An illustration of a japanese bullet train famous for its customer service philosophy.
iStock/ hisa nishiya

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

If you’ve ever taken the shinkansen (bullet train) in Japan, you’ll have experienced the efficient, warm, and memorable customer service philosophy representative of the Japanese service industry. The shinkansen cleaning regimen is so beloved, it’s known as “the seven-minute miracle.”

The cleaners themselves are affectionately known as Angels.

The care that goes into ensuring a positive customer experience on the shinkansen is truly inspiring. The business and individuals behind the process are transformed into a lean, mean, cleaning machine. And it’s all thanks to a customer service philosophy unique to the service sector.

A diagram showcasing TESSEI's customer service philosophy of customer, community, and employee harmony.
©GLOBIS

TESSEI’s World-Class Customer Service Philosophy

Service industry positions are typically classified as a “3K” jobs: kiken (dangerous), kitanai (dirty), and kitsui (difficult). But TESSEI, the cleaning subsidiary of JR East, believes this definition needs to change for the company and industry to grow. Its management philosophy supports a service profit chain in which employee satisfaction has a direct impact on both customer satisfaction and the service industry as a whole.

Turnaround Leadership: The Differences Between Japan and the West

What's the best way for leaders to communicate a shift in corporate strategy? How do you even know when it's time for such a change? This course explains how Japan might have one answer, Western companies another.

In order to improve employee satisfaction, the company realized that it first needed to change its definition of the work it’s employees do. This process started by redefining cleaning personnel as “service specialists” who create “memories” rooted in updated 3K values: kansha (appreciation), kangeki (impressive), and kando (inspiring).

Next Article

TESSEI: The Art of the Seven-Minute Miracle

This is the story of TESSEI, the world famous train cleaners and the art of their seven-minute miracle.
A shinkansen preparing for the TESSEI seven-minute miracle.

These values resonate with the idea of omotenashi, a cornerstone of the Japanese service industry that’s all about anticipating customer needs and delivering service that enables a pleasant experience for customers every single time. To support this new service model, the company aligned its human resource strategies and systems with tools to maximize positive service delivery on the front lines.

The company’s new service model was so successful that it was granted an award by the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (METI) in March 2013. That’s beside the massive international recognition. Visitors from China, France, Germany, and South Korea came to Japan eager to learn about TESSEI’s customer service philosophy and strategies.

The back room of the Shinkansen cleaning staff, with cleaning supplies and duffel bags neatly arranged on shelves.
The back room for the shinkansen “angels” is as tidy as the bullet train cars.

A Cycle of Capability

TESSEI created a six-part “cycle of capability” that supports employees and improves their satisfaction overall.

Careful Employee Selection

When screened for employment, candidates for shinkansen service positions must exhibit the following essential attributes: patience, kindness, a customer-oriented mindset, and a genuine willingness to help people.

Quality Training

Employees experience a comprehensive training program that includes both general and specialized cleaning techniques, as well as service delivery advice from internal and external professionals.

Support Systems

Employees keep track of the status and movement of trains using monitors strategically located in staff lounges and offices. Equipment that projects a negative public image (like dingey buckets, for example) were re-designed to improve both the brand’s image, as well as the mobility of the service staff themselves.

The equipment is also transported in special duffel bags, creating a clean and cool image that contributes to a sense of pride in the workers, as well as ease of transportation and efficiency in their work.

Next Article

Japanese Working Culture: The Good, the Bad, and the Getting Better

Japanese working culture is notorious for strict business practices, lack of transparency, and slow decision-making. But employees are getting fed up, and things are changing.
Office workers in uniform suits crossing a street on their way to the office, a common sight in Japanese working culture

The employee’s uniforms are also designed to create a clean, professional image. Seasonal touches are added throughout the year to keep things fresh. Daily discussion sessions allow employees to share their work experiences and challenges.

And to build a sense of camaraderie across the company, employee seat assignments are rotated for each daily discussion session.

Greater Latitude

TESSEI management has an open policy towards employee feedback. The company seeks to empower and encourage employees to suggest improvements, while also taking responsibility in implementing those changes. The forms provided to submit feedback are designed to be simple and easy to use.

Clear Expectations

During training sessions, employees are expected to share aspirations, visions, and personal missions. They write these down on pieces of paper, which are then displayed in the meeting room for others to glean inspiration from.

Leadership with Passion through Kokorozashi

The key ingredient to success? Passion.

Finding your kokorozashi will unify your passions and skills to create positive change in society. This GLOBIS Unlimited course will help you develop the values and lifelong goals you need to become a strong, passion-driven leader.

Service Recognition

Employees are encouraged to create and share memorable and inspirational experiences with customers. These are published in the corporate Angel News newsletters. Visits from the public and the press are also encouraged to showcase the dedication and work ethic of the service staff.

The knowledge base and high-quality service the Angels provide is truly a sight to behold—and a standard for the entire service industry. Next time you take a ride on the shinkansen, be sure to keep an eye out for the angels and their world-class seven-minute miracle.

Connect with Insights

Trouble keeping up with all the insights? Subscribe to our newsletter for monthly career inspiration right in your inbox!
Your newsletter subscription with us is subject to the GLOBIS Privacy Policy.