How to do Business calls to Japanese companies (with samples)
There are many advantages to talking on the phone over face-to-face contact; for one, it enables fast response times, and second, it is a very convenient means of communication. Yet, although the phone call may perhaps be one of the more personal ways to converse today – certain aspects of face-to-face communication may still be lost since you are using an external medium to communicate. When it comes to the phone call, this is mainly body language and, to some extent, tone, which can contribute to misunderstandings. This is especially true if the one you are communicating with were to be from another cultural context and/or speaking another language.
A basic understanding of [Japanese] phone manners and etiquette is advisable to have when you are intending to communicate with Japanese companies – and that is exactly what we will go over in this article. We will also present a few standard phrases both in Japanese (in case you’re able to converse in Japanese), and their meanings in English.
Calling a Japanese company – the basics
What is of utmost importance – the absolute fundamentals of communication with a Japanese business partner over the phone – is for you to always speak cheerfully, politely, and clearly, in order to prevent any potential misunderstandings. Furthermore, there are some other ironclad rules to always adhere to; firstly, even though working hours most often would be between 9 and 18, you should not call too early (as at 9 am), or too late (as in after 17), nor during lunch breaks. It is also important to make sure to take the call (if you are on the receiving end) within three calls.
If longer time goes by, add a “sorry to keep you waiting” (in Japanese: お待たせいたしました omatase itashimashita). On top of that, if you are in a place where you have a lot of disturbances around you (such as a loud work environment), then tell the caller that, and that you will call back later, but wait to hang up until the caller does so (the caller should always be the one to hang up).
Similarly, if you are making a phone call, you should have made proper preparations beforehand. As previously mentioned, avoid calling at certain hours, such as at the start and/or the end of the day, or during lunch breaks, and stay in a quiet location with good reception.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most Japanese do not speak English fluently, so being able to converse a little bit (perhaps enough to be able to conduct a conversation over the phone) in Japanese would go a long way.
Then, try to stick to the following template that shows how a conversation ideally should go:
- Greetings – introduce yourself (and where you are calling from, if you are the caller)
- Request to talk to the person you’re after (if that’s not the one that has answered/is calling you)
- When the person in question answers, introduce yourself again (optional; depends on step 2)
- Confirm that you can take the phone call in question at this time
- Get down to business as soon as possible
- Recite important information back, to make sure you’ve got it right, or confirm the corresponding recitation from the other party
- Thank the person on the other end (and hang up if you are the caller)
- Write down the details of whatever decisions you may have discussed in an email along with the date, time, specific conditions, etc
Basically, it is all about clarity; for example, making sure you carry something to take down notes with (be that a phone or a notepad, whatever works) – as you should always record information such as date and time, potential telephone numbers etcetera while reciting back to confirm. If you by some chance can’t hear the person properly – say so straight away, by saying something along the lines of: ‘I’m sorry, but you seem to be far away from the telephone. Can you tell me your name again?” (もういちど、おなまえをおうかがいしてもよろしいでしょうか). Clarifying is much better than missing information, and potentially (perhaps even inevitably) creating a misunderstanding. Finally, if the business is expected to take a long time – confirm that the other party actually has time for your call.
The Japanese Business Call
The scenarios when telephone etiquette skills could come in handy are quite a few, for example; when you are receiving emergency calls from HR or the sales department, or when you’re either making or taking calls from actual business partners. Furthermore, situations such as when you can’t get a hold of customers, and thus need to call those (or the other way around) can lead to the need of making a call to a Japanese business partner.
What follows are actual phrases, in Japanese with their English meanings, that are not only useful – but essential when it comes to Japanese phone business etiquette. You preferably know some Japanese and may thus be able to actually use these expressions in Japanese, but even if you do not understand a word of Japanese – even knowing these expressions and the rituals within the conversation itself, could go a long way to be able to hold a polite enough conversation in another language. It also enables you to understand why the Japanese business partner may use certain expressions that may not seem natural in your language.
When you start the conversation you should ensure you add a few polite phrases – these are merely conversation rituals, but of utmost importance when dealing with somebody from a Japanese company. These phrases work in one way or the other in both Japanese and English – so just because you do not speak the language does not mean you should not use them.
The perhaps most important phrase during the entire call, if you are answering the phone, would be the simple “Thank you for your help”. The Japanese version is (the slightly different): いつもおせわになっております itsumo osewa ni natteorimasu, with its meaning being closer to: “Thank you for/I appreciate your help/kindness.
If you on the other hand are on the receiving end of the call, and if it takes you longer than three calls to answer, add a “Thank you for waiting”; おまたせいたしました omatase itashimashita.
A common additional greeting (it is not always enough to merely acknowledge the other party) is おいそがしいところしつれいいたします oisogashii tokoro shitsurei itashimasu, which basically means “I’m sorry for bothering you during such a busy time”.
Other additional greetings are connected to [inconvenient] times when you are calling, for example: if it is early, you would add an あさはやくおそれいります asa hayaku osore irimasu; “I’m sorry for calling you this early in the morning”. The opposite (calling too late) of this is: “やぶんにしつれいいたします” yabun ni shitsurei itashimasu, which means: “I’m sorry for calling you this late”.
When you’re calling a business partner you should always inform the other party of the name of the company you are calling from. If you have introduced the company, but not yourself, make sure you provide your name at the end of the call. If you cannot reach, or are not reached by, the intended person, the party that is on the receiving end should be the one to call back.
When you have reached the company and shared pleasantries, you have to remember three specific things that you will need to tell them: the aforementioned greetings, and then the introduction of your name and the name of your company. You also need to ask for the correct person (if you do not have their direct number, that is). You would do this by simply asking for them. △△さんはいらっしゃいますでしょうか？△△ san wa irrashaimasudeshouka? means “Is Mr/Ms. in [the office]?”.
If the person is not available, you would obviously need to ask for additional help, something that is also fairly straightforward: 〇〇さまはいつごろおもどりでしょうか？ 〇〇 sama wa itsugoro omodorideshouka? which means “Could you tell me when he/she comes back to the office?” (why is he changing between san and sama??), or いつごろかいぎがおわられますでしょうか？itsugoro kaigi ga owararemasudeshouka?, meaning “Could you tell me when the meeting is finished?”, are both standard phrases to ask a receptionist or whomever may be of help in such a situation.
Once you know when you can try reaching them again, leave a short message. It will showcase not only your effort, but also your intentions. This can be done by saying something like: それでは、〇〇ごろまたおかけいたしますとおつたえください。××のけんでおはなししいことがございます, Soredewa, 〇〇 goro mata okakeitashimasu to otsutaekudasai. ×× no ken de ohanashishii koto ga gozaimasu: “Then, could you tell him/her that I am going to call him/her again around ××. I would like to talk about ××”
If your matter is urgent, and you already know the person well enough, ask for their mobile number.
そうしましたら、けいたいでんわのおでんわばんごうをおおしえいただくことはかのうでしょうか？soushimashitara, keitaidenwa no odenwabengou wo ooshieitadaku koto wa kanoudeshouka? (Then, could you tell me his/her mobile phone number?) Bear in mind that it is generally considered rude to ask the receptionist to call you back – but if you have a solid relationship with the client, it may be okay to do so.
When you have reached the correct person, follow the previously showcased template, make sure you add your greeting (いつもおせわになっております), and the name of your company as well as your name. Get down to business as soon as possible. Remember that when you (finally) speak to the person you were after in the first place, you do not say your name+tomoushimasu, but instead your name + desu.
Ending the call:
There are some phrases you can use when you are ending the call. You can, for example, thank the partner for their time: おいそがしいところありがとうございました oisogashii tokoro arigatou gozaimashita (Thank you for taking your time in such a busy moment).
When you are finishing up the call and are about to hang up, add an “excuse me” (しつれいいたします; shitsurei itashimasu). Since the caller should hang up first, wait for him/her to do so (if applicable), if you’re the caller, hang up when appropriate. There is an unspoken rule about “how to hang up”, namely to not do so forcefully (it could disturb the other party). However, this is only applicable if you are calling from a landline, as you can’t hang up in a disruptive way from a smartphone (if you wait to hang up until the end, obviously).
In the end, in all kinds of professional contact with a Japanese person and/or business – clarity and politeness are key. Even though calls are a more convenient way of communicating in terms of waiting times etc., you have to be aware of all that is lost over the line, such as body language, tone of voice, and so forth. That is why we cannot overemphasise the importance of preventing misunderstandings by, for example, taking down notes, only calling from an area with good reception, and so forth. As long as you remember to be properly prepared, polite, and have a basic understanding of Japanese [business] communication, you should be fine and well prepared to start conversing with Japanese business partners over the phone.
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