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Thread: Japanese vs Western customer service : inverted approach ?

  1. #1
    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Question Japanese vs Western customer service : inverted approach ?

    Based on my experience, it seems to me that in Japan we get the best service (most polite, attentionate) in chain shops and often so-so service in privately owned shops (especially if the owner are not so young), while in many Western countries the service tends to be better in privately owned shops, but quite bad in chains (supermarket, etc.).

    I think this is because Japanese people work better in a big company, with hierarchy, a set of rules, special training, supervisor, group pressure, etc., while the more individualistic Westerners tend to be more motivated when working for themselves and not for the profit of a big company.

    Seen differently, we could say that the Japanese appreciate the job stability and fixed salary provided by a big company, and don't mind working with regulations, while Westerners are more motivated with their own business and try harder to please customers, as it has a direct effect on their income. We could say that the Japanese are more obedient and easily give up personal ambition for group security, while Westerners care little about their company's image or profit if not given incentives (which explains why supermarket cashier are often unpleasant and chain store staff unhelpful in Western countries, while the opposite is true in Japan).

    I am not sure that all Western countries fall under this description, but it surely does work quite well for Italy, France, Belgium and the UK.

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    Maciamo,
    I think you paint with very broad brush strokes here. I have been to many small shops, restaurants, businesses that offer service above and beyond larger establishments--and i'm not just limiting this to businesses located in Japan.

    Also, I work in one of the largest Japanese corporations, and let me tell you, there are many, many disillusioned, disheartened and generally displeased individuals working here. In the U.S., almost all employees are on a contract basis--meaning that they can quit (or be fired) on whim; whereas Japan seems to adopt a life-time employment approach. While less formalized, the U.S. also had something similar prior to the recession in the 70s. Simply put, american employees have a more independent attitude because it's the only way to survive in corporate america.

    As expressed by my colleagues, japanese employees are for the most part, stuck in their job. Imagine working for a company for over 15+ years and hating most of it because the option of moving to another company usually means losing out on all the benefits amassed during your current tenure.

    Basically, work sucks where ever you live.

    As for the polite and curteous service you mentioned, I thought the same thing when i first arrived, and then realized how aggravating it is when you request something out of the norm. Ever try ordering extra pickles at McDonald's or ordering more rice at a Korean BBQ? They'll either give you that "mmm...aahhh..Uhh...I'm so sorry, buuuuttt....." OR they will charge your *** for every variation. Hell, the service here should be stellar because God knows you pay for it! I don't care what others say about service in the US because you ALWAYS have the option of NOT TIPPING!!

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shibuyaexpat
    Maciamo,
    I think you paint with very broad brush strokes here. I have been to many small shops, restaurants, businesses that offer service above and beyond larger establishments--and i'm not just limiting this to businesses located in Japan.
    ...
    As for the polite and curteous service you mentioned, I thought the same thing when i first arrived, and then realized how aggravating it is when you request something out of the norm. Ever try ordering extra pickles at McDonald's or ordering more rice at a Korean BBQ? They'll either give you that "mmm...aahhh..Uhh...I'm so sorry, buuuuttt....." OR they will charge your *** for every variation. Hell, the service here should be stellar because God knows you pay for it! I don't care what others say about service in the US because you ALWAYS have the option of NOT TIPPING!!
    Thanks for the feedback. However I was talking only about shops (in the English sense, not X), so that does not include restaurants. Let's say it works for retailers (clothes, food, variety goods...), dry-cleaners, bicycle shops, bookshops, etc.

    Good point about big companies' staff that can't take responsibilities or initiative when asked something that is not "in the book". That is very true.

    Good point too about the tipping practice in the US. However, in many European countries service is included (and tax is always included), although additional tipping is possible.

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    Don't get me wrong, Maciamo. I thoroughly understand what you are saying about some of these places. I've been going to a small drycleaners near where i live, and the owner still treats me as if I'm going to rob him. Okay, I'm taking liberties with my imagination, but still, there is a distinct difference in how he treats his customers (I've seen him act this way to numerous other people too) and how larger organizations treat their customers.

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    Twirling dragon Maciamo's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Shibuyaexpat
    Don't get me wrong, Maciamo. I thoroughly understand what you are saying about some of these places. I've been going to a small drycleaners near where i live, and the owner still treats me as if I'm going to rob him. Okay, I'm taking liberties with my imagination, but still, there is a distinct difference in how he treats his customers (I've seen him act this way to numerous other people too) and how larger organizations treat their customers.
    I have had the exact same experience with my local drycleaners (and some privately owned bento-ya).

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    We both need to find better drycleaners :P

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    Based on my experience, it seems to me that in Japan we get the best service (most polite, attentionate) in chain shops and often so-so service in privately owned shops (especially if the owner are not so young), while in many Western countries the service tends to be better in privately owned shops, but quite bad in chains (supermarket, etc.).
    This is pretty subjective, I've had great experiences in both small and large shops in many various countries and some pretty negative experiences as well. Also, while I can't quite put my finger on it, I find something mildly offensive about what seems to me to be excessive customer service, if you know what I mean. It's probably the American in me, we don't really enjoy being waited on. Hell I had a house keeper for 2 years and it took me almost 6 months to eventually be OK with having someone else clean up my mess, regardless of the fact I was paying her.

    I can say for a fact that I care significantly less how self effacing a clerk is than by how much information or knowledge they have about whatever it is I'm asking about. Unfortunately thats pretty hit or miss no matter what country you are in unless you go to a very specialized store.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Maciamo
    Based on my experience, it seems to me that in Japan we get the best service (most polite, attentionate) in chain shops and often so-so service in privately owned shops (especially if the owner are not so young), while in many Western countries the service tends to be better in privately owned shops, but quite bad in chains (supermarket, etc.).

    I think this is because Japanese people work better in a big company, with hierarchy, a set of rules, special training, supervisor, group pressure, etc., while the more individualistic Westerners tend to be more motivated when working for themselves and not for the profit of a big company.
    I tend to disagree here as the best service I ever received in Japan was from privately owned shops. Granted my experience goes back a ways, but my mother-in-law still swears by them.

    In my experience, when I moved into my first apartment I needed a TV antenna to receive programs (old, huh?). I went to the nearby Matsushita/National electronic shop and purchased one. To my amazement I was told that they would install it for free! I purchased it and the owner installed it that very same day. I was then contacted on a monthly basis and asked how my reception was and if there was anything else they could do for me.

    I was so amazed at this service that I did all my electronic business there including buying one of the first modules for receiving broadcasts in English and one of the first VCR's. All were installed at no extra charge to me. The large chains at the time, although a little cheaper, did not offer this service and still do not offer it to this day AFAIK.

    My mother-in-law has the same experience to this day. When she purchased her first cable TV service and wide screen TV a couple of years ago, the owner of the small shop where she has done business for many years installed, delivered, and set up all of it for no extra charge. And the bit higher price they were charging for their services vs. the big chains was still cheaper than buying from the chain and having a professional install it. Plus they follow up to insure there are no problems. And if there are any problems they rectify them at no additional cost.

    This is truly a great service, but sadly the "mom and pop" stores are slowly disappearing to the big chains. This is said to be because the children do not want to follow in the parents footsteps as was so prevelant in the past. Hopefully a few will remain to keep this fine tradition of true customer service going.

    IMO the small neighborhood "mom and pops" provide a real service.
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