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First Impressions Are Everything

Today’s topics:

  • First impressions are vital

  • In Japan’s communication culture, even small details count

Travelers often marvel at Japan’s amazing customer service. “So polished!” “Just delightful!” The pressure is on because a whopping 56% of Japanese consumers say that if they had even one bad service experience, they will take their business elsewhere. Whoa! In contrast, only 33% of American consumers would not put up with a single bad customer experience.

This finding appears in a June 17 American Express report. The original press release can be found here. A partial translation of the article in English can be found here.

In addition, Japanese customers rarely share either bad or good customer experiences (31% for bad ones and 14% for good ones). This makes it really hard to figure out why Japanese customers aren’t coming back to you. You won’t get either positive or negative feedback, so figuring out their opinions and desires is notoriously difficult. Even focus groups and surveys, the gold standard of market research, is tricky to conduct in this kind of environment. What a nightmare!

Market research needs culturally appropriate construction. You cannot communicate effectively if you simply translate an English survey word-for-word. To design an appropriate survey, you have to be an expert in the culture and psychology of the target group, which helps you understand the market. Only then you may design the survey that will provide useful insights into your target population.

Speaking of communication, Japanese culture in general relies heavily on non-verbal cues. That means, people use not only words, but also gestures and attitudes—you might say it’s a more holistic approach to communication. In other words, people pick up all kinds of cues from various sources, not just from words, and so for marketing no detail is too small. Combine that with the general customer tendency to want companies to get things right the first time. There you’ve got a highly detail-oriented market that’s difficult to jump into without expert help.


I was back in Japan for the month of July. The next post is about Japanese business culture that I was reminded about during my stay.

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