Saturday, September 22, 2012
Visits from the Overlords
I've been working in the Japanese subsidiary of a foreign company now for almost ten years. During this time I've quit often had visitors from global functions in the head office come visit us in Japan for various purposes. Most of the time customer visits are scheduled for these visits. Taking non-Japanese people from global functions to visit customers can be an interesting and sometimes terrifying experience, all depending on how Japan experienced and/or culturally sensitive the person is.
Although I could generalise the ease in terms of country of origin of the visitor, based on my experience, the most critical point is the personality and attitude of the visitor. Some people are overly concerned about adhering to Japanese business etiquette, having devoured books about the "do's" and "don't do's" before their visits, usually resulting in awkwardness as the person is trying too hard to bow just the right angle, trying to mimic the way Japanese hand over business cards only to get it wrong (wrong side towards speaking partner is a common mistake). I've even met people who, before their visit, have had business cards in faulty Japanese printed (usually resulting in giggles)...
Generally, most Japanese customers welcome visitors from the head office,some because they find it fun or interesting to meet foreigners, some because they realise that the people from the head office are our (i.e. Japanese subsidiary) overlords with deeper pockets and the power to start projects that could benefit them. Very rarely does a customer decline a request from us to set up a meeting/visit and sometimes it can be actively demanded from us. However, from the local subsidiary perspective it can sometimes create problems...
For your education and possible amusement, I've here compiled profiles over the most difficult visitors.
1. The Over-Enthusiastic Promise Giver
These guys/gals are usually really excited about being in Japan, meet our customers and can't wait to work with them. Their intent is usually very good but problems can come when they start to promise A) Stuff that the Japan team are not able to deliver on (budget or legal restraints) or B) Stuff that they have not properly secured in HQ and later casually cancel via an e-mail to us... These guys/gals don't realise that promises are not given casually in Japan and can cause us significant distress and efforts in cleaning up afterwards and trying to find ways to compensate the customer for the disappointment and problems caused by the broken promise(s).
2. The Japan "Veteran"
These guys are thankfully few and in-between but I have encountered these on occasion, almost always in senior management positions. This type has visited Japan countless times and believe that they know exactly what they're doing and have no need to learn anything more. This type is often loud and abrasive towards the customer (even though they dial it down a little compared to their domestic attitude). Some of these are so confident in their cultural proficiency that they sprinkle in Japanese words and use "-san" as a suffix to names, but fail to use it the appropriate way... In the best case they are merely considered as "odd".
3. The "Just-like-home" Guy/Gal
The people that I find easiest to bring to Japanese customers are those who don't try too hard. Of course, being nonchalant, slouching in the chair etc. is a big no-no, but people who smile, listen to the other person speaking and behaving calmly and friendly are easy to bring t customers and hardly ever create any problems.