It’s 2019, let’s boost customer service as the Japanese do

By January 18, 2019Blog

Every year my family and I go to Japan. It is our home away home or, as one family member puts it, our home away from home-home. I remember clearly from my first visit to Japan how starkly different I found the culture.

The year was 1991. There I was, a teenager in a foreign country. But this was no ordinary ‘gap year’; Japan was a new world like none I had ever experienced. It was the year that the Japanese asset bubble popped but, of course, I was too young to understand the implications of the country’s banking problems.

I was just happy to be away from Australia, where our country was in the midst of what the then Prime Minister, Paul Keating famously called the “recession we had to have” – and the fear attached to it. Instead, I was swimming in a space I could most easily categorise as sensory overload.

Oh, how history repeats. I see similarities in this current market, which reminds me that the mantra ‘housing prices never go down’ is a fallacy! But hey, we all know that! It’s just hard to resist getting on that bandwagon sometimes.

Putting the negatives aside and getting back to Japan, these days much has changed there. But there is one thing I see every time I go to Japan that never changes. Can you guess? It is their very, very good customer service and their relentless push for perfectionism.

Back in my teenage gap year Japan’s customer service absolutely amazed me. In my twenties and thirties, it shocked me! This was during the so-called ‘Lost Decade’ – a period of economic stagnation that followed the asset collapse. During that most difficult of times, the service levels rose even further – and on lower wages, mind you.

And now, with the 2020 Olympics scheduled for Tokyo (and just around the corner), I notice the customer service is ramping up to yet higher levels. You can see similarities with the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as the city kicks up its service another notch or two.

In the Japanese culture, ‘the customer is king or queen’ — the equivalent to our expression that ‘the customer is always right’. This deference to the needs of customers is one the world has slowly adopted in some shape or form over recent decades. Of course, we all have a bad customer experience to share, and the bad eggs do need to be pointed out and removed. But the consistent Japanese attitude towards grace, tact and service are all areas that we could learn from.

With the fears of change and downturn top of mind across the professional services industry, and worries about advisory or artificial intelligence impacting our industry, it’s all too easy to complicate our approach to business.

But in difficult times, I tend to go back to the simple components of business. And what reigns supreme? It’s customer service. Professional services is increasingly commoditised (sorry to have to tell you the bad news). We all do similar work (to a degree at least). So what distinguishes our company from our rivals is our approach. Our communication skills are the connecting agent between us and our clients. Do we care and show we care? Do we understand and show that we understand? Is the customer king or queen?

For anyone with the courage to look inward, surely we can improve a little every day. The Japanese call this the  ‘Kaizen’ philosophy. It is all about applying a healthy critical eye to everything that we do, and asking ourselves if we can improve.

It is 28 years since my first experience of the Japanese devotion to customer service. Now, in 2019, the world is spinning, with ups and downs in the market – and with us on board, hanging on for dear life.

The winners in this turbulent market (and every turbulent market) and those who return to the basics of business and stay focused on what matters. Can you stay focused on the simple parts of the business that you can control, like customer service? Can you offer a better service or a new service that would help your clients even more than you do today? Can you imagine that you (like the cities that host the Olympics) are suddenly under the watchful eyes of the world; is everything as good as it can be?

Despite the negatives, there are plenty of positives out there. 2018 showed a lot of M&A activity, Banks are pushing lending to Professionals and Investors are still seeking Accountancy Practices.

If you would like to talk Accountancy M&A, kindly call or email us.

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