Konnichiwa: 8 Perfect Service Lessons Learned from Japan

On a recent trip to Japan, I was reminded about how impressed I am with Japan and its culture. I’m not alone: Japan is #2 on US News & World Report’s Best Countries Rankings. It has one of the highest life expectancies (84.6 years versus US’ 78.9), is arguably the world’s most unique country, and of course, their service culture sets the global customer service standard. You have likely heard many stories about Japanese service experiences and corresponding innovation. Even in sports, which can be quite garish in other countries, the Japanese leave a favorable impression: when Japan lost the 2018 World Cup, they actually cleaned their own locker room and left a thank you note in Russian. Class act.

What really gets me is their authentic desire for perfect service; it really feels like they’ve walked in others’ shoes. It is a source of great personal pride, so they are incredibly motivated to understand the customer’s experience and are relentlessly obsessed with details.

Here are 8 “wow” moments, and takeaway lessons, from my recent trip. Enjoy!

Lesson #1 – Passion is both personally fulfilling and is appreciated by others.

Itchiku Kubota first encountered a lost textile dyeing technique when he was 20 and was instantly enchanted by its mysterious beauty. It stayed with him for 20 years, and at the age of 40, he was able to devote himself to figuring out the lost art. It was another 20 years before he discovered how to replicate it. Kubota-san quickly gained worldwide notoriety, including being the first living artist whose work was featured at the Smithsonian. He spent the rest of his life perfecting and sharing the technique until he passed at the age of 86. His work currently hangs at the Itchiku Kubota Art Museum where he insisted the kimonos not hide behind glass as he wanted every piece to be experienced up close. Seeing these works in person is an unforgettable experience.

An image of a textile dyed by Itchiku Kubota.
Kimono by Kubota
A photograph of Itchiku Kubota.
Itchiku Kubota

Lesson #2 – If you care to deliver the best, people (and fish) will notice.

At the edge of a 15-foot waterfall, we witnessed this man scrubbing this section for over 30 minutes. In fact, the entire garden was pristine, and the pond water was clear as day. I’m pretty sure I heard this enormous, healthy koi say, “Thank you, Gardener!”

A photograph of a gardener scrubbing the rocks at the top of waterfall.

Lesson #3 – Increase trust by showing that you have nothing to hide.

This is not a luxury hotel bathroom. Nissan Stadium, the key stadium hosting the Rugby World Cup this year, has bright, white, clean bathrooms. If this bathroom would have gotten dirty, we would have seen it. In fact, all of Tokyo and surrounding public areas were immaculate. You could conceivably eat off of the ground at the train station (well, maybe not eat, but you get my point).

A photograph of a very clean, white public bathroom at a stadium in Japan.

Lesson #4 – Improving the smallest part of your customer’s journey is sometimes the most impactful.

This person delivered 6 cases of soda from his truck to a shop. He probably walked 1,000 steps each way and only 15 of those steps required navigating stairs. Typically, he would have to lengthen his route to get to an elevator and then wait for it. However, someone thought to design an all-terrain hand truck, making all the difference in his deliveries. I was fascinated as I watched him move effortlessly down the stairs.

A photograph of a delivery person using a specifically designed wheeled machine to haul cases up staris.

Lesson #5 – “White glove” service doesn’t have to be expensive and does make a difference.

This taxi driver is actually waxing his car while waiting for his next fare. Also, notice the white lace on the seats, a common sign to passengers of a clean car. It is also not uncommon for drivers to wear white gloves to provide literal “white glove service.”

A taxi driver in Japan waxing his car in between fares.

Lesson #6 – Serve up service exactly when your customer wants it.

As we entered a bar, we were handed this button. Sit anywhere, push the button, and our friendly bartender arrived within 10 seconds to help us with anything we needed.

A photograph of a button used in a Japanese bar to call the server.

Lesson #7 – Personalization is an attention grabber.

Get into a taxi, and the AI and facial recognition perform a quick scan of you to pick up key Marketing demographics and then deliver relevant, entertaining commercials. Yup, we were entertained!

A photograph of targeted entertainment from the screen of a cab.

Lesson #8 – Great energy is infectious.

“Ohayo gozaimasu” (good morning!) says the smiling hostess while bowing as we entered this restaurant for breakfast. As she escorts us passed the open kitchen, the chef and crew do the same. Then we receive the same wonderful greeting from every wait staff and bus person who jumps out from all over as we proceed to our table. It’s as if we have been welcomed into their home, and we feel energized, looking forward to our experience. On the way out, the same happens with a hearty, “arigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much!) and a bow. We walk away glowing, and appreciate this wonderful experience.

A photograph of happy workers in a Japanese restaurant.

Vicasso Way Fundamental #4 – Walk in Others’ Shoes
Understand your customers’, teammates’, and vendor partners’ world. Know their challenges and frustrations so you can better understand them and effectively anticipate and meet their needs. Avoid using unfamiliar lingo, acronyms, and industry jargon. Use audience-appropriate explanations.

More About Vicasso's Weekly Fundamentals – The Vicasso Way
Each week, a different team member at Vicasso circulates an internal email or a piece of content that brings life to one of our 29 fundamentals (The Vicasso Way) from their perspective. This provides our team with a unique lens to view the weekly fundamental – through a co-worker’s eyes. These internal messages have made a significant impact on our workplace culture, and in an effort to spread this impact around to our customers and our community, we’re sharing more of The Vicasso Way with you.

October 21, 2021