Wednesday, April 28, 2010

America Can Re-learn the Art of Customer Service from Asia

by Tom Hinton

It’s no surprise that customer service has been on the decline for the past ten years in America. Company executives are quick to blame the economic downturn for the decline in service. But, frankly, that’s just a weak excuse for companies that are not willing to spend the money to train their employees in the art of customer service. But, there’s a deeper problem that is causing the decline in customer service among American companies. And, it’s a two-headed monster!

The first head on this menacing monster is a mindset among the bean counters within corporate America who fail to see the correlation between superior customer service and profit. For these mindless bureaucrats, who fatten the top line of most businesses and contribute little to the bottom line, customer service is a cost-center. From their narrow vantage point, teaching employees how to smile, be polite and answer customer questions doesn’t translate into more revenue. This mindset is problematic, but it can be cured by enlightened leaders who understand that customer service is a philosophy not a department!

Unfortunately, the second head on the monster is more challenging because it is rooted in our changing national culture which has drifted away from customer service because of greed, technology and the unwillingness of consumers to fight back for better service and fair treatment. How do we go about restoring customer service as a way of life in America?

Perhaps, the answer can be found across the Pacific Ocean. On a recent trip to Hong Kong, Macau and Tokyo I found customer service is alive and well. Certainly, these destinations have been hit with tough economic times; and yet, their commitment to superior customer service is unwavering. Why is that?

I think the answer is cultural. There is something inherent among Asian cultures that teaches people to be of service, to be kind and help each other. There is also a deep regard among Asians for respect and common courtesy. I remember an advertising campaign by Toyota in the early 1990s that emphasized uncommon courtesy. It was brilliant because it captured the essence of a traditional Japanese custom -- courtesy -- and Toyota’s commitment to superior customer service based on respect for people.

That sentiment is alive and well in Asia. At every stop, the overwhelming majority of people -- from hotel clerks and waiters to taxi drivers and flight attendants -- practiced the art of superior customer service. For them, it is a way of life to be of service. For Americans, it’s part of our job. Regrettably, too many Americans fail to practice the basic tenets of superior customer service (courtesy, respect, quality and going above-and-beyond the call of duty for our customers) in their everyday life. For most Americans, practicing superior customer service takes too much time and effort. We’d rather be ill-mannered and arrogant. We’d rather blame the customer for their stupidity than bow respectfully -- as do the Asians -- and humbly apologize in order to retain the customer’s loyalty. And, let me add, Asians do this regardless of how wrong the customer is. Why?

Well, I think the Asians understand the concept of “winning a customer for life!” Contrarily, in the United States, if the customer is wrong or acts like a jerk, we would rather tell him/her to go jump in a lake!

So, if you’d like to rediscover the beautiful art of customer service, I encourage you to visit to Hong Kong, Macau or Tokyo. In addition to their spectacular beauty and wonderful sites, you will find customer service is alive and well -- and, by the way, so is business!

About the Author:
Tom Hinton is a professional speaker and business author who helps his clients create a culture of excellence in the workplace. His website is or he can be reached at:

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