lifestyle

Tales of divine customer service in Japan

31 Comments
By Casey Baseel

A lot of sayings in English have equivalents in Japanese. Sometimes, though, these proverbs receive a bit of an upgrade in their Japanese translations. So while the English truism states that “the customer is always right,” Japan holds that “the customer is God.” It’s a mantra companies take to heart, as illustrated by these tales of amazing customer service in Japan.

We start our tour of customer worship at Uniqlo, Japan’s biggest casual clothing chain.

As Uniqlo’s commercials from two decades ago show, the company started off with a lenient return system. It looks like the company has stuck by its system, judging from this satisfied shopper.

-- “I bought something at Uniqlo, and after I’d worn it and washed it once, I decided I wanted to return it. I’d already tossed the receipt, and even though I took the item back to a different store than I’d bought it at originally, they still let me return it.”

Of course, not just home-grown companies, but overseas operations, like Amazon, have to provide the high level of service Japanese customers are accustomed to in order to succeed in the country. Sometimes, this even involves one-upping the Japanese manufacturers of the goods the online retail giant sells.

-- “I purchased a new Mitsubishi monitor for my PC through Amazon, but it broke almost immediately. First, I called Mitsubishi, and they told me I’d have to mail in the monitor and wait at least a week, or maybe two, for them to repair it. I was ticked off they weren’t going to replace the whole unit, so I contacted Amazon instead. They emailed me back right away saying they’d replace the monitor, and also gave me a coupon for 500 yen off my next Amazon order.”

Another foreign company thriving in Japan is Disney, particularly with the Tokyo Disney Resort complex of theme parks and hotels.

-- “When we were at Disneyland, my little brother got really excited when he spotted Mickey walking around, so he ran over to give him some of his chocolate. I’d heard the park doesn’t allow that kind of thing, but none of the cast members tried to stop him. Instead, Mickey just gave him a hug.”

This level of hospitality is present at Disneyland’s eating establishments, as well.

-- “We were eating dinner at a restaurant, and we got up to go see a show that was going on outside. When we got back to our table, saw the staff had folded our napkins into Mickey Mouse shapes while we were gone.”

On one occasion, it seems the theme park’s workers even helped lessen the blow of a terrible tragedy for a married couple.

-- “I heard about a couple whose baby passed away shortly after it was born. They’d been looking forward to going to Disneyland together, as a family, when the child got older. So just the two of them went, and when they went into a restaurant to eat, they told the staff what had happened. The staff thanked them for coming with their family, and even set out a children’s meal on the couple’s table at their request.”

Japanese video game makers have also shown a strong commitment to keeping their customers’ spirits up. Multiple Internet commenters expressed their gratitude towards publisher Enix (now merged with former rival Square as part of the Square Enix brand).

Enix has had several hits over the years, but perhaps none was bigger than the third installment in its "Dragon Warrior" series of role-playing games. When "Dragon Quest III" was released for the Famicom in 1989, it caused such hysteria in Japan that a rash of muggings and thefts of the cartridge broke out in the normally law-abiding country. Feeling sorry for customers who had become the victims of such unexpected crimes, Enix offered to replace cartridges that had been taken from boys and girls who filed police reports after their copies of the game were stolen.

Enix was even generous enough to help out fans who were unable to enjoy the game for less dramatic reasons.

-- “I broke my 'Dragon Quest III' cartridge, and I couldn’t save or load my data anymore. I sent it to Enix, asking them to replace the battery, but instead, they mailed me back a brand new copy of the game.”

There have been even more stories about Nintendo’s customer service exploits. In particular, stories abound about the Kyoto-based company’s understanding and helpfulness regarding its DS series of handheld systems, which tend to take a lot of punishment in fulfilling their role of gaming on the go.

-- “There were a couple annoying dead pixels on my DS Lite’s screen, so I called to ask about getting it repaired. Instead, they sent me a brand new unit, and they even put a protective sheet on the screen for me.”

-- “It might have just been my imagination, but the colors on the bottom screen on my DS were looking a little weird and yellowy, so I sent it in for Nintendo to check it out. They sent it back with a letter saying, ‘The colors looked OK to us, and we couldn’t find any problems with your DS but we went ahead and replaced both screens for you.'”

-- “I bought a DS in a sketchy online auction, and the unit number on the proof of purchase didn’t match the number on the warranty card. It broke in less than a year, so I went ahead and sent it in for repairs. Nintendo not only fixed it for free, they included a new proof of purchase with the proper registration number.”

Nintendo’s technicians will even go the extra mile in preserving their users’ cosmetic modifications.

-- “I sent in two broken DS units. Not only did Nintendo replace them both, they even transferred the stickers I had on the old systems to the new ones for me.”

This isn’t a new thing for Nintendo, either. One fan recalls calling Nintendo to ask for help when he was stuck in the company’s 1995 title "Yoshi’s Island," and getting the answer he needed in a matter of minutes.

This might not seem so impressive to gamers who grew up in territories where Nintendo had an entire side businesses of selling game hints through toll numbers. However, Nintendo didn’t offer such a service in Japan, and the person the boy had spoken with wasn’t a specialized game counselor, but rather the company’s quick-thinking front desk receptionist, who had to put the child on hold while she tracked down an employee who could answer his question.

This dedication has been shown to extend all the way to the top at the company. In the early 1990s, an elementary school student was riding his bike when he was hit by a car. During his subsequent stay in the hospital, the boy wanted to play some games, but his Game Boy had been in the basket of his bike at the time of the accident, and was so damaged it had to be sent to Nintendo for repairs.

The maintenance department, shocked at the abuse the handheld system had taken, called the boy’s mother to inquire about how it had ended up in such a state. She told them about the accident, and a few days later the boy received a new Game Boy, along with a note telling him to watch out for cars signed by “Yokoi,” ostensibly Game Boy designer Gunpei Yokoi.

Source: Naver Matome

Read more stories from RocketNews24. -- Japan’s 30 Best Selling Video Games of All Time -- 10 videogames Japanese players gave up on -- Former Nintendo head Hiroshi Yamauchi passes away

© RocketNews24

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.


31 Comments
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I've had some great customer service in Japan. Often I wont shut up about it to my friends. I have had some bad customer service too. I find that the more expensive the store the less likely I am going to be served properly. I have had an employee hiss at me to stop touching the merchandise (I was looking for my size) at a department store in Tokyo and I have been avoided and ignored in Gucci, Vuitton, etc... I don't have the appearance of being overly wealthy and I get an appropriate reaction because of it. I think Japan's customer service core is migrating towards the sort of 'whateva' attitude found in the rest of the world bit by bit. What can you do?

4 ( +7 / -3 )

This article is like a Nintendo fanboy blog. Mentioning Gunpei Yokoi is in very bad taste especially when one sees how he was treated by Nintendo bosses, His Virtual Boy failed and he was sent to Coventry and left Nintendo. He helped develop the Wonderswan with Bandai.

-5 ( +4 / -9 )

This is all well and good but isn't that how customer service is supposed to work? These stories should be norms, not exceptions, especially when considering that we are talking about companies which rake in BILLIONS in profits yearly.

4 ( +8 / -4 )

I have loads of stories like these. The most recent took place yesterday, when I was having my weekly facial treatment at the beauty salon. The technician was new, and when she used the galvanic wand on my skin she left a tiny, tiny, barely perceptible blister on my face (it was so small that she had to point it out to me with a magnifying mirror, and even then I had trouble seeing it: it was about a quarter the size of a tiny pimple). She apologised repeatedly, treated me a special facial pack to help my poor face recover from the ghastly pimple, and gave me some antiseptic cream to take home. The salon receptionist apologized too, and gave me a 50% discount.

Actually, that probably wasn't good service so much as fear of the almighty customer. And I think that pimple was there when I got there!

5 ( +8 / -3 )

I'm not saying customer service is bad in Japan because it isn't. However, neither is it always as great as it's said to be. Tessa, that's great that you got that discount but I can't recall that ever happening to me here. I was with a friend having lunch and he found a worm on the lettuce leaf in his sandwich. Yes, a worm! Not only did the restaurant not even offer him a discount, they charged him for the whole sandwich! In department stores, everything looks great and the staff is always polite but I could take with a simple transaction not eating up half my day. On the other hand, people complain a lot about the supposedly bad service in the States but over the holidays my sister was busy so I brought her car in for an oil change. When the guy told me how much it was going to cost I said that was just too high. He ended up giving me 20% off and throwing in a jug of windshield wiper fluid and anti-freeze. He wasn't trying to rip me off either. The prices were clearly displayed on the wall above him. I just hadn't seen them until after the transaction. Additionally, places like L.L. Bean are famous for making quality products and accepting returns with no questions asked.

3 ( +8 / -5 )

New to Japan and terribly jet lagged from a business trip to London I was at home dozing around 6.00PM when doorbell went. Some Japanese guy raving on and smiling all the time. My Japanese was almost zero at the time but I did catch shinbun and asked was he from japan Times. Lots more smiles and I paid him what I thought was probably my monthly subscription. Then he gave me 4 packs of soap powder. Next day, more refreshed, I figured I'd paid before I went to the UK and had cancelled while away so why another bill? Took the receipt into work and got my Japanese colleagues to check it out for me. Turned out some minor crim had got hold of one of their books and had been going to foreigners doors selling them bogus subscriptions - thus the soap gift which I did not know was the norm. That evening an woman from Japan Times with passable English came along with another guy to try to find out what had happened. The next night they came back with a senior executive and on my doorstep apologised profusely to me complete with deep bows. As I say, I was new to Japan and was sort of, come on guys, it's not that bad. And they refunded me the money I lost to the conman bowed and apologised again and finally left. And I got to keep the soap powder.

That was my first major experience of how almighty the customer is treated. I realise now that the down side was some poor office worker was probably crucified over the shame that the lost receipt book had brought to the company.

I could probably write a book about some of the amazing customer service I have experienced in Japan. And it still impresses me on every occasion.

8 ( +12 / -4 )

Bought a device from a Japanese shop on Amazon. When it arrived I realized that it was an outdated model that didn't work properly in my (computer) setup. Sent message to seller to return it for a newer one or money back. The next day I was surprised when in the morning a replacement was delivered, right away with takyuubin return documents for the old one. I hadn't even read their reply mail yet.

You can only dream of such a service from where I come!

7 ( +12 / -5 )

Japan holds that “the customer is God.”

Really????

Not only have I been personally ignored or humiliated for having the nerve to Shop While Being Foreign, the whole traditional Japanese culture of master-apprentice holds that the customer is "itadaiteiru" some fabulous creation by an artist-God, and getting what they (the artist-god) decide on is the greatest honor one could possibly have. NOT the other way around, never customer is God. This level of respect I have no problem with if it really is a piece of art created by an artist, such as a piece of pottery that I have seen and decided I like and want. But order something in a restaurant and expect them to cook it a certain way, or ask for a slightly different variation from the set menu, or (much more importantly and scarily) have dietary restrictions such as life-threatening allergies or religious restrictions, and the number of places that will take you seriously and not ignore you, or perhaps even get angry and pout at you! is not high enough. This holds true for other kinds of stores as well, in my experience.

Ya, I've had GREAT service a number of times at a number of places, I just don't think that overall as a country Japan should get especially high marks. It's just another country. And when it comes to the whole reigi-saho thing (manners and polite speech), I am sick of the arrogant "we are the politest people on the planet" attitude which is in itself rude, impolite and very ignorant of the rest of the planet!

0 ( +13 / -13 )

The staff thanked them for coming with their family, and even set out a children's meal on the couple's table at their request.

does this seem morbid to anyone else?

3 ( +11 / -8 )

does this seem morbid to anyone else?

No.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

Uh...

First, I called Mitsubishi, and they told me I’d have to mail in the monitor and wait at least a week, or maybe two, for them to repair it. I was ticked off they weren’t going to replace the whole unit, so I contacted Amazon instead. They emailed me back right away saying they’d replace the monitor, and also gave me a coupon for 500 yen off my next Amazon order.

...which company is American, and which is Japanese? (Ditto for Disney.)

0 ( +6 / -6 )

Good service is conditional on being a good customer.

Deviate from this predictable, conformist and narrowly defined norm, and the shutters soon come down.

Tales of divine customer service in Japan

Freshly squeezed OJ?

-1 ( +6 / -7 )

If you consider good customer service to be about fake smiles and dishonest bows, yeah, then I guess Japan is number one. What many people fail to understand is that Japan is only about how to make money. If that includes doing a dogeza to please the people handing you cash, the Japanese will do it.

For me, good customer service is about caring. You care even after you've been handed the money. That is customer service. Japan, with its non-existing customer protection laws does not get this. Try returning products in Japan if you don't believe me (I am not talking about big, denki chains). A big damn hassle. As Lowly says above, try asking for something outside the manual and you effectively stun Japanese service staff. They are gooda t following the rules - not at giving good service. Customer service is also about being friendly in a personal way, making some kind of connection if you will. I can very well do without the obasan screaming irrashamase at the super market when they can't even make eye contact.

I am from a place not really known for good service but when it is good, you'll feel it. That rocks.

-5 ( +8 / -12 )

I had food delivered from Gusto the other day and they were 15 minutes late and forgot the salad dressing. Not only did they offer to give me the food for free, but he was going to go back and get the dressing. I took the free food but told him to forget about the dressing.

In America, I've had pizza and Chinese places completely forget about my order until I called them a couple of hours later. I just got a "We're sorry" or "Why didn't you call us earlier?" and that's it. US businesses do not try to proactively make up for their mistakes. They just wait until someone sues them.

1 ( +9 / -8 )

have dietary restrictions such as life-threatening allergies

If you have dietary restrictions that include life-threatening allergies then you should not eat in places that could possibly trigger those allergies! You require someone making your food at 900 yen an hour to monitor closely enough to ensure that the smallest ingredient won't kill you?

That's not expecting good customer service, that is insane. Why would you do that?

Honestly, I very, very frequently ask Japanese restaurants to modify the food on the menu to my taste, and I can't think of a single time I was refused, even at fast food places. Do you speak Japanese?

6 ( +10 / -4 )

Pandabelle-

I don't have any dietary restrictions or allergies, but I have had lots of experiences with friends with such who were not seriously dealt with. Further, I personally wouldn't say what "you should" do or not do about your dietary restrictions and where you should eat. Of course it is your own responsibility to take care of yourself at the end of the day, but we must all live together in this world too, and it is a matter of course to make allowances for others' special needs, especially when it comes to being a food provider, you really have to be careful for that. I was in a restaurant a few mos ago w/ a friend who had severe peanut allergies, and asked several times to the waitress about it. Either she messed up, or the guys in the kitchen didn't take her seriously, and peanuts were in what my friend ordered. Luckily he noticed before he ate too much and he only went home feeling like crap, as opposed to in an ambulance. I have had several experiences with Jewish friends being laughed at for asking about pork or other food requests, and I have had them seem to be taken seriously and then just lied to about the food contents. This is really really bad stuff. Are you seriously going to tell them it's their own fault for not just staying in their own kitchens all day instead of going out in the world? The restaurants f***d up.

If you read my post you will notice I said I also have had plenty of good experiences here too, just that it is not an especially incredible customer-service paradise on the whole, and offered the food example as only one example. THere are more.

I have no problems with Japanese, I speak read and write fluently, been here half my life.

-1 ( +4 / -5 )

I think Japan on whole falls in the average for customer service. I've not been that impressed with particular companies. For example, my wife bought me a t-shirt at the Kinokuniya bookstore on a Saturday. It was folded and wrapped in plastic. When she gave it to me I told her that I thought we should exchange it for a different size and not to bother opening it up. We went back on a Sunday two weeks later and were told that the exchange policy was valid for two weeks. They wouldn't exchange an unopened product because the exchange was one day over the store policy! I've never bought anything there again and hope Amazon puts them out of business. Another time I went to visit a friend living in a different prefecture. I got off the train and walked out the wrong side of the station to meet her. I tried to go back and walk over the bridge within the station to the other side and explained the mistake I had made to the JR station attendant. He replied that I would have to buy the minimum train fare in order to go back through the turnstile.

-5 ( +6 / -11 )

ive found the more stupid you pretend to be (maybe it comes naturally to me) the better service you get. when you begin to speak fluently in japanese, the service gets worse.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

I have yet to find a reason to complain about Japanese customer service. All my friends that have come to visit us have loved it also.

A few friends were so shocked that they complained that the customer service was too good and worried that when they returned home they would miss it.

In the states customer service is not good at all, more than once my wife and I were in line while the cashier was talking to a friend on her cell.

1 ( +6 / -5 )

Mention anything 'stereotypically' favorable about Japan, such as its perceived great customer service, and out come the boo birds to rain on the parade.

Look at the famous youtube video of a Japanese McDonald's service counter and you'll see the difference.

1 ( +7 / -6 )

Best customer service I get in Japan is at Eddie Bauer. Worst is probably at Daiei where the store anti-theft personnel seem to enjoy following me.

In the US, I always get good service at Macy's, and the worst ever was Best Buy where the cashier refused to say "thank you" after a 300 dollar purchase. He just kept saying "have a nice day." I will relish their bankruptcy.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

"JoshuYakiDEC. 29, 2013 - 07:57AM JST I've had some great customer service in Japan. Often I wont shut up about it to my friends. I have had some bad customer service too. I find that the more expensive the store the less likely I am going to be served properly. I have had an employee hiss at me to stop touching the merchandise (I was looking for my size) at a department store in Tokyo and I have been avoided and ignored in Gucci, Vuitton, etc... I don't have the appearance of being overly wealthy and I get an appropriate reaction because of it. I think Japan's customer service core is migrating towards the sort of 'whateva' attitude found in the rest of the world bit by bit. What can you do?"

What can you do? Don't go to these rip-off joints like Gucci, Vuitton, etc...

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Well said, Knox.

I come from a place that has robust consumer legislation, and am convinced that Japan would be much more competitive on the world market if its companies were subject to the same discipline.

Good luck, though, to those who fall for the fairy tale notion of unconditional omotenashi.

If, however, you prefer honesty and value for money, try Daiso. They're not big on the ojiki, but they sure are profitable.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

-- "I purchased a new Mitsubishi monitor for my PC through Amazon, but it broke almost immediately. First, I called Mitsubishi, and they told me I'd have to mail in the monitor and wait at least a week, or maybe two, for them to repair it. I was ticked off they weren't going to replace the whole unit, so I contacted Amazon instead. They emailed me back right away saying they'd replace the monitor, and also gave me a coupon for 500 yen off my next Amazon order."

-- "When we were at Disneyland, my little brother got really excited when he spotted Mickey walking around, so he ran over to give him some of his chocolate. I'd heard the park doesn't allow that kind of thing, but none of the cast members tried to stop him. Instead, Mickey just gave him a hug."

Both of these happen on Amazon and Disney all over the world. Heck, I've returned Xbox360 no problem.

-- "I broke my 'Dragon Quest III' cartridge, and I couldn't save or load my data anymore. I sent it to Enix, asking them to replace the battery, but instead, they mailed me back a brand new copy of the game."

For relatively inexpensive items, the cost of parts and labor likely outweigh the cost of the item, in which case it makes sense just to send a new item. For more expensive items like Apple iPods, it may be the same case, but they'll send back a refurbished item instead.

Additionally, places like L.L. Bean are famous for making quality products and accepting returns with no questions asked.

I think L.L. Bean does not have a time restriction on returns neither. IIRC, a friend returned her coat 5 years after she bought it with no receipt. She got her money back then used it to buy a new coat. Theoretically she could keep doing that repeatedly without having to spend money for another coat.

For me, I once returned a defective limited edition movie boxset to Best Buy - they told me to keep it and gave me another one. Defective again - turns out the manufacturer released a bad batch, so contacted the manufacturer, sent out both defective discs, and got back 2 working boxsets in return (out of 1 that I paid for). Not a bad deal for the trouble.

For other people this holiday, they got their extremely low plane tickets (due to a computer glitch) still honored by the airline, including first-class Hawaii round-trip for only $30:

http://boardingarea.com/pointsmilesandmartinis/2013/12/deltas-amazing-mistake-fares-today-hawaii-for-30-transcons-for-20-etc/

0 ( +2 / -2 )

A friend of mine once had lunch at TGI FRidays and complained that the leafy salad was wilted. Its cost was deducted from his bill and he received a letter of apology from their head office and was offered discounts at subsequent visits.

one time a few weeks later he walked into the restaurant, but received a work-call and walked out to take it. Within a few days he received another letter apologising for taking too long to seat him.. pretty amazing.

That said, I once found an entire cockroach in an ice coffee at West Park Cafe in the Marunouchi building. I had already drank half of it. The replaced the drink and neither discounted it of my bill or apologised beyond the waiter saying 'Gomen Nasai'. I was too shocked and grossed out to raise a fuss or eat more, but I have never been back since...

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I have to agree with Lowly. "Shopping while being foriegn" or "out and about while being foriegn" is sometimes more trouble than its worth for me. I just try and not bother with it. Sure, i get some special treatment at times, but it doesnt compare to anything I have received in other countries. The whole Japan experience is extremely overrated, unless your just here in transit etc, then it can be nice to share your newbie experience, but thats not reality. The negatives far outweigh the positives. Its more enjoyable to go through a drive thru in the states, get a tasty albiet unhealthy meal, and get on with a scenic drive to work or whatever in the U.S. than experience a sit down meal in Japan with the waiter approaching you with caution, admonishing you she cant speak English even though you order in Japanese, and 99% of the other customers gawking at the alien in their midst. Im sorry, I cant equate that experience to anything pleasant.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

tokyotanuki: A friend of mine once had lunch at TGI FRidays and complained that the leafy salad was wilted. Its cost was deducted from his bill and he received a letter of apology from their head office and was offered discounts at subsequent visits.

TGIFridays is an American company and I've always found their service in the States to be very good. I'm not a big fan of the food but the service is good. It can be a little over-the-top friendly but they've always been efficient and pleasant about any adjustments. My complaint with the TGIFridays in Tokyo is that the music is ridiculously loud. There's just no need for that.

One time a few weeks later he walked into the restaurant, but received a work-call and walked out to take it. Within a few days he received another letter apologising for taking too long to seat him.. pretty amazing.

How did they know his address if he hadn't even sat down yet? Isn't that a little creepy and over-the-top rather than amazing?

JoeBigs: In the states customer service is not good at all, more than once my wife and I were in line while the cashier was talking to a friend on her cell.

In all honesty, I've never seen that and find it a little hard to believe given how easily you can get fired in the States. If anything, I find service in the States to be too friendly and solicitous and have heard the same from foreigners who've lived there but if you say you've seen it happen, more than once even, I'll have to take you at your word. That begs the question though, why would you stay in line if the clerk was on her phone? I sure as heck wouldn't have waited for her to get off the phone and would have either walked out or gone and found a manager. There are always other stores happy to have your business so next time, don't stay with one that doesn't care about you.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

I won't deny that there is great customer service in Japan, I did like it best when i was at the Casio store in Shibuya and the convenience stores, in my limited Japanese I asked if someone spoke English and they promptly looked for someone in the store to help me...

But the article it isn't well written because the best examples of customer service are from Non-Japanese companies, especially Amazon, who it is worldwide known for their customer service and they are superb, so, to say they

"have to provide the high level of service Japanese customers are accustomed to" it is inaccurate, because Amazon doesn't have to level up for the Japanese, they do it for the whole world, and I've been an Amazon customer since 1996.

As for Nintendo, good for them that take in products that are used, worn out and replaced them with new ones, although I wouldn't say it is great customer service, because they don't repair the stuff, they replace it with a new one, even replacing the stickers of the old one, maybe the volume of the products sold versus defective ones is so large that it is cheaper to replace it than look for the problem, that demonstrates the great quality of the product but not necessarily the quality of their customer service.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

How about we talk about the best non-Japanese company that introduced the best customer service in Japan: Starbucks! Regardless of what you think of the place and their coffee, most old-timers will agree that Starbucks almost singlehandedly introduced the concept of no-smoking coffee shops to Japan. For that alone, I will forever be grateful! And I'm sure I'm not alone.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Not really a customer service story but it still gives me a giggle to this day.

Many, many years ago I was window shopping in Ginza for a new suit. I was pretty much roaming around the suit section when one of the sales ladies came by to ask if I need any help. I declined but kept looking at suits. As I was about to leave the woman slapped me on my backside and said, "Nice hips." lol.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

Now I knew why the after sales service of the japanese electronic in other country is bad especially in indonesia , when you want to service a s*ny smartphone need to wait for 3 month for the service. What a bad after sales service.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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