Customer Service in Japan
If you’ve ever spoken with someone who just recently returned from a trip to Japan, one of the most common remarks (aside from comments on the oh-so delicious food) will be about the unexpected level of customer service.
Saying that Japan has “the best service” is, of course, a subjective claim...but for many visitors that experience it firsthand, it feels pretty close to the truth.
So what does Japanese-level service feel like? And why is it different?
Imagine you’ve arrived in Japan and you’re waiting in baggage claim. The belt starts and you see a neat arrangement of luggage start to come down the line.
All handles facing outward.
It’s a pleasant surprise as you don’t have to do the usual luggage dance that involves orienting your suitcase so you can actually grab it, all while dodging others trying to do the same.
Whoever was loading the belt took the time to place every piece of luggage in a way that was most helpful to the passengers. Passengers they haven’t even met or seen.
That’s service in Japan.
And you haven’t even left the airport yet.
Culture and Customer Service
To really understand how the Japanese approach customer service, it helps to look at certain aspects of Japanese culture.
Disclaimer: This isn’t a discussion of what cultural values should be prioritized over others. Let’s just agree to put that to the side. What we’re trying to do here is objectively examine how customer service in Japan may be influenced by its culture and why it feels so different to what you may be accustomed to.
A concept that is ingrained in Japanese culture is that of omotenashi. There isn’t a direct translation, but the term “hospitality” is often used to describe it. Think of it as the Japanese approach to serving guests.
The origins of omotenashi can be traced back to the tea ceremony—where everything from the tea flavors and vessels, to movement and timing, are carefully thought out to provide the participant with a personalized and intimate experience.
Part of omotenashi is anticipating the needs of the guest before they are verbalized. It’s about putting yourself in the other person’s shoes to understand how best to accommodate them.
Like the luggage handles all facing the right way.
Simple concept, but when you experience it, it elevates everything from navigating airports to calling a company with a product question.
Group > Individual
Another part of Japanese culture that plays a part in quality customer service is the prioritizing of the group over the individual. Individual wants and needs are set aside in order to make things more convenient for others.
Here are a few examples of what that looks like:
No one talks on their phones or carries on loud conversations while riding the train, to not bother other passengers
Gum under tables, or trash on the street is virtually non-existent
Everyone stands on one side on escalators, allowing a clear path for speedier people
From this lens, it’s easy to see why the convenience store attendant is still attentive and helpful at the end of their shift. Sore feet, long hours, and the fact that they’ve already dealt with the late-evening rush, take a back seat to the customer who decided they want a chicken-katsu sandwich five minutes before midnight.
Any call center manager would drool over agents with this mindset. Helpful on every single call, regardless of how many calls they’ve already taken, or how long they’ve been on the phones, because the priority is always on the customer. This is a core component of great customer service. And it’s internalized in Japanese society.
Customer Service in Japan
With a culture that is so focused on thinking about others, it’s no surprise that Japan’s customer service stands out.
It’s why visitors rave about their experience there. And why much of Japan’s approach and culture has started to find its way into Western businesses.
If you’ve never visited the land of the rising sun, it might be difficult to imagine a place where great customer service is the norm rather than the exception. But it’s real. Any establishment, from 5-star hotels to the local street vendors, will delight you with their hospitality.
And when you do visit, take note from the very beginning. You’ll probably get your first taste of omotenashi-inspired service even before you leave baggage claim.
If you’d like Japanese-quality customer service for your customers, let us know! We don’t serve tea, but we take pride in providing omotenashi-inspired contact center support for our clients. You can reach out to us here!