Japan's customer service?
Legendarily good, yes?
Japan has extraordinary amounts of customer service since a large bulk of their belief and daily practice is based around duty-based ethics. This is a rare thing to most Westerners - in the West, we're very willing to fudge the rules to provide a better outcome. It's expected, even.
In Japan, the ethical systems are more along the lines of rules than outcomes. We're generalizing, of course, this isn't everyone. But it's most people here.
In Japan, duty is taken really seriously. If someone has a duty to you, they'll work their ass off - especially if they've fallen short of that duty. If your air conditioning isn't working in your hotel room, you might get a manager and an engineer coming to check it out and fix it. Seriously.
The flipside that people don't talk about is when there isn't a duty to you. In situations where you're trying to get an exception to the rules that seems like it'd be common sense, you're kind of hosed. Because in that case, you're now asking for good/utility/whatever, but remember - everyone has a duty to the rules, and this is a duty-based society.
So something that might seem to make sense, won't happen. You might get a hotel room that's $250 per night, but the cost for an extra bed is listed as $300. Yes, $300 for a cot when a whole new room would only be $250. Obviously that's a mistake or stupid or something, but frequently it can't be changed.
Why would this happen? Who knows, maybe the prices are based on people occupying, not rooms... and the undiscounted rate is $300 per person. So the computer says that the price of a cot is $300, and the hotel staff quotes it to you.
Obviously this is just ridiculous and stupid, an extra bed should never cost more than an extra room. In the West, you'd expect someone to sort that out. But in Japan, asking for that will be seen as asking for special consideration - and for asking for the rules to be broken.
So you get into situations where stupid things are happening, but no one can fix them because there's a duty to the rules and no superseding duty to give you "special treatment" (even if it's common sense).
It's a marvelous society. There's basically no crime, it's ridiculously clean and hygienic, and the service is out of this world incredible... when it's within the duty-bound context.
This comes largely from the duty-based ethics, which are fantastic. The strict adherence to the rules is great too... most of the time. But a serious downside is the lack of an "escape hatch" when the rules require something totally asinine - they still must be followed here, because, of course, those are the rules.
A similar (but not identical) cultural difference expresses itself among programmers.
Ten years ago, there was a big scare among programmers that their jobs were being outsourced to Japan, India, and later China. It was terrifying that these countries were turning out such an enormous number of highly educated computer programmers.
Fortunately for me, it turns out that it is one thing to turn out a programmer who knows all the rules of a programming language, and quite another to turn out a top quality software engineer.
Of course, I am not saying that India, China, and particularly Japan do not turn out top quality software engineers. They do, as well or better than we do. But they also turn out a hell of a lot more "rule based" programmers than we do, who are essentially useless for most of the tasks that a business wants a programmer to do.
I believe this is because these cultures tend to be more "rules and duties" oriented rather than "outcome" oriented, as you point out.
Hmm, interesting. I wonder. Does this make pricing salary/wages any easier?
Easier as in, each person's wage can be directly calculated by breaking down the work into smaller, discrete tasks. These tasks can then be either a specific cost to the employer or broken down further. So, sum of parts = whole.
You can't do this in Western cultures because when you're outcome-oriented, there could be many paths that lead to that result. Generally outcomes are also more loosely defined than laid out tasks. Rule-based work ethic though. Seems like you can have a more determinate compensation this way.
Does this question make any sense? Mind was wondering. I wonder how it is.
My husband sends me your posts. :) We recently went to Disneyland Paris and had a horrible time, largely because the customer service was so bad. I went thinking, "Hey! Disneyland!" Not so much. How do you think Tokyo would interpret Disney? I really like the parks but as I get older I'm discovering that most of what I love is the bend-over-backwards waiting on you customer service. :)
Happy new year!
I am hoping you would share your resources for your reading on Japanese history. Book titles and/or urls would be very helpful.
I got that a week ago, and I kind of sat there staring at the email. Japanese history is some of the most confusing to start to learn, because different elements of Japanese history and culture all play on and influence each other. I could run you through the military history of Japan from The Battle of Okehazama to Sekigahara to the Boshin War, from there into Dai Nippon Tekoku Era, from there into defeat and the Occupation under McArthur, and then we could do a little post-war history.
I was a panelist at the Digital Hollywood Fall 2009 event, held at the Loews Hotel in sunny Santa Monica, CA (that's a picture I took on my iPhone of the happy hour event above).
You can find the PointAbout page describing the event here.