3 customer service lessons from the Chrysanthemum Throne


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Japanese culture is famously very different to Western culture in many aspects of life – perhaps in the business world most of all. When it comes to customer service, respectful, personalised treatment and extremely good manners are of the utmost importance.

Small business owners don’t have to be face-to-face to emulate the high standards of Japanese customer service etiquette. They translate easily to online environments.

Here are three ways in which your business can learn from the Land of the Rising Sun.

1. The customer is God

Yes indeed! While in English we say that the customer is always right, and the Dutch take it a step further to say that the customer is king, in Japan the customer is none other than… God. Without being blasphemous, I think we can all agree that for any business, it’s only sensible to treat customers with politeness and respect. In the Japanese Shinto tradition, the Emperor was considered to be a sort of descendent of the gods, and was venerated accordingly.

Whether you decide to treat your next customer like an emperor or an actual deity, it can only be a good thing for you and your business. And please don’t forget, it’s just as important to treat those smaller customers just as well as you treat the big guys. Little businesses become big businesses, and they won’t forget how you acted towards them before they hit the big time.

2. Be accessible

Since coming to the throne in 1989, Emperor Akihito has worked hard to bring the Imperial Family and the Japanese people closer together. As the latest in an unbroken line of rulers stretching back thousands of years, you might think that an emperor could afford to rest on his laurels. But by making an effort to mingle with ‘commoners’, Akihito has been able to bring about quite a change in image for Japan’s royals. He even sent his then-teenage son, Crown Prince Naruhito, to Melbourne for a homestay with a local family during his schooldays.

If an emperor can work hard to keep in touch with the common folk, what excuse do ordinary companies have? And yet it can be ridiculously hard to get a straight answer from a customer service department, even in these days of social media. Don’t be like that. Take a leaf out of Emperor Akihito’s book and keep in touch with your ‘audience’.

Some companies seem to give you the impression that their business would be running very smoothly if it wasn’t for the customers. Never forget that they’re the very reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. So keep up with what matters to them and be sure that they can interact with you when they need to.

It’s never too late to make a change. However bad your brand image is right now, you can always try to turn it around – just look at Ryanair!

3. Presentation is key

Every contact you have with the public is important, and nobody is more aware of this than royals. Whether you are having a face-to-face discussion with your subjects or they’re simply flipping past your snapshot on a magazine page, they are forming an opinion of you based on your clothes, your grooming, your mannerisms, what you say and how you say it.

It’s no different for businesses: a customer might see your company website, your Twitter feed, a business card or, if you sell tangible products, the actual presentation of the items you ship. It all contributes to your image and the impression that you make. If you have a webshop, pretend you’re in Japan, where gift wrapping is an art form. Choose packing materials that reflect the feeling you want to create, and that project a feeling of luxury and quality.

You’re not off the hook if you don’t sell tangible goods. Is your company’s Facebook Page up to scratch? Have you customised your Twitter feed? Are you really ready to face the world?

Businesses these days are always looking for new and different gimmicks to help them stand out from the pack. But don’t underestimate the power of good, old-fashioned customer service. Pretend you’re serving the Emperor if you need to, be accessible to your customers, and ensure that your business is immaculately presented at all times. With a bit of help from Akihito, you’ll be on the path to providing fabulous customer service.


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