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Why is Japanese customer service so amazing? Because in Japan it’s one strike and you’re out

37 Comments
By Casey Baseel, SoraNews24

Japan has become world-famous for its incredibly polished customer service, which isn’t something you’ll find only at premium-priced hotels and leisure resorts. Just about any shop or restaurant you go to in Japan, right down to convenience stores and fast food joints, will be staffed by courteous clerks and servers.

To explain this phenomenon, sociologists often point to the importance of respect and humility that are so deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. In our increasingly cynical world, it’s refreshing to see the concept of “you should treat the people who support your livelihood with polite kindness” be treated as such an obvious truth, but it turns out there’s also a less warm and fuzzy reason for Japan’s stellar service standards.

American Express International recently conducted a survey, collecting responses from 1,000 people each in Canada, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, the UK, and the U.S. regarding their customer service expectations. Specifically, researchers asked the participants how many times they’d have to experience poor customer service from a company before taking their future business elsewhere, which produced some startling data in the strictest category.

See if you can spot the outlier:

I take my business elsewhere after one bad service experience.

● Canada: 32 percent

● Hong Kong: 23 percent

● India: 31 percent

● Italy: 32 percent

● Japan: 56 percent

● Mexico: 30 percent

● Singapore: 33 percent

● U.K.: 37 percent

● U.S.: 32 percent

Despite significant cultural differences, the strictest customers made up around 30 percent of most nations’ totals (with Hong Kong being slightly more forgiving and the UK a bit more demanding). In Japan, though, the majority, 56 percent, of the respondents said that after one case of bad customer service, they’ll simply spend their money somewhere else from then on.

Taken from the perspective of a business owner, a single service screw up means you can probably kiss that customer goodbye permanently, so employee training and work process management has to make service a priority if the business is going to have any chance of succeeding. Business owners can’t count on their patrons shrugging their shoulders and coming back again after even one brusque interaction with a frontline worker. In a way, it’s a quintessentially Japanese way of dealing with the problem, keeping with the society’s distaste for direct confrontation.

In regards to the survey, Shunichi Nozaki, a researcher with Rikkyo University’s graduate school of business design, commented that Japanese consumers are much more likely to write off a business entirely than to complain about bad service. The stringent standards of customers in Japan even creates a sort of self-perpetuating cycle. Businesses know they have to deliver on service, which raises the bar for entire industries, and that high level of service makes Japanese consumers’ expectations all the higher. The result is that bad service stops being something people are resigned to, and becomes a startling blemish on the experience.

This can eventually even sink into the psyches of ex-pats in Japan. About half a year ago, my wife and I went out to dinner at a moderately priced restaurant in Yokohama. The waiter ignored us, and the owner/chef become blusteringly angry when we asked a simple question about the menu. We haven’t been back since, and we probably never will be, since there’s a nearly limitless number of alternatives that do treat their customers well.

Source: Peachy via Jin

Read more stories from SoraNews24.

-- 5 things about Japanese customer service that surprise foreign visitors

-- Ultra-enthusiastic Japanese Family Mart employee is the height of customer service

-- Hulu Japan offers not just movies, but a little education and awesome customer service too

© SoraNews24

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

37 Comments
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I've had alot of experience dealing with Japanese consumers and I think this article misses the fact that reserved and agreeable Japanese consumers are much less likely to even imagine that they've had a bad experience, so this hypothetical 56% is actually a very small subset in reality.

Japanese people are much more likely to put up with bad service and even blame themselves in my experience. This is why making a suggestion or complaining about bad service in Japan is a bit like talking to a brick wall. You will just be told that is how things are done here.

If the food at a famous restaurant is bad, Japanese people will just assume that their palet is too unsophisticated to appreciate it. If the concert wasn't very good, it must be because they don't know enough about music. If the waiter forgot their special request, it must be because they are making such a fuss. If the clothes don't fit, it must be something wrong with their body shape, and so on.

6 ( +12 / -6 )

Regardless of the reason for it, the customer service is always one of the best things that my wife and I remember about our Tokyo trips. It is always jarring after spending a lot of time abroad then coming home to experience customer service in the States!

7 ( +7 / -0 )

the customer service here is unmatched. when I go back home to the US I always have to prepare myself for gum chewing and bad attitudes from people who expect me to tip them... NEVER moving back

3 ( +4 / -1 )

Customer service is great in Japan. However there are some odd quirks. A lot of young Japanese are so scared to think for themselves - like crossing against the lights in an out of the way corner in Hiroshima these two girls had a major dilemma - will I or won't I even though not vehicle in sight.

We recently tried to get close to the Skywalk in Mishima to catch the stunning sunset but it closed at 5 and sunset was at about 5.30 - the poor guy at the gate was beside himself that he couldn't let us in but terrified he might get into trouble with his employers.

Last gripe is no flexibility to give an extra shot of coffee because their I-Pad system doesn't allow it and they didn't know how to charge us for it. The number of coffees we didn't buy because it was impossible for staff to give us an extra shot of coffee was quite a bit. However on the plus side we did find a few amazing cafes that gave us great coffee. The Bluebird Cafe on the wharf in Hiroshima and Myajima Coffee on Myajima. Great service as well.

I do think part of it is being more worried about the boss than the customer but some bosses need to realise some flexibility or research into what customers want is useful too

6 ( +7 / -1 )

the thing about japanese consumers is that instead of complaining, they just take their business elsewhere.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

the thing about japanese consumers is that instead of complaining, they just take their business elsewhere.

Whenever I visit the US I'm always impressed by the genuine hospitality of the many people I meet and enjoy chatting with the service staff. A laugh and a joke smooths the day and creates a good impression, I think.

I find all the bowing and scraping here excessively obsequious, the by-the-book politeness insincere and all that shouting irrashaimase irritating. Also, a lot of these people look absolutely terrified if you attempt to have a normal conversation with them.

Try asking for something that isn't covered by the manual and things break down pretty quickly. There's a shocking lack of flexibility.

13 ( +15 / -2 )

One of the best service I've had in my travels abroad is in Thailand where it is equally as good as that in Japan. They have a genuine smile and hospitable way. Japan's service is wonderful but sometimes by the book. If you go to high-end Japanese inns, it is there that you will find the epitome of true Japanese hospitality and service in providing the best service for you.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I think the researchers may have missed a very important, if not so obvious, point. It may be that Japanese customers take their business elsewhere after a single bad experience because they have come to expect (and appreciate) proper service, and not the other way around...

3 ( +4 / -1 )

On the other hand, the staff here are almost robotic, they'll answer your questions but that's about it. I used to work for Uniqlo when I was a student and the list of rules there were so strict that if you even thought about talking to a customer about non-work related matters they'd scream at you for damaging the brand. Try to just make small talk with a worker here and see how uncomfortable they get. Not allowed to talk to fellow co-workers either, even if the store was empty.

Back home it feels more "genuine", like you're interacting with a real person and not just a script.

Ironically the consumer protections here are awful compared to other countries.

6 ( +8 / -2 )

Service IS good in Japan, but I too find it at times much too rigid, inflexible, something out of the box can traumatize staff. And often I find the really polite stuff very cold & un-feeling & yes rather robotic.

Was just in the US for a week & rather enjoyed some of the casual banter while in a restaurant talking to staff, or at the hotel etc, was a pleasant change.

9 ( +9 / -0 )

Her feet are wrong. When a woman wearing a kimono bows, the feet should be parallel with the toes pointed inward. I'll certainly never patronize that establishment.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

So that's how the get away with building such low quality homes here. You can't take your business elsewhere after you've bought one.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

in most cases.... It's a combination of 'overt and covert' institutionalized bullying, obedience & fear (tall poppy syndrome). All of which have contributed to a false and artificial concept of 'happy friendly staff' and superior customer service...

In my 17 year experience, id say most of it is fake and reluctant acting just to keep their strict bosses happy.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

the thing about japanese consumers is that instead of complaining, they just take their business elsewhere.

AKA 'communication' and 'expression'. People are too socially stunted to know what that is here. They just follow a script mindlessly. 'Omotenashi' is a word that makes me sick. As if any other nation does not know how to be hospitable. 'Omotenashi' is closely related to tatemae. When people work out that people are not polite to you neither because they like you, or they take pride in their work, but that it is more because they are practically held at societal gunpoint to follow the script, they start to realize that Japanese service is, in fact, quite ugly.

Give me true passion (from someone free to do so) from a staff member anyday. That may manifest in lackadaisical service (so be it), or it may manifest in a nice, off the cuff, conversation where you truly connect. Tired of the fake smiles in Japan.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I've been to over 30 countries, and as a generalization, I'd say that Japanese service is the best. It has its problems, but for the most part is really solid. It's a pain if you go off script, and that's when the service can go one way or the opposite. But other than that, it's great.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

Whenever I visit the US I'm always impressed by the genuine hospitality of the many people I meet and enjoy chatting with the service staff. A laugh and a joke smooths the day and creates a good impression, I think.

Personally I'd rather the staff just brought the meal politely and efficiently, then buggered off to leave me in peace. American customer service just seems so creepy.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Omotenashii and so on are perceived as high-level attention to customers' needs and service. However it is more a norm than an exception.

My wife sells stuff online and occasionally I post it for her. Last week, she gave me something, asked about a post office envelope, which I duly purchased and used as it was 200 yen cheaper (with online selling overheads like this are small but a big deal). I told my wife, and she absolutely freaked, beside herself with anxiety and anger directed at me: the item would be crushed, the customer would not like my kanji on the new envelope, she would get a bad review and people would distrust items she has up for sale - all because her high level packaging preparation is just normal business practice.

Yes, I was disheartened.

Twenty four hours later came the review, customer thanking wife for making sure the package got to her safe and sound. The trick for me then was to try not to say anything too obtuse - but my sidelong glance was effective I think.

Proper service here is nothing special unless you are accustomed to much less, and if it is just normal woe betide anyone from outside who tries to do it back.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I'm unfussy in general and so often service in Japan suits me. Get me what I want quickly as a customer and without fuss and I'm happy. Japan does that pretty well.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Her feet are wrong. When a woman wearing a kimono bows...

She's not bowing. She's looking for her dropped contact lens. :-)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

With 56% of Japanese refusing to go to the same place twice if service was bad.... its no wonder they're relying on foreign visitors to make up for the growing domestic dissatisfaction. Read between those lines.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

I would say service is to my liking or not. Don't like the service I won 't go back till staff changes.

Very few times i have seen truly bad service here or elsewhere.

Customer arr ranked high here but to the extend that'Customer is king and do/request anything'.

Reasonable orders/requests are accepted but staff can't meals prepackaged(to be heated up) at the Factory.

Most Family Restaurants employ 1-2 Cooksfs to prepare /cook said Meals.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Go to Ibaraki...

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Yep. One more fairy tale about perfect Japan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sG08TIN7dQA

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Refrigerated Wine at many Restaurants..... to me that will ruin my dining experience in a heartbeat and reflect poorly on service and management. Why Japan?

-3 ( +0 / -3 )

Japan has great service, but it's often robotic and not personal.

The same guys who are bowing and scrapping to you a minute earlier won't hold the elevator door for you for 5 seconds in the building over after they have clocked outta work.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The same guys who are bowing and scrapping to you a minute earlier won't hold the elevator door for you for 5 seconds in the building over after they have clocked outta work.

Exactly this! ^

Not only that, they'll probably look straight through you if you passed them in the street and pretend like they didn't see, or don't know you. Give me honesty any day! I'm not a fool.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Yep. One more fairy tale about perfect Japan

Gee, I wonder what would happen if this person walked into a Western convenience store and asked for chopsticks instead of a fork ("I requested to change chopsticks into a fork for my bento")?

So this person is "insisting" ("Also, previously I insisted on having soap in a shop's toilet") things about how they are being served and gets rejected, they decide to twist this into some personal vedette and a broad label about Japanese customer service?

.........

Some people can never be satisfied and will search out and find things to complain about. No, you're not going to enjoy your life in Japan with this attitude, especially if you can't use chopsticks. Seen this in a few other people as well. Chronic complainers. Then they create a blog and publicly name and shame a worker. They might get sued.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Refrigerated Wine at many Restaurants..... to me that will ruin my dining experience in a heartbeat and reflect poorly on service and management.

That has nothing to do with customer service, it's just a cultural difference in how wine should be served.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

^^^ Balls. It's a lack of knowledge coupled with the fact restaurants believe they can keep and serve an open bottle for longer if its refrigerated. None of my local friends serve red wine chilled when I drink with them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It's a lack of knowledge coupled with the fact restaurants believe they can keep and serve an open bottle for longer if its refrigerated.

Which has nothing to do with customer service.

None of my local friends serve red wine chilled when I drink with them.

That doesn't mean it doesn't happen - I know people who serve chilled wine (and for white wine, I prefer it chilled myself).

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Serving red wine cold is not a cultural difference -that would imply that Japan has a wine culture;it doesn't,as it is imported!

Serving red wine cold in a restaurant just shows a complete lack of knowledge of the product.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

that would imply that Japan has a wine culture;it doesn't,as it is imported!

What are you talking about? Japan has many vinyards. There is lots of local wine.

Serving red wine cold in a restaurant just shows a complete lack of knowledge of the product.

Maybe - but it still has nothing to do with customer service.

And I still think it's a cultural difference. But as we all know, there are few snobs that are snobbier than a wine snob, so if Japan isn't doing it to their liking, then they are going to get very snobby about it.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

All readers back on topic please.

I wonder what would happen if this person walked into a Western convenience store and asked for chopsticks instead of a fork.

Western convenience stores normally don't have chopsticks. But they have spoons and will change your fork into the one upon request. It's called  "customized service". Why Japanese conbini can't change chopsticks into a fork if the latest is sitting right there. Because it's not written in the manual? That said, in a Western country the shop needs a court order to permanently ban a customer. Without it the refusal of service is discrimination. Same in Japan. They just don't care.

Don't worry. Have been enjoying my life in Japan for the second decade. I remember "Japanese only" signs, as well as opportunistic gaijins who never objected racist customer service and who blamed foreigners for that with "When in Rome...", etc. Some things never change.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Why Japanese conbini can't change chopsticks into a fork if the latest is sitting right there.

They can and do if you request it. So this question of yours is strange, as it's not in line with how things work.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Funny the video cut off when it did. The staff started to explain why service was being denied, referencing a altercation in a previous visit but I have not heard any mention of the previous altercation from the individual posting the video. I still say the staff was handling it well because I know of some places that would just tell you to leave in a rude way. I lived in Japan for over 26yrs of my life and have always believed that even though scripted and not very flexible. The service over all, surpasses may of the countries I have visited (over 15).

0 ( +0 / -0 )

The staff started to explain why service was being denied, referencing a altercation in a previous visit but I have not heard any mention of the previous altercation from the individual posting the video.

The previous visit is on youtube, the same channel, as well as the link to the blog where the story is described.

To permanently ban a customer the shop needs a court order. They don't obtain the one because no judge will issue it under the circumstances. Otherwise they would already have it. Refusal of service without a court order is discrimination. How violation of the Constitution can be regarded as "handling it well" is beyond me. The shop is getting away with their illegal act because there always be gaijins who come from worser places than Japan and who are grateful that the country granted them a visa. And, if the consumer sues the shop for a racist customer service, the HQ will say they know nothing, the customer is always welcome and will put all blame on the taped shop employee.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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