Japanese Traditional Magic Cookies

In Japan, when someone makes a mistake at your company, and you are the boss, you can never berate that employee in public nor can you, as boss, tell the offended client or customer that your employees is to blame. You can never blame the mistakes on your staff. You have to take the blame.

No matter what happens, as captain of the ship, you must be the responsible person for whatever goes on. It can be a thankless job too. If things go well, you must give credit to your staff. If things go bad, you must take all the blame.

Sometimes, even the Japanese laugh at these traditions….

(well, older folks don’t… No sense of humor!)

That is the honorable and smart was way to do business in Japan.

Last week, my company royally screwed up a campaign for a client. That client had over 300 complaints from customers in less than a few hours! The error was 100% the fault of my company and it was an embarrassingly foolish mistake; we had incorrectly written bank information for money transfers on an online document. This made a situation whereby hundreds of people couldn’t transfer the money to the appropriate account in order to received the goods they wanted.

As I said, over 300 people had complained to our client and the client was, understandably, furious at us. I was furious at my staff for making such an amateurish mistake but I couldn’t say that to the client. Nor did I berate my staff openly.

First we calmly rectified the account information. That night I called the people in charge at the client company and apologized. They were noticeably upset. This client is my companies #1 most important customer. Their account is worth tens of millions of yen to us. But because of this mistake, we were in danger of losing that account forever.

And all because of a careless Jr. high school level mistake.

I knew what I had to do…. I had to buy a box of cookies…. Not just any cookies. “Magic” cookies. The good stuff.

Yes. That’s right. A box of quality cookies, a sincere apology, accepting complete responsibility along with bowing profusely to the in-charge at the client company…. Just might make things all right.

It certainly couldn’t hurt and is worth the risk in order to save the contract.

In Japan, no matter what happens, the Japanese like it if you take complete responsibility and humbly apologize for your errors. Being able to say “I’m sorry” and saying it like a man and not someone who wishes to blame someone else, will make the Japanese respect you as a person and a businessman much more.

I went to a ritzy department store and bought the best box of cookies they had. The box cost ¥5,600 (about $73!) pretty expensive for  a dozen cookies! I went to the client company with the cookies. I knew that the in-charge showed up for work around 1 ~ 3 pm everyday.

But he doesn’t know that I know that.

I showed up at his office at 11:00 and let the receptionist know I was there.

She said, “Do you have an appointment?”

“No.” I replied, “But my company made a serious mistake last night and I must apologize so I came here. I will wait until he arrives. Please tell him that I am waiting.” Of course, I asked the receptionist what time it was so that she would make a mental note of it.

Then, I sat in the lobby and waited. Well, actually, I did work on my laptop. Work I would have done had I been at my office. But here, I could do the work and show diligence in making sure that I met with the in-charge.

I waited and the girl asked me a couple of times if I still wanted to wait. “Of course,” I replied.

Finally, at 2:30 pm, the in-charge showed up. He was so surprised to see me.

He said, “You’ve been sitting here for a few hours!?”

“Yes. I needed to see you and apologize.” I replied.

We sat and talked and I explained everything all the while taking full responsibility. I bowed over and over and handed over the box of “Magic” cookies and asked that he share it with his staff who we had bothered with our stupid mistake.

After thirty or so minutes of talking he became much calmer and actually smiled. I told him that they were the #1 most important client to us and that we would do anything to make it all right – even forfeit all of our commissions for this one event. He thanked me and asked that we be more careful next time and he promised me that, on his side too, they’d try to be more organized so that things weren’t done so rush-rush and last minute.

I thanked him and we shook hands. The contract was saved and we won’t be penalized for the error. We just must be more careful next time.

With this 3.5 hour effort of waiting and a $73 dollar box of cookies I saved a multi-million yen contract.  I also saved us from losing all commissions from this particular event. This one event was worth about $60,000 to us. I saved it with a short wait, a bunch of humility, a lot of bowing and taking responsibility…

…And a $70 box of cookies.

Now, if those cookies aren’t magic, I don’t know what is.