of doing business.
But what was the path that has led Mercari CS up to the present, and what do its leaders see in its future? We put these questions to CS organization top Takashi Kudo, organization founder and Tokyo CS Office director Kazuhiro Yamada, as well as Tokyo CS Office director Michihito Nishigaki. HR representative for Mercari Fukuoka CS Misako Ono took the reins of the interview.
*During this interview, masks were removed only when taking pictures.
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Takashi KudoNow the Mercari VP of Customer Service, Kudo worked for Delta Airlines for approximately 17 years. There, he built such things as the operations design and capacity control for Delta’s Reservations & Sales Department. After working as a Crew Scheduling Specialist for In-Flight Services in the Pacific Division, he launched the Japan Area Customer Relations Division as the Department Manager. He then worked at Amazon Japan for six years. During his tenure, he worked as the Senior Customer Experience Program Manager for Seller Support, and was involved in such things as Outsourcing for the Seller Support division. As Regional Manager for the Far East, he worked on and implemented such things as the launch of outsource operations, including for overseas offices. In November of 2018, he joined Mercari JP’s CEO Office. In July of 2019, he assumed the position of VP of Customer Service.
Kazuhiro YamadaFor roughly seven years, Yamada worked in the User Support group at mixi, Inc. During that time he was involved in the launch of a social gaming industry organization and implemented service health initiatives involving the protection of youth. He joined Mercari, Inc. in April 2014. In his work as a manager in our CS Division, he was in charge of opening the Sendai Office, designing the office’s customer support work, as well as hiring and training new members. In February 2017 he assumed the position of Vice President and now works as a director for the CS Tokyo Office.
Michihito NishigakiAfter graduating from university, Nishigaki worked in customer support for a number of companies and was in charge of improving the operations of customer support work and at customer centers. At his previous employer, SKY Perfect Customer-relations Corporation, he worked in customer service center operations and related work for SKY PerfecTV!, a direct broadcast satellite service. He has been at his current position since September 2018. As a TnS (Trust & Safety) Director, he works on maintaining a safe and secure environment for Mercari users, including the construction of a system that monitors for prohibited items and activities. He also leads the Market Policy Committee.
Misako OnoFor roughly six years, Ono worked in the General Affairs and HR Division of LEVEL-5 Inc. In March 2017, she joined Mercari, Inc. as one of the founding members of our Fukuoka Office. In her role for General Affairs, she was in charge of setting up the work environment and facilities of the Fukuoka Office as well as event planning and operation. As the manager of the Field HR & People Development Team, she now works on training and planning for such things as the JP CS Group’s employee development as well as L&D.
Why did you decide to start revamping Mercari CS now?
Ono: Mercari’s CS organization has built a system that has increased its number of offices at a relatively speedy pace. Are there any changes that you have noticed since the organization’s inception until now?
Yamada: Just to premise my answer, ever since the foundation of the company, the CS and product teams have always worked together closely, and that has not changed. We’ve maintained those relations right up until the present. The company’s stance of building the business together with CS as a partner is one of the things that is characteristically Mercari. And what I would like to personally emphasize about all this is the human element. CS is most definitely a people-oriented organization, and so our stance is that we continue to collect and value opinions on training and the opinions of our members.
Kazuhiro Yamada (Director of the Tokyo CS Office)
Nishigaki: To put it a slightly different way, I take pride in our organization, which has evolved to fit the speed at which it changes. In general, there are a lot of things about CS that makes it resistant to change. However, Mercari CS takes initiative and proposes its ideas to other divisions without ever simply going with the flow. I think this is something that has never changed.
Yamada: However, up until now, we have also been faced with certain challenges because our function as an organization was defined as the CS Division at Mercari. So, for instance, it’s hard for us to branch out into functioning in a capacity other than CS or to make decisions for our mid- to long term work. Furthermore, the number of group companies, like Merpay and Souzoh, is also increasing, and we have had to support big changes to the business environment. This is why we made an effort to rebuild our system after Kudo joined CS.
Ono: How did the CS organization actually change when Kudo joined?
Kudo: Well, in the first place, an organization is kind of like a plant that can be divided at the root. To grow a solid trunk and leaves, what you need are solid roots. If a plant grows well, you can divide the roots and grow the plant even larger.
Takashi Kudo (VP of Customer Service)
Kudo: Since the founding of Mercari, we have put a lot of emphasis on the CS organization as a vital part of expanding our service. Thanks to this, the garden we planted is going strong. However, as a single organization we won’t be able to create new shoots, stems, or leaves. This is why in March of 2021, Mercari CS was reorganized from being an organization defined by its function into a system of autonomous divisions. By shifting to this system of autonomous divisions, we effectively decentralized the organization. Each and every CS employee will work from a management perspective, and in this way our aim is for people to be able to resolve issues autonomously within their division. If we can make this work, we believe that it will also accelerate decision-making.
We have revamped our organization, but… “our roles and value have not changed!”
Ono: From what you’re all saying, it sounds like you revamped the CS organization. Were any of the employees in CS confused by the changes?
Yamada: I think that this change is evidence that Mercari CS has become a data-driven organization. Until recently, we hadn’t really collected data within CS, but now we’re able to, and in doing so we have increased the accuracy of our business.
Nishigaki: As far as I know, when we announced the formation of our new organization, we heard from a lot of budding leaders in our ranks who said they wanted to be in charge of a particular business. That said, there were certainly some employees who were confused, but we’ve been providing support with initiatives like creating a lot of opportunities for small groups to discuss the goals and aims of the new organization.
Michihito Nishigaki (Director of the Tokyo CS Office)
Kudo: I want Mercari CS to be a force that drives the business of the Group. I daresay that at companies where CS does not work well, business does not go well. Mercari CS is not what you would label a contact center or call center, but rather an organization whose productivity brings added value to our business. This is because we work more closely with Mercari and Merpay users than any other organization, and we get to hear directly from them through their inquiries. The know-how that we have managed to stockpile in the process is extremely valuable, and so whenever people start something new within the Mercari Group, electing to work with CS is becoming a natural choice to make. That is how important the position of CS is within the Mercari Group. The revamping of our organization, which we have now started, is also intended to demonstrate our value even more.
Ono: How has the awareness of employees been affected by the changes to the system?
Nishigaki: Up until now, it was understood that policy was something that came from managers, but that is changing gradually. We are still trying to situate ourselves, but there are more and more discussions about what to do next quarter and what we should work on to yield results. People’s awareness is changing little by little, and something resembling a sense of ownership is starting to take root.
Yamada: Of course this varies from person to person, but the accountability of CS employees is now crystal clear. And I think that in keeping with this, it has become clear that people want the authority to act and make decisions on their own. Depending on the person, some are starting to look at their work from a profit and loss perspective, and their sense of ownership is really starting to show.
Kudo: I also think it’s gotten easier to speak out at manager meetings too. Up until now there were some people who spoke out for their own reasons, but once people started to suggest that certain challenges be fixed within business units, people have learned to come up with solutions on their own. However, this is not exclusive to CS. Any team whose members can come to see themselves as a business unit will start to behave like this. At the same time, it also informs people of their own limitations, so the links with other teams are also strengthened. As a result of this, we want people to be able to do things they haven’t been able to do thus far.
Work for Mercari CS to gain career experience not found elsewhere
Ono: So now that the CS organization has changed to become a decentralized system of autonomous divisions, how are things coming along?
Kudo: Well, we just changed our organization, so there is a mountain of issues! We still don’t have a concrete vision, so policies for training members have not been defined, and common knowledge of how our business and operations work is still a little underdeveloped. As we work to resolve these issues, we would also like for everyone, including our members, managers, and senior managers, to all work with a sense of ownership.
Ono: So in this current phase, what are the benefits of becoming a member of CS?
Kudo: I think the one thing we still have in common is that we take part in development. This is why we aren’t simply business operators. It’s hard to get experience like this at other companies, and eventually our staff will become so skilled that other companies will do anything to hire them.
Nishigaki: At Mercari CS, your personal performance impacts more users than you can ever imagine. So a rather unique point about CS is that we bring a degree of pressure to decision-making. If a user interprets something we do as positive, it’s reflected in our numbers, and the opposite is also true.
Yamada: For any so-called contact center or call center, what they are made of and how they are involved with the business will differ. This is why the value of the experience that employees can gain and of what they provide to society will differ. The impact we have on society and the proportional weight of our responsibility rests with Mercari CS. Of course there are times when the weight of it all pushes us to spin our wheels that much faster (laughs). CS always has several ideas for improvements in motion. People might have the idea that CS is an organization that keeps the wheels of stylized value turning smoothly, but in our case, we have a strong awareness of product improvement and changes.
I think the way our employees receive stimulus from each other is another big factor. There are a lot of really talented people among our employees in product development, and so you get stronger just by working with them. Mercari’s strengths aren’t just our products and our brand recognition, it’s our people. That’s why even if something doesn’t go well, we can team up and push through it. That’s what’s good about Mercari.
Nishigaki: Our employees on the legal and corporate levels also like Mercari, so everyone has opinions about where we should focus our energy to improve. In other words, they have a conscious desire to make the company better. I think that companies like ours are rare.
“I only want to work for Mercari CS”
Kudo: It might seem a little over the top for me to say this, but it is our wish to make Mercari CS into an entity that will go on even after we have expired.
Ono: That’s brilliant!
Kudo: And I’ve thought about this quite seriously. I don’t just want the people who work for Mercari CS to see the know-how we hold as just a business milestone to attain; nothing would make me happier than to know that someday they will look back on Mercari CS as a place that was fun to work at.
Foreground: Misako Ono (Mercari Fukuoka CS, HR)