The key to unlocking brand loyalty is meeting customer service expectations. Make it your mission to treat your customers with the respect, care and attention they crave and your company will thrive. What’s harder than setting this goal is determining what it is, exactly, that your customers are expecting.
Customer service expectations vary widely. One of the most important factors in understanding the differences in these expectations is taking cultural differences into account. This is absolutely vital for companies expanding globally.
Talkdesk is a high-growth startup with a rapidly expanding global customer base. Our call center software is deployed on six continents and often forms the backbone of companies’ customer service strategies. In order for us to provide the optimal solution to our global customers, we need to understand not just the markets in which they operate, but also the customers that they serve.
So when Talkdesk founder Tiago Paiva visited Japan last week to speak at TechCrunch Tokyo 2015, it got me thinking. What are the customer service expectations in Japan and how do they differ from the United States? What does it take to provide excellent customer service in the Land of the Rising Sun?
I sought out Hisashi “Sunny” Shimizu to help me answer these questions.
Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Sunny. Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born in Japan, but I went to college in California. Nowadays, although I live in Tokyo, I spend a couple of weeks per year in the United States on business and visiting friends.
I’ve been working at National Instruments in Tokyo for the past 16 years. My job title is Applications Engineering Manager, which means that my main function is customer support. I help our Japanese customers when they are having trouble using our products. This includes email, phone and on-site support.
What is your definition of customer service as a representative?
The basic definition of customer service is making sure the customer is successful in whatever it is they want to do. However, in many cases what the customer asks for may not be the best way to make them successful. In these cases, great service involves asking the customer questions to adjust their perspective and eventually guiding them to the better solution.
What is your definition of customer service as a customer?
As a customer, at the very least, I expect to get what I am asking for. I would take the definition one step further though. I think the provider of the service should also benefit from the interaction. They should be genuinely excited about making a customer successful. This could include monetary compensation, but could also encompass personal satisfaction and the chance to learn something new.
In your opinion, what is the most salient difference in customer service expectations in Japan versus the United States?
The main difference is definitely the expectation in the level of service. Customers in Japan have a very high expectation of service and they do not expect to have to pay for it. Japanese service providers are more likely to go out of their way to solve problems than US service providers.
For example, there is no tipping in Japan. This means that the service level at a fast food restaurant is going to be very similar to the service level at a nicer restaurant.
Further, when a customer seeks out phone support in Japan, but is dissatisfied with the outcome, they can request that the company send someone to help them. If a customer asks a company to come, they’ll come more often than not.
Do you have an example of the high level of service in Japan?
A friend of mine recently bought an expensive plant. It was something like $200. When he took it home, he had trouble getting it to thrive. So he called the plant store and they sent someone to his house to help him!
How would you define customer service expectations in the United States?
In the United States, there is a clearer line at how far companies are willing to go. This line is often dictated by money. It’s very much “you get what you pay for.”
The advantage of this approach is that it allows for a much greater level of efficiency. The plant store incident is a great illustration of loss of efficiency in Japan. My friend got excellent customer service, but the plant store lost time and energy serving him.
What advice do you have for United States companies doing business in Japan?
Be ready to meet higher customer service expectations. You’ll be vying with local vendors, so if your product is not competitive enough, realize that it’s your service level that needs to be competitive.
Japan is a relationship-based society. You’ll need to develop relationships and commitments with your Japanese customers in order to gain their trust.
What advice do you have for Japanese companies doing business in the United States?
Don’t expect everyone to be your friend. Japanese people generally get pretty surprised at how dry United States business relationships are. Business discussion in the United States are limited to business, with few pleasantries. Americans talk straight. When they say “yes,” they mean “yes,” which is not always the case in Japan.
On the flip side, since a high service level is not demanded by US customers, you can stand out if you provide a Japanese level of service.
Thank you for taking the time to share your insights with me, Sunny!
Sunny’s explanation of cross-cultural difference in customer service expectations is both illuminating and a little daunting. His insights illustrate just how stark the contrast can be between what it takes to succeed in different countries.
In the case of Japan, it looks like US companies need to really step up their game. But why limit that rise in service to just Japanese customers? What if we all strove to meet Japanese service level expectations, regardless of where we were on the planet?
Talkdesk’s revolutionary cloud-based call center software aims to do just that. With a suite of advanced call center software features, Talkdesk empowers companies to meet and exceed global customer service expectations. Request your demo below to see what Talkdesk can do to improve your company’s provision of customer service.