Exceptional customer service is something you never forget, something that I learned while growing up in a small town in Japan. Embedded in Japanese culture is the concept of “Okyaku-sama Ichiban” (“customer first”). Two of my fondest lessons in outstanding customer service are rooted in my childhood.

These remarkable experiences helped me develop a deep, personal understanding of what it means and what it takes to be a “brand”.

Lesson 1: Keep Your Promises

In 1985, my parents took my little sisters and me to the International Exposition in Tsukuba, Japan. I didn’t even know what an expo was, but my parents said that I would be able to experience Mirai (“the future”) and see what the 21st century would look like. The year 2001 seemed an eternity away to a 12 year-old girl. At this truly international event, attendance was over 20 million; 48 countries presented their proudest technological achievements.

The expo took place both indoors and outdoors with every technological innovation you can possibly imagine. “That’s me!” I remember seeing my own face projected as we walked past an enormous TV screen that was 10,000 times larger than our home TV. There were lots of robots. One interpreted music notes on the fly and played a piano without making a mistake. Another was “Cleaner Shark,” a shark-shaped robot that could “swim” through and vacuum your house.

After all these amazing exhibits, we searched for an exhibit with no line and chose the Japan Post pavilion. There, you could send a postcard to your “future” self. A cheerful pavilion attendant with a gentle smile gave me a blank postcard. She told me to write whatever I wanted and drop it in the bright red mailbox. The mailbox had a label – ポストカプセル (“Post Capsule”). Both my sister and I wrote ourselves messages and dropped them in the mailbox, and forgot all about it.

Sixteen years later, in 2001, I was living in the U.S. when I received a phone call from my mother and sister back in Japan. They were both excited and kept shouting, “It’s here, it’s here!” I asked, “What’s going on? What’s here?” It was my postcard from the expo! My sister got her postcard in the mail too. I was so surprised! Japan Post kept their promise!

Japan Post had stored all the 1985 postcards in a safe place and then delivered every single postcard to the original addressee. There must have been millions of postcards, and the postage was much more expensive compared to 16 years ago. Japan Post delivered anyway.

I was excited, and a bit nervous thanks to my sister’s nonstop giggling over the phone. I couldn’t remember what I wrote, and she wouldn’t tell me, saying, “It’s really funny and you can look at it the next time you visit Japan.” On my next trip home I finally had a chance to see my postcard. In my little girl’s handwriting, I had asked my future self: “What are you doing now? Are you married yet? Do you have a good looking husband? It also had a drawing of “future” me illustrating what I would look like. Somehow I had blond hair, which really made me chuckle.

Not only did Japan Post keep a promise made 16 years before, but they found a personal, emotional way to connect with their customers. They created a beautiful memory for my entire family.

Lesson 2: Admit Mistakes And Do The Right Thing

I like chocolate now, but when I was a little girl, I really loved chocolate. Getting chocolate was a big deal because my mom didn’t usually allow my sisters and me to have sweets. Instead, our afternoon snack generally consisted of boring rice crackers and homemade carrot juice.

One clear fall day when I was 10 years old, I earned a gold medal for my calligraphy work. As a reward, my mom told me that I could go by myself to the corner store to pick out a chocolate. I remember skipping there to make my selection. Choosing carefully, I picked a candy bar that was shaped like a tree log. Excited, I ran home to try this special treat.

Quickly removing the wrapper, I was immediately confused. It wasn’t the customary silky brown chocolate that I expected to see. Instead, my beloved chocolate was a strange grayish white and cracked. I was devastated! Something was clearly wrong with this chocolate.

Checking the package for the expiration date, I spotted contact information for the company’s customer service. I decided to write to them about this unjust experience. Carefully following the instructions, I explained the situation in detail, including the date and place of purchase. Finally, I enclosed the wrapper, mailed my claim and forgot about it.

One cold morning a few months later, a large box arrived, addressed to me. My grandfather brought it into the house, with my curious sister at his heels. I’d never gotten a package before! Tingling with anticipation, I opened my first ever package. Inside the box was filled with all kinds of chocolates – every possible type and taste!  And buried in the chocolates was an envelope that held an apology letter from the company’s CEO. I could not believe my eyes. I was so surprised and happy! This was better than Halloween or Christmas!

The big chocolate company took a little girl’s claim very seriously. The chocolate company acknowledged their mistake and they went above and beyond to correct it. They created a lifetime memory for me. I now live in the U.S. but every time I visit Japan, I make a point to buy their chocolates. I am forever loyal to this brand.

How Do You Build Brand Loyalty?

It’s quite simple: you deliver on what you promised and follow through with your commitments. And when your company makes a mistake (which it will sometimes), you respond by doing the right thing. Transformation is possible – what a brand does after a mistake is what defines it.

We live in a fast, hyper-connected, borderless world. When interacting with your customers digitally and socially, it’s important not to forget the real human beings behind their usernames. That human connection is more important now than ever. A great brand keeps its promise and does the right thing, just like the two thoughtful companies that created memories for my family and me. I will never forget those companies.