If you are genuinely curious as what what “omotenashi culture” is all about, there really is only one way to find out.
I really love this story. Almost as much as I love watching Rugby!
Those of us who love Japanese culture and have been following the Rugby World Cup 2019 there will have probably come across stories about how the Japanese fans go around their stadiums (stadia?!) – picking up litter at the end of the game.
Actually, I recently posted one.
You can’t read them without coming away with a couple of observations.
1. Isn’t that a great advertisment for Japanese culture!
2. Wouldn’t it be nice if our fans did that here…. back in Europe, and other places.
Well, in the spirit of giving credit where it’s due, here is a nice story about Irish Rugby fans doing the same thing in Japan. And it should also be noted that these Irish fans are earning the praise of the Japanese for their approach to the game, sport in general and their “joie de vivre” – which they call “Craic”.
And if so, might there be some commercial lessons for us in that observation?
There are plenty of excellent CX white papers which speak to the importance of “consistency” across a wide range of service dimensions and “customer touchpoints” along the “customer journey“. All very logical and methodical.
(I always wince at the coldly analytical language used by CX professionals when referring to we, mere, ‘human beings’ in the CX context. As if we were just a cell in an Excel sheet, trickling down to a bottom line somewhere below)
And if there is one thing that is utterly consistent about the customer service in Japan, which IMHO leads to a lot of other positive CX outcomes, it is this….
Some of the original research I came across when I began my “omotenashi” project on where to find the best customer service in the world is particularly interesting, conducted by Nate Silver (a political pollster who accurately predicted President Obama’s first campaign win).
Two countries came first and second in his research on tipping and perceptions of great customer service.
Guess which they were? Coincidence? I think not.
So why is politeness so very important?
During my recent stay for several months in #kyoto I noticed that after a few days of being on the receiving end of relentlessly polite treatment, in every shop, bus, taxi,supermarket checkout, etc. that something happens.
One’s (for want of a better way of putting it) “barriers” come down. No longer are you subconsciously prepared all the time to (even occasionally) be flat out ignored, spoken to in a disrespectful way, dismissed or scowled at. And once these psychological barriers come down, you open up to all sorts of vendor-customer interactions. Every shop presents the possibility of making a new friend, winning a smile and generally being made to feel good about life.
And, speaking of politeness, one last thing…. literally.
There is a culture in Japan of what might best be described “Greetings”. And beyond the usual “Welcome, Hello” they also frequently deliver a genuine, polite, “goodbye”. A “Farewell Greeting”.
In many hospitality and retail settings in the west, you are lucky to even get the “hello”.
So if you are wondering where to start with your customer service training, try installing a corporate culture of being consistently polite to all your customers/guests. It costs nothing and is a highly effective way of starting a profitable and enjoyable relationship with them.
“Japanese soccer fans clean up stadium, showing why they are the nicest in the World Cup…” is the title of this short video. And not for the first time. They do it all the time.
So what has the Japanese sports fan habit of treating public spaces as one might treat one’s own home got to do with omotenashi ?
The ethos that lies behind omotenashi is “serving others with no expectation of thanks”. Just for the sake of it and just because it is the right thing to do.
And while none of us are there there to thank these decent young people personally, we all feel the same degree of respect and gratitude if for nothing other than the example they set.
Roll on the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. The world is about to get a Japanese master class in fair play, self respect, hospitality and friendship.
It is said, by those who analyse and study Japanese culture, that the three main drivers of social interaction are Face, Harmony and Empathy.
Kao, Wa and Omoiyari.
Taken together they serve as the social glue that binds Japanese into a tight, homogeneous culture that has clearly understood rules and etiquette.
The principle of KAO, or “face” is one of the fundamental drivers societies across the Far East. It directly affects people’s sense of pride, reputation and status.
In Japan, it is seen as highly important to preserve it by avoiding direct criticism as much as possible.
Wa means harmony, a highly important social value which underlies their ability to work closely in cooperative teams. At work, this comes across by avoiding assertive behaviour and a keenness to keep good relationships with coworkers despite differences in age, gender and background.
This is arguably the most fundamental value which possibly lies behind the other two. Without a sense of empathy you might not bother to seek harmonious social relationships, nor care about preserving other people’s “face”.
Here is an example of a text book that brings the concept into the modern e-communication world. A book entitled “Business emails with professional Empathy“.
The phrase “With Professional Empathy” might seem a little cold and calculating, and perhaps even less than genuine, but like everything else in Japan, there are ways to do something and better ways to do it. Rules and etiquette. This little book obviously puts together their concept of “best-practice” in this area.
But Japanese society is not alone in formalising and teaching to the subject of how to communicate with others in an appropriately empathetic way, using the right words and level of interest and genuine caring.
If you google up the title of this book in English, you will find quite a list of resources to inform along precisely the same lines. The only difference being, perhaps, that the quality of empathy is highly regarded in Japanese culture, and in western culture perhaps not such much.
Omotenashi levels of personalised customer service are not only experienced in 5 star hotels and the record number of Michelin starred restaurants across Japan. You will even find it in the fast food outlets.
During my recent stay in Kyoto I was interested to see what rush hour in a Mcdonalds looked like.
Would polite, courteous, empathetic service go out of the window under the pressure of rush hour demand?
Would impatient customers pressure the service crew past their usual calm, tolerant limits?
So I deliberately set out one day to catch a snapshot video. Unedited. And neither did I wait for a good bit. This is the only clip I took. Just what I saw in the first 90 seconds in the outlet.
- Do you think they are all thoroughly trained by Mcdonalds, or does it come rather naturally to them?
- How much longer does it take to get served when being treated hugely politely like this?
- Would you prefer to simply order with a touchscreen kiosk?
Well, now there comes a story about how the omotenashi customer experience is being introduced to an even deeper level in Mcdonalds, Japan.
“The staff members help customers choose their food items before they get in line at the counter and guide the customers to their seats. The staff members will then bring the orders to the customers’ tables.”
“The fast-food giant deploying special staff members at its 75 outlets in Shizuoka Prefecture and plans to cover 1,500 restaurants, or half of its outlets in Japan, by the end of this year.”
It’s interesting, isn’t it? And I would love to see the Customer eXperience ROI on this, as well.
In my enjoyable 3 month stay in Kyoto, Japan, researching the extraordinary omotenashi customer service culture, I was lucky to have been loaned a bicycle to get around on by my homestay host. One he had borrowed from a friend of his.
Little did my host know that I love cycling and that I would go on to ride this “mama chari” ladies step-thru city bike a total of about 2,000 kms over the next 90 days. I went everywhere! Everyday. Averaging about 30 kms a day.
Now Kyoto is very cycle friendly city. It is mainly pretty flat, has nice wide boulevards, wide pavements (that’s sidewalks to my American readers) and as for the overall size, it is a city of about 1.5 million people.
As a result of this combination of geography and bike friendly design, there are lots of cycle shops and they’re divided into two main types:-
1. High End (expensive) “pro bike” shops selling the latest models of the top brands and technology.
2. The rest – mainly comprising “mama-chari”, city bikes, kids bikes and budget spec. electric bikes
There are approximately 30 of the High End “pro bike” shops and quite possibly several hundred of the rest. They seem to be on every street corner by my observations riding all over the city.
It’s a competitive business then!
So – if you are in this highly competitive business, how do you survive / compete? as the industry has a relatively low capital investment barrier to entry?
Obviously by a combination of customer acquisition and customer retention.
How do you achieve that?
By delivering memorable, polished Customer Service – which leads to increased word of mouth recommendations -> customer acquisition + retention.
Q. What form does that customer service take in Japan, where expectations of customer service are sky high? Because the way you treat the customer – courtesy, politeness, friendliness is taken for granted here.
A. Even higher levels of the professionalism with which you deliver the product or service:- product knowledge/expertise, new bikes and bike repair/service activities.
So today I get to interview Kuroda-San – the owner of RJ Cycles,
one of the 30 or so high end pro-bike shop on one of the main arteries in Kyoto, know as Marutamachidori.R
I met him in my first week in Kyoto when I dropped into his shop to see some of the latest cycling technology and models, and quite coincidentally met him and his wife up at a convenience store in a small village up in the hills above the city a couple of weeks later. He was off to do one of his mountain bike trail afternoons, and I was doing a circuit in the northern hills above #kyoto
As he was on my regular route home from “downtown” – I got to visit his shop several times and get to know him.
Let’s see what he has to say about “Omotenashi” customer service. Is it something he is familiar with? And what other aspects of the customer experience model are important to him?C
Today I have been invited to meet Keren Miers, the General Manager of the Noku Hotel, Kyoto. He is a seasoned international hotel manager who has long experience in Asia and Japan in particular. Keren is not only the G.M. of one of Kyoto’s top hotels, but also leads an active sporting life as successful Triathlon competitor.
The Noku is a stylish, polished, 81 room “boutique” hotel that caters to visitors to Japan, in a super location right next to the Kyoto Imperial Palace and very close to convenient subway transport stations.
Boutique hotels generally have the freedom to be designed in ways to represent their vision of the local culture and to manage themselves in the same way. But they also face the same challenges as other large hotels catering to inbound overseas visitors with their particular needs and varied cultural perspectives.
So what does Omotenashi mean in practice?
I’m obviously interested to learn from Keren what the famous Japanese “Omotenashi” customer service philosophy means in theory and in practice to a top manager in this kind of venue.
Q. Hello Keren. Thank you for the invitation. Please tell me about your professional experience here in Asia.
“Hello Paul. Welcome to Kyoto. And welcome to the Noku Hotel
I started my hospitality career in 1978 in Australia and moved to Saipan in 1997 which had a lot of Japanese visitors at the time. In 2002 I undertook my first project in Japan, based in Tokyo, where I managed a portfolio of top quality serviced-apartments in 5 locations across the city. I finally came to Kyoto in 2017 when I was appointed General Manager of this interesting and exciting Noku Hotel.
In that time I have seen the inbound tourism industry to Japan grow from strength to strength from around 5 million annual visitors to over 30 million – and the excitement is building as we head into the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Olympics.”
Q. What about Omotenashi? Is it an important part of what you offer?
“Since the awarding of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, “Omotenashi” has become a buzzword for the excellent customer service and hospitality visitors to Japan can expect.
Before that, it was not actually a word that the Japanese government had tried to particularly promote. But now the word appears much more frequently in marketing literature across the hospitality and customer service world.
Q. But for people who have come across this word, Omotenashi has obviously come to mean great service in the Japanese style.
“Yes. But in my opinion, “Omotenashi” quality Customer Service can sometimes seem a little robotic to non-Japanese. That’s because the behaviours are based on exceptionally polite Japanese language conventions which has nuances that visitors to Japan obviously cannot understand.
But once you get past that, there is much more to it than just exceptional politeness and courtesy”.
Q. So how do you and your team deliver this Omotenashi spirit in practice to both your Japanese guests and your overseas visitors?
“Well, in the Noku Hotel we actually aim to take our own Omotenashi service spirit to a higher level. We do this by trying our best to make it personal and responsive as well as highly courteous and polite.
We deliberately give our staff permission to use their own initiative to offer higher levels of personal, intelligent, attentive service. We teach our teams to put themselves in the shoes of the guest at all times. Learning to think and feel as a guest would.
A good example would be recently, when one of our team was asked for a special kind of foam pillow by one of our guests and took it upon himself to go out and buy one immediately. In our service culture he didn’t need to ask permission to do that and his initiative was used as a learning example to other team members.”
Q. Do you need to train new staff on how to be polite and courteous?
“We never have to do that. These habits are established in Japanese society since childhood. Respect for elders, teachers, parents and guests.
What is also interesting is that we sometimes find new staff who have come from entirely different professional backgrounds and we never have to school them on any aspect of the courtesy and politeness expected in the hospitality industry.
Apart from some process training we only need to give them the confidence to deliver value-added hospitality by letting them know the things they can do for guests without asking for permission.
That way they are able to be more spontaneous and provide memorable experiences for our guests that go beyond any possible language barriers on either side.”
Q. I notice the aesthetic in the rooms is a mix of minimalist Japanese design and western convenience. And the rooms are very large compared with most hotels in Japan I have been used to staying in. Was that deliberate?
“Yes, Paul. That comes from the freedom we had as a boutique property at the initial project design phase. Each of the rooms has it’s own unique feeling and colour combinations with specially curated artwork.
Even though we are a Singaporean brand, we connect with and respect Kyoto culture.
We have tried to capture the essence of Japanese design while at the same time meeting the needs of our international visitors who expect much larger rooms than you generally find in Japan.”
The challenge of Social Media
Q. What is your experience with Social Media these days?
“That’s a great question! Social Media is so important to guests now, as a way to find the best places to stay and as a way to provide feedback themselves.
I’m proud to say that we get overwhelmingly positive reviews on TripAdvisor and the Online Travel Agent booking sites. We are ranked in the top 25 of quality rankings for Kyoto’s hospitality providers on TripAdvisor. It’s one of my tasks to respond to guests who leave feedback, both positive and on rare occasion, negative. So I can make sure things are better for the next guests. I give them the courtesy of thanks, acknowledgement and apologies if anything has ever gone wrong.
Our team are regularly mentioned for the great customer service that they provide our guests.
Perhaps that courtesy on social media is also part of our Omotenashi!”
Thank you for your invitation and your hospitality today Keren.
I found my visit with Keren Miers in the Noku Hotel very interesting. It seems to show that the western management approach of giving personal autonomy to team members can be successfully married to the Japanese tradition of heartfelt, polite “omotenashi” customer service, to deliver a higher level of enjoyable, memorable Customer eXperience.
Everything the Japanese touch, turns to art.
One of the key ingredients in the Japanese approach to delivering a great customer experience is their attention to detail and their habit of turning everything they do into a form of art.
Whether that is artistically created culinary dishes or in this case artistically created cocktails. But there is also a whole range of “Service Process Performance Art” exhibitions such as the Shinkansen cleaning 7 minute miracle and this amazing young lady creating rice dumplings
What all these activities have in common is that they raise the mundane to the sublime. They raise the person creating the moment from a “worker” to an artist and in the process give that person’s life a higher purpose, to daily seek artistic perfection in the performance of their craft.
There are two Japanese words around these ideas. “Kodawari” is a word used to express the idea of a relentless and almost obsessive pursuit of perfection and “Kata“, a word meaning “form”. The kind of perfect “form” that comes from hundreds of repetitions.
Both of these ideas are component parts of the wider culture of delivering an amazing customer experience in Japan that they call “Omotenashi”.
It is no surprise, therefore, that two of the bars in this interesting article describe themselves as providing an “omotenashi” style customer service.
This article is interesting because, unlike a lot of customer service “research”, it’s based on some hard data.
And it arrives at conclusions that are, to many, surprising.
To summarise the article:-
Some social scientists devised an experiment to try and test the effect of happy, smiling customer service in a real world scenario. And what the effect was on the sale compared with a sad or neutral facial expression.
I won’t spoil the plot – you read it.
Smiling is just one of several elements of non-verbal body language. It is also the one that is most easily detected as being fake or genuine.
The most well known scientist to have done research into the “technology” of smiling was called Guillaume Duchenne and he identified two types of smile. One which includes raiding the cheeks and smiling around the eyes, the other without.
More recently the expression “Pan Am”, or BOTOX smile has been coined to describe a totally fake smile. Having worked in the airline business for a while I think I know where this came from!
My interest comes from what I have observed about customer service in Japan. What they call “Omotenashi” service. Generally rated to be the best in the world. My observation is that it is not a culture that uses or forces a big smile in service situations. I have never felt myself on the receiving end of an inauthentic facial expression.
The wordless component of their customer service authenticity appears to come from their attention to detail and consistent attentiveness throughout the process, from initial greeting to polite goodbye.
In Japan, it is not about the smile – it’s about the attentiveness. And that is where the all important authenticity comes from.
Here in the west, MBA equipped “customer experience” consultants evangelise in impenetrable buzzword jargon about about the importance of “positive endpoints” in the “customer Journey” – (Translation – about how the “goodbye at the end” represents the best opportunity to connect with your customer.) All as if this is some kind of ground-breaking rocket-science insight.
Meanwhile, in Japan, they do this routinely as a natural part of their extraordinary “Omotenashi” customer service culture. With a polite bow and a smile. “When the young sales associate walked me out to the sidewalk to bow and thank me for coming into the store, I knew I wasn’t in Chicago anymore. After all, I hadn’t even bought anything.”
We have so much to learn….while the most effective behaviours in the world’s best-practice customer service culture example are there for all to see. Right in front of our eyes.
Omotenashi, a word originally used to describe the Japanese ethos of extraordinary hospitality and customer service has more recently come to be used to describe excellence in “customer experience”.
The messaging is that if you care enough about your customers you will design your products and services to demonstrate that mindset. Everything about the brand should demonstrate it is “customer centric” in every way. In this way you also communicate that your future relationship with the brand will be a pleasant experience.
That it wasn’t merely a transaction for them.
One of the best examples of this use of Omotenashi is the Japanese automotive brand LEXUS. They’ve built their messaging around Omotenashi and what they believe it really means to them, their brand and their relationships with their customers. Lexus have obviously thought deeply about the attitudes and philosophy behind Omotenashi and come to the conclusion that it applies to every part of the customer journey.
From the form and function ideas behind the vehicle’s original CAD drawings through to the technical and customer service training their dealership employees are given. It’s Omotenashi from start to finish.
Technology to the rescue!
Japan is going to be hosting the 2019 Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and the 2021 Masters Games (games for old people!).
It's an expensive business playing host and the organisers have legitimate concerns about how to host so many visitors, many of whom will be coming to the country without a word of Japanese beyond "Sayonara!" And not much interest in learning, either.
But their first challenge is attracting those visitors, because one look at an international airline route map makes the challenge fairly clear.
Tokyo, Japan is about as far away from the advanced western economies as it is possible to be. Almost as far away from west coast USA as it is from Europe. So it's going to be important to let potential visitors know they will get a great welcome, a trip that won't break the bank and plenty of attractions to see apart from the games events.
To that end, Japan has been promoting their legendary culture of advanced hospitality known as Omotenashi. Not only have they been letting the world know that visitors can expect to be treated like royalty, but they have also been preparing the groundwork, so to speak, with a countrywide programme of "Omotenashi Certification". Something like Michelin Stars for their thousands of hotels, restaurants and other tourist attractions.
For those of you who can read Japanese (with its three written language scripts - hiragana, katakana and thousands of kanji characters), here is a link to the certification website. See the problem? English is not widely spoken in Japan and their own language is one of the hardest to learn. And it is no surprise that their 1 Star Omotenashi rating is mainly about certifying that you have put up signage in languages other than Japanese.
But one thing is certain and that is that these games are going to be the most futuristic ever seen, delivered by a society that is at the top of its technological game. Expect robots. Lots of robots. And driverless cars. And augmented reality smartphone apps. And more.
Technology to the rescue
One company has realised one of the problems and come up with a useful solution. Mass transport in Japan means getting on a train. Or the subway. Or a Bullet Train. And going from one of their thousands of train stations to another. Here's a mind-boggling statistic. Of the 51 Busiest Train Stations in the world, all but six are located in Japan.
Imagine trying to navigate your way around Japan through these huge stations and not understanding a single word of the many announcements? I used to have to do this and it is overwhelming.
This company is using technology to do just that. Generating instant translations of any announcements by using a smartphone. Rather cool I think. And given an interesting name. The Omotenashi Guide. All part of the high technology welcome that awaits us.
I don't mind admitting that I find the prospect of robotic baristas unsettling and counter-intuitive. I have always associated coffee shops with being a place to socialise - and not only with friends but also with members of the crew. How does one chat to a robot anyhow?
I prefer my coffee (double espresso thanks..) delivered up with a smile and a dash of genuine #omotenashi hospitality. Are any of you all ready for this robot revolution? I'm not.
It is not as if there isn't a mountain of anecdotal evidence that the customer service in Japan is extraordinary....and anybody who has visited Japan will tell you it's really special from the moment you arrive at the airport.
The Japanese have a word for this level of service, hospitality and attention. "O-MO-TEN-A-SHI". So if you are a customer service/experience professional you should be interested to learn about the highly effective behavioural science behind their service culture - what they're doing, why and how they do it.
Once you understand the Japanese Customer Experience ethos that goes by the marketing buzzword "Omotenashi", it is not difficult to guess which city comes first in the number of Michelin Stars....
Tokyo comes 1st, with more than twice the number of Michelin stars than 2nd place Paris. And of the top 19 cities, 4 are in Japan. Whereas their extraordinary 'customer service' is not one of the criteria by which Michelin Star restaurants are rated and given stars, an obsession with detail and the aesthetic is part and parcel of everything they do.
They have a word for this philosophy. It's 'Kodawari'. It's one part of the overall customer experience model they operate to. And what better way to honour your customers than by preparing culinary masterpieces with supreme care, relentless attention to detail and only the very freshest ingredients. おいしい
I just love this story. On several levels.
Firstly, there's the element of UK-centric incredulity. Here, in a service culture that routinely abuses its customers. 20 mere seconds? Secondly, in Japan it's a non-story, and certainly not one to make the front page of the state media. Any Japanese person would agree that of course they ought to apologise. "What's strange, or newsworthy, about that?"
I hear some Japanese people thinking, especially as the head of the rail network has yet to resign over it.... And thirdly there are the comments under the article - themselves rather enlightening. Japanese expectations of customer service are on another planet. There is much we could learn from them.
The art of delivering exceptional customer experiences is something every culture can excel at in their own ways. If you understand the elements that go in to the process....
Not unsurprisingly though, this Japanese blogger describes the "Omotenashi" extraordinary customer service ethos in Japan as "something pre-programmed into every Japanese person".
Fortunately, we're all human, and the drivers behind the excellent customer experience outcomes there in Japan are just as prevalent in our societies in the west. But our societies do differ culturally and perhaps therefore, we need to nurture, encourage and facilitate them in different ways.
Such a process begins with understanding what the attitudes and behaviors behind the 'Omotenashi' customer experience actually are.
The Japanese Art of Exceptional Experiences
There's an in interesting account by Jan Carlzon ex-airline CEO and writer of a great customer service book called "Moments of Truth".
He relates how he was staying in The Oriental Bangkok Hotel and asked the General Manager how it was that they had won a Best Hotel in the World accolade for 10 years in a row.
The manager replied “I can’t pinpoint anything special, but there could be one thing, Jan. And that could be that we have not given the authority to our front-line people to say “no” to our customers,” he said. “We have only given them the authority to say “yes” to our customers’ demands and requests. If they, for any reason,” he said, “if they have to say ‘no,’—because that happens, of course; they have to say ‘no’ to special requests—then,” he said, “but not before then, they have to ask for permission from their own managers.”
"Not likely, here in U.K.", I hear you say.
Worse than "not likely", actually. Jan goes on to lament his observation that in the west, almost the exact opposite is often the case. That front line customer service staff only have the authority to say "NO" to any special request and need to ask for permission to do any special favours. He suggests that this all comes as a result of our cultural habit of rigidly following the “service standard” – whatever the impact on the customer. And almost not a week goes by here in U.K. when there isn't a story in the newspapers highlighting an example of slavish rule-following customer "service" intransigence.
Thailand's service culture
But two things interest me personally about this story. Firstly, I lived in Thailand for 17 years and know the hotel very well, having dined there and enjoyed the “Bamboo” jazz bar on many occasions! And thus, I understand the culture and society I married in to....
Yes. The service is superb. But these subservient behaviours by front-line Thai customer service staff come as a result of the fact they would not dare decline a "special request" - never knowing the social status of the person doing the asking. Politician, ultra-rich family name, police general, etc. And no, this is not an aspect of Thai society/culture that I in any way admire. It only works because there are so many managers floating around to defer to. Something our 1st world economy cannot afford.
In Japan they also avoid saying "no"
In Japan, the service process/baseline-standard is also superb, well-practiced and rules-based. As a result, like us here in the west, they also have their difficulties in acceding to 'special requests'. (For the most part one doesn't mind much anyhow because the baseline service standard is so high). But there is another reason they 'get away' with a measure of intransigence on occasion.
You see, the Japanese hardly ever use the word “no” to one another And especially not in customer service settings. Using it is thought of as a bit blunt. Rather rude. As a result they have developed many other ways to say “no” much more politely.
Expressions such as, “A little bit…,” or “How interesting,” or “May we give that our best consideration,” or “This is complicated", pause.... "but…” When someone says these things, they are very politely, but clearly, telling you “no”.
For example: You have queued up to buy a ticket for the bus and there are no seats left. The ticket counter person won’t tell you straight “There are no tickets left.” Instead he or she will probably keep you waiting, pretending they are looking for something on the computer, smile awkwardly, and say a version of “Finding seats can be difficult.” Any Japanese person will at this stage immediately understand their request is not deliverable and appreciate the politeness with which they have been refused service.
This is an example of what they call "tatemae". A polite 'front' Japanese are adept at putting up so as not to be too confrontational. The opposite idea to 'tatamae' is the word "honne"
Honne and tatemae are Japanese words that describe the contrast between a person's true feelings and desires (本音 hon'ne, "true sound") and the behavior and opinions one displays in public (建前tatemae, "built in front", "façade").
The Japanese deploy "Tatamae" with great skill in delivering their 'OMOTENASHI" customer service culture so their guests and customers never have to deal with the unpleasant experience of being told flat out "NO" to a request. And that's one reason the customer experience in Japan leaves such a good after-taste.
The highly successful behavioural psychology 'technology' behind the Japanese 'Omotenashi' Customer Service culture is just as applicable to the online world as it is in face to face customer service contexts.
This is because one of their core insights is that those anonymous little people we all call 'customers' are actually your 'guests' - and not just in hotel and restaurant hospitality venues. The online 'customer' is now to be treated as an honoured guest in your 'online establishment' and accorded all the proactive needs-servicing, tolerance and heartfelt consideration that a guest in your own home would expect to receive.
In the online world these insights can be applied in the same way.
Not surprisingly therefore, there are already marketing consultancies which promote the idea of "Digital Omotenashi".
It is no coincidence that the first page of a website is called your HOME PAGE. You have effectively invited a customer (now your virtual guest) into your online home and from there on it is your duty to make them feel at home, understand their way around and know how to ask for your assistance if they need it. The emergence of online chat and Live Help applications illustrates this in one, albeit labour intensive way.
But there are more specific functional design elements that can be incorporated across several levels of the online service offering. Most focus on technology's ability to appear to anticipate user needs proactively, and that is certainly an important part of this overall area of expertise. But there are other elements that comprise a genuinely Digital Omotenashi experience.
Once you deconstruct the specific, underlying attitudes and behaviours behind Omotenashi customer service culture it is easy to see how they can be interpreted, applied and adapted consistently across ALL your customer-facing channels.
The thing is to start from a comprehensive and coherent model of how you see your relationship with your 'customers' and how, therefore you communicate with them that they are important to you and not just a source of revenue.
A key insight from the Japanese "Omotenashi" customer service culture comes from their version of our "The Customer is King" idea. They use the word "O-kyaku" for "customer" which, in Japanese, also happens to mean "guest". From that stems the transformative idea that "customers" in all "business spaces", not just the hospitality industry, are actually guests and should be treated as such.
But it works the other way round as well - the idea that guests are also customers. This is something that some conservative hoteliers sometimes forget.
A stay in a hotel is an opportunity to enjoy many new experiences - culinary and otherwise - because a hotel should be more than just a place to put your head down. And guests are happy to pay for these experiences, especially if organising them is made attractive and effortless.
But some hotels operate as if, once pre-payment for the room has been received, their scope of influence to persuade their guests to eat and drink and use other fee-earning facilities in-house is minimal.
This is where technology can play an important role and state of the art in-room information tablets such as those from crave-emenu.com , based here in U.K., are delivering rich information about their inhouse FnB outlets, activities, other fee-earning facilities and much more functionality besides, that contributes to positive customer experiences.
But why a tablet, not a smartphone?
A tablet is the ideal size and form factor to deliver rich multimedia information experiences. A form factor, resolution and performance the hotel has control over. A smart phone is too small to do justice to the information and the in-room TV in a fixed position is too large and far away to browse with.
What about in-room printed directories?
While most hotels still provide printed directories, in-room information tablets offer far more functionality. They earn their keep by helping to integrate rich multimedia information into systems that cross-sell other services and experiences. And cross-selling doesn't have to mean 'hard-sell'. Rather, it is part of the customer service to inform the guests of their options and facilitate their booking.
Integrated Resorts lead the way
The casino/gaming "integrated resort" world has been first to recognise the commercial R.O.I. benefits of this technology because their business models require them to optimise and manage EVERY MOMENT of their guest/customer's stay.
But much of the rest of the hospitality management world is still fairly conservative and adoption/leveraging of these technologies is still only in its early days.
In the hospitality industry, it is no longer enough to merely play host to your guests. The industry is now challenged to provide for and manage every aspect of their guest's Customer Experience. Perhaps the industry needs renaming...
The Japanese call this approach to delivering an extraordinary customer experience, "Omotenashi".
One of the surprising things I uncovered while researching the amazing customer service culture of Japan was that it is considered an 'introvert's heaven'.
It's important because introverts comprise about 15% of the population, though some say up to 30%. And they are just as deserving of a customer service culture that meets their needs as anybody else. Here is some background on the Most introverted countries and Japan gets a mention here, as follows:-
"What people say: “But at some point it hit me: I’m an introvert and Japan is a country that rewards introverted behaviour. Suddenly I knew why I never felt very comfortable in the US, where extroverted behaviour is praised … I have often said that if I were going to design my own country, it would resemble Japan”.
Why the Japanese service culture excels
To understand why Japan is such a great place for introverts we firstly need to understand what customer service behaviours introverts appreciate and then understand how the Japanese customer service culture delivers those things so effortlessly.
What introverts don't want is relentless, intrusive 'customer service' interactions that require them to respond, engage and give bubbly 'feedback'. The kind of 'customer service' interactions that are really designed to positively stroke the giver, not the receiver. "Is everything fine with your meal?" is not something that is helpful to introverts. They don't particularly enjoy having to answer truthfully or otherwise....
It is in addressing this need that the Japanese customer service attitude of "KIKUBARI" is so effective. An inherent part of their "Omotenashi" service ethos, Kikubari is an attitude of proactive, anticipatory service. One that is characterised by doing things for the customer before they are forced to ask for it. But more importantly, it is a mindset that communicates non-verbally that no thanks are expected. Perfect when serving introverts.
The other Japanese national trait that works so well here is their mastery of non-verbal language; a fluency that stems from their habit of quiet, passive observation. It is nothing we couldn't learn to master here, but something that appears to be routine, natural and effortless there.
If you find the subject of "Omotenashi" Japanese customer service excellence interesting and would like to add an understanding to your professional credentials, why not join us on November 29th in a Milton Keynes location
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.
This level of service is such an integral part of their culture that they have a special word for it. OMOTENASHI
You'll come across this word more and more leading up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as more and more companies associate themselves with the philosophy in their marketing literature. And not just companies in the hospitality business.
Here we have Lexus, a car manufacturer talking about it.
And here we have an article about a train service upgrade that references the Omotenashi philosophy.
The only barrier to better understanding the idea is that there appear to be multiple definitions of the Omotenashi word. From 'selfless hospitality' to 'anticipating needs'.
But there is more to this important subject these days than delivering great customer service. What is more important is the delivery of a broader extraordinary Customer Experience. Customer Service is a cornerstone of that, but there are other important elements that go in to it.
- There is the service setting itself. How it looks, sounds and feels, and the attention to detail that is needed to create and sustain it. The Japanese excel at that and have a special word for it. Kodawari - roughy translated as 'an obsession with detail'.
- Then there is the attitude towards customers themselves. How are they viewed? Merely as a revenue source, or something more important? The Japanese have a special word for that, too. Okyakusama, best translated as "The guest is a God"
- They also have a special cultural word for the idea of anticipating customer needs before being asked for something. That's called "Kikubari". And there are several other components to their customer service model.
What makes the Japanese example so interesting is that it provides us here in U.K. with a model to study, learn from, emulate and use as inspiration to raise our own customer service games. And with it, deliver our own extraordinary Customer Experiences.
If you would like to know more about how the Japanese deliver their extraordinary Customer Experiences, why not join us for ½ a day on November 29th in Milton Keynes to learn all about it?
Unless you have been to Japan it is a bit difficult to understand how extraordinary the customer service is there. I can relate my positive experiences but I obviously have an agenda!
Instead, here in a 1 minute video mashup are three comments from non-Japanese about their experience and opinion of it. I think they sum it up perfectly.
The main question I am often asked is this. "Is extraordinary Japanese customer service something only the Japanese can deliver?"
I believe not. Rather, the thing that might separate them from us is their ability to deliver and sustain these service behaviours equally across all price points and industries. They train for it just as we in the west do. But they TAKE PLEASURE in serving. A quiet pleasure that is referred to broadly as OMOTENASHI.
Join us in my upcoming ½ day workshop in London to find out how and why they find that pleasure and what they do so consistently. Understand the model of their service and hospitality attitudes and behaviours. Anybody with a professional role in the world of customer service ought to be interested in learning about this model and how we can apply it to our U.K. context.
Here's a well-written blog article that captures some of the flavour of the global gold-standard Japanese customer service and briefly introduces the "OMOTENASHI" word without going in to too much depth.
In doing so it serves as a good introduction for those professionally interested in the extraordinary service culture in Japan.
The article succinctly covers a number of the key aspects of the subject, from the 'equality of service' that would see you or I receive the same gracious service as President Obama did, to the way in which the service etiquette is beginning to be exported through brands such as UNIQLO
All in all, worth a quick read!
Want to know more?
If you are in a customer service / hospitality profession and this subject interests, why not consider attending one of our upcoming ½ day workshops to add an in depth understanding to your professional credentials?
You'll gain a professional understanding the specific customer service attitudes and resulting behaviours that combine to create a truly extraordinary customer experience and then understand how to apply them to your customer service context here in U.K.
Drop me a line if you would like to know more.