Is customer service cultural?

I read this article about how customer service is different in Japan.

The example that the blogger (Bill Blew) gave was about his Honda salesman (also named Mr. Honda) who came by Bill’s house a month after he bought the car and asked how everything was. That is completely unheard of in this country and I would be very surprised if it happened to me. It is definitely a lot different than my car buying experience.

There are very few people in this country that will show up at a person’s house just to make sure they were happy. The dealer that sold me my car didn’t even call me a month later to see how things were. I wasn’t expecting a call and was delighted that I finally had my car.

The Japanese have a very different work ethic and culture than Americans. They just look at business and how things are supposed to be done differently. There is a divide in other countries as well. Take India as an example. In India, working in a call center for a big company like a Dell or a HP is a high prestige job. In the United States, it isn’t. That is a cultural thing if you ask me.

I also feel that people in some countries (i. e. the Philippines) are on average very hard working. I’ve dealt with several Filipinos and in all of my experiences, I have been really impressed. It is obviously a small sample of their population and there will always be exceptions (good and bad), but from my experience, I have been really impressed with their work ethic and talent.

I feel strongly that how a country’s culture looks at customer service and dealing with people is important. The Japanese have a very different attitude than their American counterparts. Their culture is very much about respect and I have no doubt that their culture of respect plays a big role in their providing great service.

So I ask the question – is customer service a cultural thing? Or do you think it is more a person to person thing? Was Mr. Honda an exceptional salesman because he was Mr. Honda or do you think that Mr. Honda was an exceptional salesman because he was Japanese? Partly or fully?

Note: I am generalizing. I’m basing the information in the above post on my personal experiences and what I’ve read. Feel free to share your opinions and experiences in the comments.

5 Responses to “Is customer service cultural?”

  1. Evenlevel said:

    Jul 31, 07 at 4:30 pm

    I ran across your blog, this post, and then read about your unpleasant car buying experience today. I think customer service is generally frowned upon in America because, in most cases, it does not pay well, it does not require specialization and its certainly not a profession that many people aspire to.

    I’ve always enjoyed shopping at places with good customer service, like Nordstrom’s or Whole Foods. I think those corporate cultures actually place a premium on customer service and even tell urban myths of excellent service to promote certain behaviors within the company.

    I’ve read several times about the Nordstrom’s employee that took back tire chains from a customer even though Nordstrom’s doesn’t sell tire chains. If more news stories were written about people who provide service beyond expectation then I think our culture would eventually shift to be more like Japans, at least in the case you mentioned.

  2. Eric Fraterman said:

    Jul 31, 07 at 6:23 pm

    I agree with the influence of natural culture. Many, many years ago the French government realized that the French culture did not make for greatr customer service or frinedliness. They insituted a massive program allowing visitors to hand out redeemable certificates when a person gave them great service and treated them right. Also, I hail from Holland. My observation is that the Dutch ingtrinsically are not the greatest service providers. Why? Their culture is one of social egalitarism and providing good service in their views translates into acknowledging not bein equal to the other person. Dutch society is clearly founded on social broadbanding. So here is my twopence worth of observations to agree.

  3. Service Untitled said:

    Jul 31, 07 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Evenlevel,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I agree with you. I wrote about something similar to what you’re talking about not too long ago. Companies (and cultures) that promote great customer service and value it will definitely see better results.


    Great points! And an interesting solution to the French. What you mentioned about the Dutch is more what I was thinking about when writing the post. It is just how people look at each other and their cultures that makes the customer service difference on a national level.

    Thanks for your comment!

  4. 4 Action Items for More Lucrative Customer Communication | Create Business Growth Offers... said:

    Aug 01, 07 at 9:35 am

    […] Service Untitled asks a good question, Is Customer Service Cultural? Maybe, but it doesn’t have to be. The people I talked to were in located in the US, the Philippines, and in India. Good, consistent customer service starts with a series of well defined processes. […]

  5. Andrew Stein said:

    Aug 07, 07 at 10:36 pm

    I have spent a great deal of time being assisted by customer service representatives of all sorts. Some for Starbucks, some for apple, some for hotel reservations in Argentina and countless more. I have also spent enough time waiting, only to be a customer not served.

    In all my experience, I have learned one thing well, it pays well to play well. By this I mean that competing companies’ survival depend on customer service. Word of mouth is the best advertisement. A single experience from a single customer can influence countless others, either to except a company’s service, or reject it. Yet, far too often the customer is only seen as one who won’t pay for his cold food, a mere $20 loss in the scheme of things.

    *The US might not be the best when it comes to treating our people right, but seven trips overseas (and counting) have shone a bright light on the beauty of our approach to the customer’s needs. It’s not bright yet, but it’s getting there.