Customer Service in Japan
Recently I spent over two weeks in Japan. I spent my time in Yokohama, Tokyo, Shizuoka and Kyoto. This article was originally written while I was still overseas.
Although I had been working with Japanese people in Toronto for 8 years this was actually my first visit to their country. There are many things I could write about, but today I will focus on the politeness that is ubiquitous here.
Some of us may consider ourselves very polite, and/or very courteous in our jobs. I myself used to work in customer service so I understand how to be polite, even when handling disputes.
What I would like to discuss today is how mandatory politeness seems to be here in Japan. Even if I do not enter a shop, the clerks are still greeting the people walking by. If you do enter the shop or restaurant etc. then of course they will welcome you again. And usually it is not just one person but several. When you are paying for your food or product they are very polite in how they handle your money or credit card. Very respectful indeed and very gentle. It goes without saying that all of this is happening with a smile and with a soft tone of voice. Finally, when you leave they thank you for your business.
One of the strangest things I saw here so far was when we went through a toll booth, and both the driver and worker exchanged ‘good mornings’ and ‘thank yous’, in addition to an electronic image of a worker bowing to the driver!
I cannot say for sure how much of this society’s politeness is forced, conditioned, or genuine, but it is definitely expected, and to not act politely is a terrible social offense here.
I really like the calmness of the people and the politeness of the service industry. It certainly is better than a lot of customer service in the world, and there are a few staff workers in the past that I have dealt with that could use this kind of training. The politeness is standard here too, so you can expect it and count on it. In other countries, we seem to be thrilled to get excellent customer service or to get a happy, efficient staff worker. Here, it happens 99% of the time. I found myself smiling all the time after purchasing something.
The big question remaining is, I suppose, how do the Japanese feel about it, and how do they feel about the perceived lack of social and professional courtesy when they travel or emigrate? If you know a Japanese person in your circle, why don’t you ask them?
All the best from the land of the rising sun!