Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The customer is not king in Japan

Saw this link tweeted by Gakuranman.


In Japan, “The customer is God” is a common customer service phrase drilled into waiters and waitresses and presented in just about every training session given to a new employee. On the surface, this seems to result in great customer service that is the talking point of many a tourist who visits the country. However, as a long-term foreign resident in Japan, I have been frustrated time and again by Japanese service, and now find it hard to believe that Japan will ever be a world-leading customer service nation.

Really resonates. While it's true that Japanese customer service is great as far as manners and politeness go, it's true that many places, especially the more corporate and cookie-cutter you get, don't have much concept of "the customer is always right."


  1. You knew I'd ring in on this one...

    To be honest, I don't agree with the philosophy of the customer always being right. If I ever open up a pub or shop of my own here in J-land, there'll be a sign on the wall in two languages saying 'We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone deemed to be a douchebag.'

    It'll also say, 'If any of our staff act like unthinking robots, the next beer's on the house.'

    I don't plan on giving away many free beers.

  2. Doesn't seem like a big deal to me. I'm weird in the sense that customer service people always strike me as *people*. I sympathize with them having to stand there and take my orders (maybe it's because I myself worked making sandwiches at a Subway ripoff while I was in highschool). Frankly I'm weirded out when, eg, a waiter gives overly good service ("Nope... didnt need anything when you asked me five minutes ago... still don't..."). Plus it's totally insincere in the US where you *know* they're just trying to get a bigger tip. I love how in Japan the whole tipping thing doesn't even exist.

  3. Having worked in customer service myself, I agree in that I don't expect people in those jobs to be super (artificially) dapper and friendly all the time. However it is their job to at least be pleasant - that's part of what they're paid for. And as far as dealing with asshole customers, I'm not saying employees should just suck it up, but there should also be a degree of professionalism and tolerance. I hated dealing with jackass clients at my old job, but I needed the money and if it got too bad my supervisor would always step in and defend us grunts. If you want to retaliate against jerky customers, either find a company with a corporate culture that allows for it (I don't know of many) or start your own business. Or get a job where you're not a "face" for the company.

    And I'm not talking about being over-attentive to the point of being creepy or annoying - that bothers me, too.

    What strikes more of a chord with me is the complaint that Japanese companies make few exceptions for their customers. The half-filled drink with no ice is a perfect example. Having a satisfied customer who is willing to return and give you more business is worth more than a few yen of beer or iced tea. It's just good business sense.

  4. The customer is usually wrong, whenever it becomes a problem.

  5. > Japanese companies make few
    > exceptions for their customers

    That's probably a result of a general world-view that cuts rather deeper than just customer service. The Japanese are, on the whole, rule-followers. "Exception" is really just a euphemism for breaking the rules.

    If you start making exceptions, pretty soon *everyone* wants to be an exception, and then you effectively don't have rules any more, and soon your society would collapse into chaos and anarchy and murder in the streets, like America. (What, you didn't know America was like that? Don't you watch movies? Hollywood movies teach us what America is like, you do know that, right?)

    Right-thinking people don't expect to have exceptions to the rules made for them all the time. Good citizens are willing to follow the rules, because that's how society works. That's how society is supposed to work. The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.