“The Great Tsunami Incident: A Lesson in Japanese Customer Centricity”

This is a picture of me on a visit to the headquarters of the Japanese Soya sauce company Kikkoman Corporation which is a world leader in soya sauce. This was for a meeting with their Leadership team in the course of a large engagement my team had undertaken.

The world witnessed a devastating event on the morning of March 11, 2011 – a powerful tsunami that brought destruction and chaos. Amidst this catastrophe, a major transformation project with Kikkoman was underway, and an unexpected incident occurred, revealing a remarkable display of Japanese customer centricity.

The Unexpected Call: As the disaster struck at 5:45 am, our team in India assumed that our scheduled call with our Japanese counterparts at 11 am would be postponed. With the enormity of the situation, it seemed unlikely that any work-related discussions would take place. However, to our surprise, we received a call from our counterparts in Japan. They had actually initiated the call, demonstrating their unwavering commitment to the end customer’s (Kikkoman’s) interest, even during a crisis. This unexpected act of customer centricity left us in awe and profoundly impacted our perception of Japanese business culture.

The Japanese Culture of Customer Centricity: During my numerous trips to Japan, I have had the privilege of experiencing the deeply rooted culture of customer-centric values that permeates everyday scenarios. A prime example is the renowned bullet trains, known not just for their speed but also their unparalleled punctuality. In a rare instance when a train ran just a minute late, authorities reimbursed the entire fare to the passengers as a gesture of respect and commitment to service excellence. This level of attention to detail and reliability is engrained in the fabric of Japanese society.

Learnings for Consulting:

Art of Omotenashi: The Japanese culture emphasizes the art of wholeheartedly looking after guests. Placing customers at the core of the engagement is crucial for building strong relationships and fostering loyalty. The classical Japanese Tea Ceremony is a great example of Omnoteashi.

Relentless Pursuit of Continuous Improvement (Kaizen): The Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement is a powerful concept in consulting. Embracing a Kaizen mindset ensures a commitment to excellence in all aspects of the consulting practice.

Attention to Detail & Reliability: Japanese customer centricity is rooted in meticulous attention to detail. Consultants must prioritize precision and reliability in their work to build trust with clients.

Customize: Customers quip “If you don’t solve my problem then this is not really a solution for me” Did you know that, surprisingly, in an age of standardization, the demand for customization has increased. With the decline of Relationship based selling to more Solution based selling, Customers expect solutions that address their specific needs and challenges. Customization provides flexibility and choice to customers, allowing them to select features, functionalities, or configurations that best suit their preferences or individual circumstances.

Contextualize: Cultural sensitivity plays a vital role in customer-centric consulting. Adapting offerings to fit a specific context or environment can elevate the customer experience and foster loyalty. Kikkoman addresses cultural sensitivities by providing diverse product options, offering multilingual communication, respecting traditional cuisine, engaging in cultural collaborations, and promoting social responsibility.

Conclusion: The Great Tsunami Incident serves as a powerful reminder of the profound commitment to customer centricity ingrained in Japanese business culture. The lessons we can glean from this incident and the broader Japanese philosophy can transform the way we approach consulting.

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