After spending the last 10 days in Japan, I have absolutely no doubt that this is the most customer centric culture in the world. In fact I believe the word "customer" actually means "welcome guest" in Japanese, and it shows.

How do you sum up exactly what a customer centric culture is? Too me it manifests in all of the little things that show that someone put some long and serious thought into how to make life easier for their customer. And I saw it time and time again, everything from the positioning of power points in hotel rooms, to a little ramp installed at a train station to make it easier to wheel a suitcase and even the bags on a conveyor belt all placed so that their handles were facing out, making it easier for people to pick them up. In fact I saw examples of this customer centric culture in action all day every day.

One of the best examples of this culture are the public toilet and I've been into a lot of them throughout Japan. I have never been in any toilet that isn't spotlessly clean, stocked with toilet paper, the soap dispensers are all full and all of the hand dryers work. This is the case in every single toilet without exception. I wish I could say the same in Australia.

This is a key to excellent customer service. Show customers that you are thinking about them and their needs and they will notice and reward your business for it. From my experience when a business gets it right, everyone notices.

Recently I witnessed a charming example of this tip being put into practice. It was a very hot day and a woman arrived at a local cafe with a beautiful labrador and a small puppy. She tied them up outside, went inside to order a coffee, then came back outside and sat at a table.

The waitress brought out the customer's coffee and a large bowl of water for the labrador and a small bowl of milk for the puppy. She wasn't asked to do this; she did it on her own initiative. The customer was very grateful (as were the dogs) for the waitress's thoughtfulness and I think it's fair to assume that this cafe has a new loyal customer.

Using your initiative to try and assist your customers and help them wherever possible is a state of mind. Poor customer service businesses tend to have staff who appear to be wearing blinkers. It's virtually impossible to get their attention and you have to wait at the counter for the two staff to finish their discussion about the weekend's activities before you can be served, which is of course, very frustrating.

Of course it's not just "walk up businesses" that struggle to meet the needs of their customers. Online businesses can be just as guilty. Sometimes they are worse because they never have to look their customers in the eye.

So how do we get it right? My best advice would be to jump on a plane and head to Japan. Failing that, think long and hard about your own attitude towards your customers. Are they your absolute number one priority? Do you say this but not really mean it? Are you totally committed to constantly finding better ways to serve them, to solve their problems and to make their lives easier?

Make this your mission and you will have a great business on your hands. In coming years I have absolutely no doubt that that service is going to be the new battleground for businesses to try and win bigger market share - so best to get ready for that now.