omotenashi bike service

Omotenashi Cycle Service

An Omotenashi Cycle Service experience in England

A few years, while researching the behaviours and attitudes that make Japanese customer service really stand out, I did a blog post about my favourite cycle shop in Kyoto. Here it is. Kyoto Bike Shop

Run by Kuroda-San, RJ Cycles, a friendly little highend cycle shop in Nakagyo Ward, operates in a fiercely competitive market. In a city of 1.5 million he estimated there were hundreds of bike shops though fewer at his prestige end of the market.

I got the chance to interview him to ask his opinion on what took to succeed. Not surprisingly he told me it was all about customer service – Omotenashi style service. And attention to detail.

4 years later..

How time flies !

I’m here, back in the middle of England, looking to have my prized Pinarello racing bike serviced and treated to some new components – new gear cables, new cassette and a shiny gold chain!

omotenashi bike service
omotenashi bike service

 As a rule I try and support independents, as that supports the community, so I began with google maps and started calling around.

There was quite a range of prices quoted for this relatively simple installation / service job but I wasn’t necessarily looking for the cheapest. I simply wanted a place where I felt they actually cared about giving good service at reasonable prices.

After calling 5 or 6 places I rang Chaineys Cycles in Milton Keynes. I got a friendly greeting, a reasonable quote and a clear explanation of how long it would take. “Bring it now and I’m confident it will be finished later this afternoon”. Sounds so simple, but I could not get any kind of a timeframe estimate from the other places I called.



Simple choice. I got in my car and headed on over.

Chainey's Cycles Milton Keynes
Chainey’s Cycles Milton Keynes

There I was greeted with a friendly smile by Mike, who took a look and gave me the confidence that he’d take great care of my pride and joy by actively listening to my introduction to the bike, the derailleur screw that might be stuck, the cable routing and so on.

And, as promised, 2 hours later I get a call. She’s all done and ready to pick up.

Chaineys Cycles Omotenashi

Chaineys Cycles Omotenashi

Why is this about Omotenashi style service?

Now here’s the thing. Chainey’s Cycles wasn’t the lowest quote, though it was actually close to being that. But thanks to the attentive, friendly service process I was very happy to buy some additional things I might well not have otherwise, to kind of say thanks and support their business and ended up spending more than I might have spent at the shop with the highest quote.

But what made me think of Omotenashi style service in this case? Well…

  • The initial welcome and the final goodbyes were genuine. That’s called Aisatsu in Japan.
  • Mike’s active listening to my requirements was impressive. That’s called Aizuchi.
  • The attention to detail was confidence building. That’s called Kodawari.
  • And Mike’s anticipation of my needs and anxieties made me confident that littel details would be paid attention to. Japanese call this Kikubari.  

Finally, before leaving, I wondered aloud if they had any valve screw covers. One was missing.

Here you are said Matt. Gold ones to match my new gold chain.

“How much?” , I asked.

“On the house” he replied.

Matt and Mike are both obviously passionate what they do and very focused on delivering a great customer experience. 

I’m impressed and highly recommend them. And so do all the people who have reviewed them on Tripadvisor Reviews

It's the little quiet gestures of kindness that really count

It really is the little gestures that make all the difference. This is, in my opinion, the essence of #omotenashi and the #customerexperience that comes from it.

Not the big, flamboyant expressions of welcome, nor even experiences such as the unexpected presentation of a birthday cake in a restaurant. Extroverts enjoy that form of service and treatment. But we're not all extroverts. Or, to put it more accurately, we're not all in an extrovert frame of mind all the time.

They all count, no doubt, but no....

It's the little gestures that are unasked for, done without waiting on a "thanks!" in settings where you don't tip - delivered by customer service professionals day in day out. Gestures that make a silent connection and make our lives feel good.

Today was the turn of the two ladies in the very pleasant and conveniently located Starbucks Silverstone. 

I'd walked in and claimed myself the last table prior to making my order and in the process had cleared away a couple of disposable cups and put them in the bin. As you do! One of the busy ladies behind the counter saw this and gave me a brief look of appreciation. Nothing more. And proceeded to discreetly prepare and hand me my usual large Americano before I had got to the cashier.

Omedetougoziemas and Arigatou - congratulations and thanks for your kindness.

That was a little moment of #omotenashi

#omotenashi #customerservice

McOmotenashi - even the fast food service has the touch!

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.

  1. Do you think they are all thoroughly trained by Mcdonalds, or does it come rather naturally to them?
  2. How much longer does it take to get served when being treated hugely politely like this?
  3. 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.

What does "Omotenashi" mean to a boutique hotel in Kyoto, Japan?


My impression of Kyoto!

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.




G.M. Keren Miers. Also a Triathlon athlete.

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.

The front of the Noku Hotel, Kyoto.
Great location near the Imperial Palace Park and subway station.

Right next to the Imperial Palace and Park

Inside the Imperial Palace

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.

Christel Takigawa introducing O-MO-TE-NA-SHI to the Olympics!

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."

Generously sized rooms

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.

The Noku Hotel "Omotenashi Team"


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.