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The Mitsue-Links UX Blog shares some of our insights and opinions about UX in Japan, experience design and cultural differences between user research in Japan and the world.
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March 14, 2014

Japan - Where the Customer Is a God

UX Researcher Hiroto Kaku

There's one thing about Japan that never fails to amaze my American friends whenever they visit me in Tokyo. It's something that I'm still amazed by myself, even after living over a decade in this country, and I've seen similar comments online countless times. Customer service in Japan is excellent.

I'll give an example: fast food. In the US, working in fast food is almost used as a sort of horror story ("Study hard or you'll end up flipping burgers!"). It's not the sort of place you aspire to work at. I know my local fast food joint in the US was like that. It was obvious the moment you walked in that none of the workers wanted to be there. I'd order my food, eat quickly, and then leave, feeling a bit depressed.

It's the exact opposite here in Japan. You're greeted by cheerful cashiers the moment you walk in, they take your order, and then repeat everything to make sure that they've gotten the order right. It genuinely feels like they take pride in their jobs, and the service that they are providing, and it shows.

This isn't just in the fast food industry. It's everywhere. Buying a gift for a friend? They'll wrap it perfectly, and remove any trace of the price so that you don't feel awkward (it was cheap), or the recipient doesn't feel awkward (it was expensive). All this takes place in a country where tipping is unheard of. Here, it's not "the customer is always right". Rather, it's "the customer is god". Everyone is proud and honored to be doing the job that they are doing, and the utmost care is taken to never offend the customer.

Excellent customer service is something that extends to the online world as well. Support should be as painless as possible for users. Live chatting is seen as something complicated and unreliable, email support too slow. Users like to be able to call in and speak to a person, so that their problems can be solved quickly and efficiently.


The above image is something commonly found in Japanese websites. The number is shown in big bold letters so that it is easy to find, and images of the call center agents reassures the customer that they are ready at a moment's notice to answer any questions. In addition, using the yellow button on the right, users are able to set up a callback from customer support at the time of their choosing.

Excellent customer service isn't just an extra detail here. It's the norm, and it's definitely something that needs to be kept in mind for any service trying to break into the Japanese market.