Mar 152011
 

By Stuart Tan

I took a trip to Japan recently and was all the rave about the culture and the people there. I’d been asking myself why there was such a difference between Japanese culture and other parts of the world. I’ve been to Malaysia, Indonesia, China, Hong Kong, Australia and the US.

While many of my friends tend to complain about service in most of these countries, I was personally pleasantly surprised by the level of serviceĀ  especially so in Japan. The level of patience and “wow” service was quite amazing. For example, since it was the first time my family and I were in Japan, we had to ask for directions at the train station. For a beginner, the train network was quite confusing, with multiple providers and multiple stations. We had kind of sorted out where to go, when the officer at the station told us there was a faster way, and promptly refunded all our money and pointed us in the right direction.

Yes, these were competing train line providers. Yet, the focus was on the convenience of the visitor. Did this train line (Tokyo subway) lose out to the JR line? Well, not really. They did provide a great impression and also they created a positive for Japan overall.

Let’s draw a lesson from this: sometimes, providing good service helps the overall industry to win, not just the company alone. It would be really sad that an industry is avoided simply because of the bad press of a few companies cutting and slashing at each other.

It boils back down to the leaders within the organizations involved to be able to develop their people to think a little broader, beyond just the immediate term solution. In fact, the main thing is if you are constantly focused on the next 5 minutes, you won’t be able to proceed to create wins in the broader scheme of things.

Interestingly enough, Singapore’s Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, was quoted yesterday as encouraging a middle path amid the looming foreign currency war as part of theĀ  G20 Summit in Seoul. This takes into account the fact that economically stronger nations could support weaker economies by strengthening their currencies a little where they could afford. I think this was quite interesting because it not only demonstrates the ability to avoid the black and white thinking approach, but also create wins all around.

We all expect certain things to happen in our mental models of the world. So unless we are taught to take a different approach or a more creative stance, it is highly likely we will fall flat in our pursuit of excellence. In customer service, for example, we expect waiters to attend to us immediately. Brian Tracy goes on a fake tirade during his presentations and says “the reason why we are in the restaurant is because we’re hungry you assholes!”(and of course the audience responded with laughter) I’m certain the restaurant never gets the point because in many circumstances, they are a victim of their own success. The more popular they are, the more customers they get and the lower the quality of their food!

Once again, it points to the idea that we have to constantly upgrade and change in order to become better. Every level of success will present for itself an additional level of challenge.

Back to Japan, I had a surprise also when we walked into a tempura bar. This bar is the kind where they will cook your order when you place it right in front of you, and was quite a novel experience. They got us to hang our jackets (we were experiencing 50 degrees Fahrenheit at night) and take off our shoes, which we placed in a shoe rack before getting to the bar. I’d personally already forgotten that there was a shoe rack in the first place, because I was enjoying my dinner. So when it was time to foot the bill, something strange happened. The shoes had automatically appeared out of nowhere, laid out in front of us at the foot of the place where we had left them. Of course, I processed it and thought ‘shoes don’t move on their own’. It was the attendant who had memorized what shoes we were wearing, and laid it out for us when we were leaving. I’m sure they had a system for remembering or else they wouldn’t have been able to handle the dozens of customers who were in their restaurant that night. Another point scored for Japan.

No matter where you are: a Prime minister in a G20 summit, a train station officer, a restaurant attendant or a public speaker running an event, we all need to strive for surprise – the ability to find a path that is more innovative to engage their audience/customers/suppliers.

Finally, shopping for shoes. My sister-in-law has tiny feet, so it’s impossible to find shoes anywhere in the world for her other than custom-made shoes. The problem for her is that she has had hers made and many of the shoes may look pretty but are not comfortable at all. Lo and behold, we chanced upon a shop that had SS sized shoes – size 20.5 to 22 (cm). These are the kind of shoes that your young teenage daughter might have at the kid’s department store. the only difference was the shoes were comfortable and good looking. Problem – each of them were over $200 a pair, a far cry from the traditional $20 Charles and Keith shopping mall sales. But, she went in to see how well the shoes fit anyway. Pair after pair, the attendant patiently brought suitable selections, in spite of a problem with language. Eventually, after going through almost 40 pairs of shoes, my sister bought five pairs. To be honest, I think we didn’t pay for the shoes, really. 90% of the cost of the shoes would easily have been attributed to the pleasant natured lady who attended to her, and it was worth it. Strangely, this seems to be a culture in Japan. Yet, in Singapore, we’re just scratching the surface of this, praising people who have GEMS programs in their company for ‘going the extra mile’. Wow. And here in Japan, they don’t mind going the extra few hundred miles… with a smile.

I figure this: attitude is something that we can never tell someone to have. I couldn’t go to an employee and say “improve your attitude” and it magically happens. But what can be done is to empower the organizational culture so that such behaviors and attitudes continue to shine. It’s therefore imperative that businesses constantly focus on bringing out the best in their employees through any form of training, coaching and mentoring. After all, one employee in the above case, could spend just under an hour to help the company earn over $1000 in shoe sales. Go ahead and crunch the numbers. Is that not proof of a decent return on investment?

Copyright 2011 Stuart Tan
All Rights Reserved

Stuart Tan is a trainer of personal development and business process excellence. He has trained in various countries all over the world over the last 15 years and continues to impact people through his podcasts and articles. For more information about his training programs, visit him at Facebook.StuartTan.com.

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