Saturday, November 24, 2012

Case Study What is Japanese Customer Service

Case Study

Japanese Customer Service

By Peter Hanami

Japanese customer service is a type of customer service that is based on Asian philosophies with a uniquely Japan touch. Customer service aims to make the customer feel important, special and to visit a business repeatedly while their needs are being met. If service is poor or the customer doesn't feel they are getting the attention they deserve, they often vote with their feet and change providers. Japanese customer service is a type of service that has developed in Japan for Japanese customers and aims to meet the range of needs that Japanese customers have. 

It is unique to Japan but is available to all who visit or live in Japan. As it is culturally based it may not be exportable to other countries nor may it work in other countries. Japanese customer service is based on the same values and ethics as regular customer service but it seems to go that extra step further based on what Japanese culture dictates. Remember that even though we talk about Japanese customer service some companies do it very well and some not so well. In essence we are talking about the topic of Japanese customer service not about individual companies. We believe that for those that do it well there is something for Western companies to learn, embrace and implement.

Japanese Customer Service - How is it different?

Japanese customer service is different to western customer service in a number of ways. 

Firstly, service providers in Japan try to anticipate customer needs. For example: On a wet day stores will provide plastic umbrella covers outside so as to allow customers to enter the store with their umbrella. Small touch but big impact. Good for the customer as they can quickly enter the store with their umbrella. It is good for the store as it stops the floor from getting wet, reduces congestion at entrances and accidents. 

Secondly, Japan is a group centred culture and for a business to have a good reputation means that they have to work hard to gain " good word of mouth" from happy and satisfied customers. There are many businesses in Japan and customers are often spoilt for choice, so it is easy for them to change their preference to another supplier easily. Bad word of mouth can often spread quickly and tarnish a firms reputation a lot quicker and with greater impact than maybe found in other cultures.

Thirdly, hierarchy plays an important place in social order in Japan and customers have their own important place in it. A status different than found in western culture. Businesses in Japan have a duty deeper than law to meet their customers needs. Why? Well often a business is set up in a neighbourhood and has lots of local customers. The business is part of the community and benefits from its customers patronage so they have an unspoken duty to support and help them. It should be noted that typical Japanese businesses may have been run for hundreds of years by the same family and continue being run by family members.

Finally, Japanese customer service is pre-dominantly about people to people interaction. For example: Many Japanese businesses prefer to answer their own calls and not rely on automated technology as they know Japanese customers typically wont leave messages on answering machines. Some insurance sales people visit a customers house in person when they make a claim and personally complete the paperwork directly within hours of receiving their phone call.

Car dealer staff personally visit a customers house when their car needs to be repaired and return it on completion. Telephoning them at each step of the process to explain, get their approval and keep them informed. At McDonald's in Japan staff will typically peel the paper wrapper off a straw and place it in the drink for you, so as to save you time.

Japanese Customer Service - Why is it important?

Japanese customer service is important in business as it provides a key as to how to meet the needs of Asian customers. Typically western customer service techniques often just don't match or meet the needs of Asian customers. Japanese customer service provides a cultural base from which to better understand Asian customers and how to meet their needs. Western businesses have many new opportunities for doing business in Asia. As Asia develops the ability to understand and meet the needs of Asian customers will also grow. Japanese customer service is an important topic for discussion, investigation, study and research. A starting point for better understanding the new Asian customer.

Key questions for the future of business education include: How to train staff in Asian culture & philosophies, How to teach Asian languages to graduates, middle and senior managers, How to have staff study, live and work in Asia and how to incorporate Asian techniques into Western thinking, management and practice?

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Copyright Peter Hanami. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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