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Customer-centric does not necessarily mean offering what the customer wants

Many foreigners visiting Japan for the first time will be impressed by the gentle mannered services provided by the Japanese people whether on the streets, at train stations, restaurants or shops. However, any foreigner living in Japan long enough will realise this seemingly spontaneous respect and professional courtesy for the customer is in fact the result of rigorous role specific training. If in doubt, you can test this theory by simply asking an employee a question which falls outside those covered by their service provision manual.  The response will almost certainly be one of bewilderment in the absence of a learned response and an ability to adapt to the unexpected request.

Many companies in Japan have adopted slogans such as "The Customer is the King" with a belief that it reflects the company’s most important values. For many years, Japanese companies have enjoyed success through listening to the customers’ voice for both consumer product customers (B to C) and institutional product customers (B to B).  This approach made sense when a persistent thirst for products existed and listening to what the customer wanted often lead to the development of products that would consistently sell well. However, the current situation in Japan is such that whilst there remains a basic product need to satisfy, the real thirst for a particular product has evaporated.  Listening to customers and asking them what they want won't get you anywhere anymore.

In such context, for companies to effectively conceive of the new products and services customers will willingly pay for (whilst maintaining the philosophy of  “value for money”), a shift away from the logical thinking the Japanese education system has been fostering through memory-based multiple choice examinations towards creative thinking and the power of imagination is required.