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Japan: The Land of Amazing Service Culture

Updated: Dec 10, 2019

My favorite story coming out of the FIFA World Cup thus far is how Japan, fresh off defeat to Belgium, left a wonderfully clean locker room and a "thank you" note. Full story here. How amazing is that? This picture of them bowing to their fans may give you goosebumps. Having recently visited Japan CX for myself, these wonderful moments come as no surprise at all.

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While my trip was short, I was able to experience four different cities and absorb a full range of cultural experiences. Despite major differences in each location one thing was remarkably consistent: incredible customer service.

So how do they do it? How can they infuse a service culture into their entire population that transcends generational gaps, wealth barriers, and stereotypes? The roots of this answer extend back hundreds if not thousands of years, but it really boils down to one key theme- respect. Below are two key learnings we can all take away from this utopia of customer service.

The first surprising service phenomenon was the consistency. Each and every interaction, regardless of the context, left us smiling. We stayed in some extremely nice hotels and dined in a few unbelievable restaurants. Most would have expected top notch service – and it was. What I didn’t expect was approximately the same level of service when buying junk food at a 7/11 convenience store! The cashier would delicately place the change in my hands with extreme care and a bow. The goods were purposefully bagged and handed over with a smile. I felt extremely valued for my 75 cent purchase, proving that the service received has nothing to do with the value of the transaction. Such treatment happens by default because that’s simply how they treat one another.

It was a wonderful reminder that everyone deserves wonderful customer service, not because it’s a company core value or because the customer is a VIP, but because they’re a fellow human.

It took about 20 minutes after landing in The United States for the stark difference in (most but not all) American establishments to hit me. I ordered Mexican food in the airport and the employee tossed it out in front of me and walked away toward his next task. It absolutely shocked me at the time, but the ironic part is I would not have even had noticed before experiencing Japan. Like nearly everyone around him, this employee was focused on doing his job and moving to the next task, instead of focusing on the actual human at the counter. It’s a simple paradigm shift that makes a remarkable difference.

The second thing the Japanese do better than anyone else is combining professionalism with fun to create a custom experience. One of the coolest experiences of my life so far was staying in a “Ryokan”, or traditional Japanese inn. Thousands of years of tradition culminated in an ultra-conservative service experience unlike anything else in the World. But underneath it all, the staff was an absolute blast. They didn’t let a simple thing like speaking totally different languages stop them from getting to know us. Once they had a good pulse for their audience, they even started to poke fun at one gentleman’s especially short shorts and had us rolling with laughter (including the victim himself). This demonstration of personality took the service experience from unique to unforgettable – it brings a smile to my face every time I think about it. At the heart of the Ryokan is a staff who sincerely cares about it’s guests and wants to create the most memorable experience possible.

One could spend a lifetime learning from the Japanese, but I’m forever grateful for these lessons and the time had among them. Here’s hoping we all use these lessons to boost service levels across the globe!


Nate Brown is the Co-founder of CX Accelerator. While Customer Service is his primary expertise, Nate is able to leverage experience in professional services, marketing, and sales to connect dots and solve the big problems. From authoring and leading a Customer Experience program, to journey mapping, to managing a complex contact center, Nate is always learning new things and sharing with the CX community. Twitter - @CustomerIsFirst LinkedIn - Nate Brown

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