Japanese customer service is the best in the world. When you leave a Japanese hotel, restaurant, or store, it is most likely with a smile on your face and a feeling of contentment despite your wallet being lighter. That’s my experience at least.
On the other hand, whenever I’m in England, Canada, or America, unless I’ve paid out of my freaking colon for an experience or I come across a rare rogue employee who actually gets customer service, I leave many businesses feeling spiritually butt-raped.
From the waiter in Montreal who huffed with impatience when I swiftly changed my main course choice to the pizza boy in Phoenix who was 20 minutes late, rude, and still demanded a tip (and called me a jerk-off when I gave him loose change) to the assistant in the upscale clothing boutique in London who turned her nose up at me and turned her back when I smiled…
Jim Morrison was wrong when he sang the “West is the best”. Or maybe he was right half a century ago. But now the state of customer service in the West is so consistently lacklustre that I have decided to flip off that whole side of the globe and settle somewhere I feel happy contributing to the livelihood of local businesses. Japan.
Here are 5 things Western businesses can learn from Japanese customer service.
1 – WOW Moments
These are the moments businesses should live for. If you’re a producer, you should be striving to make products and services that force the customer’s jaw to the floor.
It doesn’t matter if your business is boring as fuck. There is always room to make your customer say WOW.
I recently ordered contact lenses in Japan. I needed them ASAP but the lens company said they were running low on stock and that it would be several days before my order could arrive…
Too bad, so sad, right?
The contact lens company sent a courier out THAT DAY, literally a few hours later, with a strip of contact lenses to see me through the weekend until my bigger order arrived.
That’s a WOW moment.
A “boring” company in a “boring” industry managed to turn a small inconvenience – one that we are all used to – into a big WOW.
Can you do the same in your business?
What’s the biggest pain point in your industry?
When do you find yourself letting down your customers the most?
Answer that question, then come up with a strategy that you can use to turn a common inconvenience (like shortage of stock) into a WOW moment for the customer.
Do that and you instantly stand out from the competition.
2 – Ensure Customer Loyalty With Fun Prizes
B2C businesses in Japan are always doing some kooky shit to liven up your day.
The most common form I’ve seen is the raffle prize giveaway.
7-11 does it every year for a few weeks. Buy some groceries and the check-out dude/dudette will thrust a magic box towards you. You stick your hand in and pull out a card. Half the time the card has a picture of an item from the store that you can have FOR FREE.
I saw the same thing with a crepe cafe near my apartment. My fiancée and I ate WAY TOO MANY crepes because half the time we went there, we won a prize. Good prizes too. Sometimes a free crepe. Sometimes a colourful mug. Sometimes little (cheap) jewellery items.
Stores are always doing fun raffles in Japan. And the result is you attach a feeling of enjoyment to that establishment and visit again. You also recommend it to everyone you meet. We’re all Pavlov’s slobbering canines, after all.
The only raffle in British stores is “take it or fucking leave it”. And when you decide to take it, it’s pretty much a gamble whether the product is broken, spoiled, or not what you really wanted.
3 – Turn Your Business Into An Experience People Talk About
Last time I went to the hair salon in Japan, I just wanted a short back and sides with a snazzy fringe.
What I ended up getting was so much more.
I was greeted (as is the custom in Japan) as thought I was a freaking rockstar. I was given an option of different teas and sweets. Then they washed my hair. All pretty normal so far. But then two dudes just started massaging the shit out of my neck, shoulders, and back while I waited for my hairdresser.
I must have been massaged for 10 straight minutes and they would have kept going if anxiety about my obvious arousal hadn’t forced me to dismiss them.
I went in expecting a hair cut and what I really got was an experience.
Last time I got my hair cut in the West (Vienna, Austria), I paid through the nose for some stuck-up kid to gloat about how Austrians are the best hairdressers and then I left with a freaking hair cut that had one long strand of the fringe completely out of proportion, which I had to recut myself because it was so shit.
4 – Always Look To Be Helpful
“That’s not my job.”
How many times have you heard those two phrases when asking a worker in England, America, or Canada something?
The correct answer is “a metric fuck-ton”.
What do you mean “you don’t know”?
What do you mean “it’s not your job”?
If you work in a store, it’s your job.
If you don’t know, find out.
Those two phrases reek of a poor attitude and if I found my own employees ever telling a customer that shit I would fire them on the spot.
In Japanese businesses, employees are always looking to be helpful. I’ve never once heard “that’s not my job”. And the only times I heard “I don’t know” are when they were swiftly followed by that person seeking out the information I needed or finding someone who did know.
You wander around a bookstore in Japan and an employee is likely to hand you a basket for your books without asking.
Same for convenience stores.
Same for drugstores.
I’ve been through customer service training working in Tokyo. There’s a reason why employees never tell a customer they can’t help them. It’s because they are given pre-approved initiative to help. Management tells their employees that everything is everybody’s job (essentially).
Therefore, when you see things like the United Airlines PR disaster, you know it’s not really the employees’ fault. Sure, they’re shit. But shit trickles down from the top. That doctor who got KTFO on the United Airlines flight is the fault of the CEO. He might as well have taken a swing for the dude himself by not properly instructing his employees through a decent company culture.
5 – Smiles = Free
The smile must be the most underrated, undervalued, and underused facet of customer service outside of Japan.
Businesses must not realise what a goldmine the smile is because I rarely see it being used.
A smile creates instant connection, instant feelings of ease and friendliness, and instant feelings of warmth. Wouldn’t you want those feelings attached to your company?
Apparently not in England because I can count the amount of smiles I’ve received by customer service workers on one hand whilst the amount of huffs, groans, and impatient foot-tappings can fill fucking Fort Knox.
I know us Brits aren’t really smilers. But that’s no excuse.
I can’t give a statistic for how likely smiling employees will result in more customer loyalty and satisfaction but I can compare two airlines:
- British Airways
- Japan Airlines
The stewards and stewardesses on British Airways, generally speaking, are what we Brits refer to as “stroppy”. They’re like petulant brats who have nothing but undisguised contempt for the people paying their wages. They purposely ram the drinks tray into customers’ legs and it’s definitely “not their job” to assist with loading baggage into the overhead lockers.
But the stewards and stewardesses on Japan Airlines are ALL SMILES. Every last freaking one. There is not a stray frowner spoiling the bunch. All of them engage with their passengers. All of them hold themselves with poise (unlike the ogre-like staggering movements of BA cabin crew). And all of them go out of their way to make their customers comfortable.
Screw statistics. I’m telling you right now that I won’t fly BA again. I definitely won’t fly United either. And I probably will not fly Air Canada. But I definitely will fly Japan Airlines. And it mainly boils down to the power of a smile.
Small, Simple Changes Add Up
You look at this list and it seems a bit pathetic, doesn’t it? A bit freaking obvious?
Look to be helpful?
Give away prizes and goodies?
No shit, right?
Well if it’s so damn obvious, I want to know why businesses aren’t doing these things.
These are crazily tiny, crazily easy things to implement in your business and yet the yield is more customer loyalty, increased word of mouth, and a massive edge over your competition.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re working in. If you run a small auto parts company and you’re side-by-side with your competition, there is an easy way to ensure you scoop up the customers rather than your competition. Tell your mechanics to smile. That’s it.
If your convenience store is a stone’s throw from the competition, you can easily ensure more people come to you by simply incentivising your employees to do something as simple as hand out a freaking basket to customers who have their hands full.
It ain’t rocket science guys. Come on. America went to the moon, England colonised half the world, and Canada is a beacon of liberty, but Japan is handing all these countries their asses when it comes to customer service.