Japanese Culture and Customer Service

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“The only thing we deliver or are trying to deliver to our guests is satisfaction . . . we have nothing else…In our business, no excuse is accepted when something goes wrong…”

Koichi Satoh
President and General Manager, Hotel Okura

One of the common complaints I hear from Japanese folks about American customer service is that when Americans break a promise, rather than apologizing they make excuses. This is more a gap in cultural expectations than an indictment of American manners. And it begs some questions:

Why are Americans so uncomfortable apologizing?

Why is it that when confronted with criticism, many Americans tend to get defensive?

And why would the Japanese be any different?

American behavior is driven to a large degree by how Americans define the concept of responsibility within the context of a society that values individualism. So back to the first two questions: why are Americans uncomfortable apologizing and why so defensive? The answer is that the mere act of apologizing in America is often interpreted as an admission of personal (read “individual”) guilt. After all, someone’s got to accept responsibility. No surprise that no one wants to step forward and assume the burden of responsibility as it can wreak havoc on one’s reputation or career. For this reason, when Americans give “reasons” for making a mistake they are, more often than not, on the defensive–victims of circumstance outside of their control. No one told me about the schedule change! And so on.

Read the full article at Intercultural Twilight Zone

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