What is the difference between ‘Proactive Service” and the Japanese philosophy of ‘Kikubari’ ?

I recently received an invite to what looks like a very interesting webinar on PROACTIVE SERVICE. It's an important subject that lies back of the idea of Extra-Ordinary Customer Service and Experience.

It immediately got me thinking about the difference between this western 'proactive service' concept and the Japanese customer service philosophy of "KIKUBARI" - which has a similar meaning on the surface.

The world's gold standard Japanese Customer Service tradition has come to be branded as a philosophy called OMOTENASHI. In fact, this word is a catchall for a group of philosophies that includes, among others, this idea of KIKUBARI.

Being a Japanese word, it naturally has layers of deep meaning and clear linguistic roots. But from them we can understand the simple concept that captures its essence.

So what does KIKUBARI mean?

In Japanese language the word means "Ki + Kubari" literally means "Energy + Sharing around or distributing"

That can therefore be understood as taking on a task to save others from having to do it themselves. And thus, the concept of "anticipating other people's needs". This is how it is most frequently explained.

Now, both these ideas appear, on the surface, to be occupied with the idea of doing something before the customer asks for it. The effect being to:-

  • make it unnecessary for the customer/guest to express their needs/wants
  • communicate that their needs are foremost in your mind
  • removing the fear of an unwelcome response when asking for something

So what is the difference between 'Proactive Service' and 'KIKUBARI'?

I believe there is a small difference in motivation. From all the descriptions I have read of the KIKUBARI philosophy in practice, one idea comes across very frequently. In Japan it is something done "without any expectation of thanks". And more than that. Done in a way that silently communicates that no thanks are required. Bear in mind here that Japan is a NO TIPPING hospitality sector culture as compared with our service charge and customer service tipping culture here in the west.

Here is an enjoyable video clip of a spirited (and witty lady) in Japan explaining her take on 'OMOTENASHI'. Now I personally believe she's conflating kikubari and Omotenashi here, but nevertheless she gives a great example of Kikubari in the process. I've linked to the start of that part of the video, but do take a look at the whole video if your interest is piqued further. (If it doesn't start at this anecdote, fast forward to 2.45 seconds.)

Does this "no thanks required" proactive service go on in UK? Of course it does.

A year or so ago I had a wonderful customer service experience in my local ALDI that seems to capture this spirit. Packing my shopping in my usual hurry at checkout, I foolishly managed to smash a bottle of wine in the bag into which I had put it. Wine and glass pieces everywhere, leaking all over the floor and other items in the bag. The cashier immediately stopped to assist, called for assistance to get a replacement bottle of wine and while also mopping up, (I tried to help here...) told me I could also replace other items that had got wet in the process. Despite the fact it had been entirely my fault anyhow she said there would be no replacement charge for any of them.

I related this story to the manager a couple of visits later, by way of praise and thanks, and in doing so I said how I felt both very grateful and somewhat embarrassed by her kindness. He immediately showed concern that I might have felt in any way awkward to be on the receiving end of such service..... WOW!

That, I believe, is the spirit of KIKUBARI.

If you find this and the wider subject of the extraordinary Japanese Service culture interesting you might be interested to join my upcoming workshop at the end of November.