The Best Customer Service I Ever Received...

Steve Nagata'sIf you ever have the opportunity to travel to Japan, don’t hesitate. It is a beautiful country filled with more history and culture than Americans can fathom.

Everyone I’ve ever met that has gone, comes back with a different perspective on the consumer/business relationship. In every store and at every restaurant customers are treated with the utmost respect. By far, the best service I have ever received was in Japan…

… and I wasn’t even a customer!

I was on a business trip to Japan. People from around the world had converged in Nagoya to attend a conference and experience some training in Lean Management and Just In Time inventory methods. I’m talking real exciting business stuff here! But the story and the greatest lessons learned were not in the meetings they were learned in our spare time.

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Several cliques quickly formed. I was hanging with a guy from Spain, two from Finland, another from India and a lady from South Africa. While there were a few catered or group dinners during our visit, we also had a couple free nights to spend as we chose.

Time for dinner

Many of the attendees were reluctant to explore a foreign land. Luckily the group I hooked up with was more adventurous. One evening we decided to go out and experience a real Japanese dinner at a local restaurant. We had no preference for a particular style of cooking we only knew we wanted something “authentic”. We inquired at the concierge desk about any non-chain Japanese restaurants and were quickly provided a suggestion and directions. Out the door we went.

My friend Ernesto from Spain was in charge of map as we began navigating our way. After about 6 blocks and couple of turns we came to the realization that our path and the directions provided were not matching up. We were not lost… we just didn’t know where we were going.

After a few minutes of deliberation the suggestion was raised to ask for direction. With no Japanese language skills were all reluctant. Eerik, from Finland stopped a passerby to ask help, but the language barrier was too great. As he struggled, I grabbed two young ladies walking towards us from across the street. Luckily one of these ladies spoke English. She was home visiting from Australia where she currently lived. Her name was Keiko(sp?)

Watch out for the Yakuza! (Gangs in Japan)

When Keiko looked at our “map” and the name of the restaurant, she was uncertain. She spoke with her friend who also had no clue about the restaurant in question. Keiko politely suggested, “If you are looking for good Japanese food but you are not particular about which restaurant you eat, I could help you with a different one.” Famished, we all looked at each other for two seconds and agreed.

With a smile from our agreement, Keiko said “follow me.” And we did! Keiko turned around and returned the direction she and her friend came from. She led us across the street and two blocks up. We turned left at the light to cross another street and continued down 3 more blocks…

At this point we began to question where we were being led and why would a stranger be taking us on this journey. A few of us (OK at least I) began to get nervous as Keiko led us down the proverbial “dark alley.” Within a couple more blocks we were stopped in front of a little eatery.

The glass case in front was filled with the famous Japanese plastic foods, virtual displays of what is served on the menu. A noren curtain of waves and Koi fish was hanging in doorway. It was at this moment nerves began to calm, thoughts of the Yakuza surrounding us faded.

Now that’s customer service!

Akshay spoke first, questioning Keiko. He asked her why she would go so far out of her way to escort us to this restaurant. It didn’t elude any of us that Keiko and her friend was traveling the other direction to begin with. Keiko’s answer was simple, “because you would not be able to find this place otherwise.” “But still, to take time out of day and go to such lengths to show complete strangers where this restaurant is, I don’t understand, why?” We asked. Keiko could only reply; “because it is the proper thing to do.”

Of course, we invited Keiko and her friend to join us. As it turned out, the evening was 10 times better due to her company. She interpreted the menu and even ordered for us. Keiko encouraged us to try new and different things we would not have known to order. She shared stories of growing up in Japan and spoke of her culture. Certainly, this was one of the most memorable dinners for any of us.

We also tried further to understand why a young lady would willingly escort a group of strangers. Keiko was never really able to explain it succinctly. This desire to help other, she said “to serve” was just a part of the Japanese culture.

We import millions of things from Japan but the one thing in Japan that would benefit our Nation the most cannot be bottled and transported. Customer service is a choice of the server.

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photo by Steve Nagata’s

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18 comments to The Best Customer Service I Ever Received…

  • Great story!

    If I had the money, Japan would definitely be one of the places I would visit. I’ve heard similar story ot the great people of Japan from my father-in-law.

    Someday, perhaps someday… 🙂
    .-= Money Reasons´s last blog ..What I Have Learned To Date From Blogging! =-.

  • I really want to visit Japan, China, and India. I too wish I had the money to visit. Someday!!

    I really liked this part: “Keiko’s answer was simple, “because you would not be able to find this place otherwise.” “But still, to take time out of day and go to such lengths to show complete strangers where this restaurant is, I don’t understand, why?” We asked. Keiko could only reply; “because it is the proper thing to do.”

    Such an amazing concept that I rarely EVER see in the U.S.
    .-= myfinancialobjectives´s last blog ..The Ultimate Motivator: Compounding Interest =-.

  • I really want to visit that part of the world. It just seems so different than our cultural and I think it would be a fun thing to experience.
    .-= Evan´s last blog ..First the Alexa Rankings and Then The World =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @ Money Reasons – Someday may come sooner than you think. Jump at the chance if it comes.

    @ MFO – What’s more amazing is how smoothly things happen in Japan, thanks to cooperation.

    @ Evan – It’s well worth the effort. When are we putting together a bloggers vacation?

  • Great story, and you are right… the Japanese have PHENOMENAL customer service! Service and respecting others is in our culture.

    You’ll notice it in the airline industry w/ JAL & ANA as well.

    Hmmmm.. maybe it’s not a coincidence that a Financial Samurai launched The Yakezie, and our motto is to selflessly help others!


    .-= Financial Samurai´s last blog ..The Curse Of Making Too Much Money And Not Pursuing Your Dreams =-.

  • Great discovery,
    I’ve never been to Japan, but from your complements, i think i will be spending next summer there. I love discovering new dishes and like been treated with respect.
    .-= innocriss´s last blog ..Entrepreneurship As a Corporate Value =-.

  • I love this post! My husband and I considered moving to Japan to work for a while, but couldn’t quite figure out how to work in Kyoto and not Tokyo(we couldn’t see living someplace that big for 2-3 years) . . . It’s always struck me as a fascinating culture and the language seems like it would be fun to learn as well.

    There’s just something I love about all kinds of travel–being a newcomer in a foreign place can lead to some really interesting connections with other people. And I really like visiting cultures that have traditions surrounding how we should treat others–even strangers.

    Ok, I’ll go off and daydream about traveling now. . .
    .-= Simple in France´s last blog ..Spring, sprouts, newborns and new creations. . . =-.

  • Japan is definitely on my list of places to visit one day. I have heard it is super expensive so it may need to wait until 2025 but I do plan on getting there. I think it’s interesting that so many people in the personal finance community of bloggers seem to relish travel. Of course, if you have money travel is more attainable to travel:) It one of my biggest motivations to be debt free – To be able to travel and see the world!
    .-= Stay at Home Mom CFO´s last blog ..Don’t Count Your Money Until it’s “There” =-.

  • I visited South Korea a few years ago, and I saw the same thing. Service was outstanding and people went out of their way to make experiences satisfying at restaurants in particular. Food was inexpensive, and I got to enjoy some wonderful meals. I enjoy Asian food a lot because of the experience.
    .-= The Rat´s last blog ..Rethinking Mutual Funds & Biting The Bullet With MERs =-.

  • The LeanLifeCoach

    @ Samurai-san – There is no coincidence!

    @ innocriss – I hope you have a great time. Send some pictures!

    @ Simple in France – Like you I considered working in Japan, until I saw the working conditions. (No personal space) Now I just want to retire there!

    @ SAHM – Like anywhere there are expensive aspects to Japan. Don’t buy the watermelon for example. However, if you live like a local it is not prohibitive.

    @ The Rat – I always wondered if Japans “service oriented” culture resulted from being confined on an island. You show this is not the case. Maybe there is hope for the U.S. and Canada?

  • Joyful

    What a wonderful story of Japanese hospitality and service. I’ve long admired the Japanese for their sense of elegance and grace that is displayed even in the smallest of spaces with items I would not initially think of as beautiful (e.g. rock garden).

  • Victorino

    Great experience great story. In the beginning, I just can’t really connect the title from the story, since it was talking about a customer service, and since the generous lady was not a staff of the restaurant and you were not here customer. But, it was all clear at the end. You and your group are her customers -and the company she works for is her country Japan.
    .-= Victorino´s last blog ..How to save money on your date? =-.

  • when establishing a business, a good customer service is always necessary,..

  • customer service should be put first with any kind of business;`”

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