Relationships are of the utmost importance in Japanese business. But how do you maintain relationships with Japanese customers if you are not physically based in the same place?
Direct methods such as emailed newsletters and even simple holiday cards can be quite effective. Our firm always encloses a year-in-review letter about our latest doings in our holiday cards, and have found that clients do pay attention to what we write there. Also, for the holiday cards I send out, I always add a personal message, rather than just signing it. This really leads to writer’s cramp at the end of the year, but I feel it’s worth it for the personal touch it conveys.
One financial service industry firm located in the U.S. that has many Japanese customers has its sales manager visit Japan twice a year for visits with customers. This is always a good time to catch up with the inevitable personnel changes due to the jinji ido (periodic personnel reshuffle) practices of Japanese companies. On one of those visits, the company also throws a customer appreciation party, at a famous upscale Japanese hotel. The exclusive venue positions the company appropriately in Japanese society, and customers interacting with each other can share stories of how much this firm has helped them. The company finds these annual parties to be so beneficial that it would never consider discontinuing them.
Another service industry firm used a different approach to strengthen its ties with Japanese customers. It hired a bilingual consultant to visit Japan and have meetings with its key customers, to find out how they viewed their service and if there was anything they could be doing better. This showed the company’s sincere desire to serve its Japanese customers as effectively as possible.
However, the previous paragraphs should not give you the impression that you need a lot of money in order to maintain good relationships with Japanese customers. Just as effective as the expensive party at a fancy hotel is a more personal kind of relationship. For example, sending a Japanese contact an article clipping about a development in t he U.S. that has implications for his company is sure to be appreciated.
Japanese love exclusivity, to feel that they are members of a special group. Thus, information and other perks that are available“only to our customers” will be perceived as particularly of value to them. Also, information is something that Japanese place a high value on. Something that combines these two things can be a potential hit with Japanese customers. For example, you might want to start a regular newsletter about industry trends that is distributed only to your customers. Or establish a special “clients only” section of your website that has useful information. And of course, to the extent that this kind of thing can be done in Japanese, the better.
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