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Customer Experience

Omotenashi: 3 Japanese lessons for service desks

By Ludo Bergkamp on November, 8 2018

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Ludo Bergkamp

One of the lesser known Japanese concepts is Omotenashi. Which 3 lessons for service desks can be drawn from this concept?

During this years’ football World Cup, Japanese culture became an area of interests. The images of Blue Samurai supporters cleaning up the stands after the game were viewed by many. It seemed like an inconceivable notion to us, but to the Japanese supporters, it was the most natural thing in the world. And there’s more.

Omotenashi as an example of service excellence

In the winter of 2017, I went on holiday to my second home country of Japan. After three different flights, I finally made it to Sapporo airport, near Siberia. After customs, I encountered a number of desks for renting SIM cards.

The lady behind the desk spoke perfectly decent English and helped me incredibly quickly. She asked for my passport and then filled out my name and other personal details on the contract form herself; all I needed to do was add my address and then sign the form. She then worked my mobile phone like a pro to replaced my Dutch SIM with a Japanese one. She turned my phone back on, had me enter my passcode, and then tested the phone for me to make sure it was working properly. She then put my old SIM in a little bag and handed me back the phone, bag, and contract.

The whole process took a few minutes at most. She then asked me what I’d like to do next at the airport. I told her I wanted to take the train into town. She asked me if I already had a Japan Rail Pass (I did) and then directed me to the right desk for using said pass to buy tickets, without me ever having asked her for directions.

Wow.

Why is this a good example for service desks?

This type of desk is one that you would rather not need to go to at all, just like a service desk. I would have preferred to magically teleport to my hotel and get straight to enjoying a traditional Japanese bath (in the nude). And I would prefer to have a functioning headset right away, instead of having to ask our IT service desk for aid when my current headset gives out.

What is Omotenashi?

What is the philosophy behind this excellent service in Japan? Allow me to explain the main concept.

You will be hearing it a lot more when the Olympic Games travel to Tokyo in 2020: Omotenashi. The term first became known outside of Japan when it was used in the country's Olympic Bid. Omotenashi is as old as Japan’s ancient tea ceremony tradition, but outside of its country of origins, the concept is so poorly known that it doesn’t even have a Wikipedia page.

Omotenashi (おもてなし) is hard to translate, like other Japanese terms like ‘sushi’ and ‘sumo’. It comes down to the following three core values:

  1. Anticipate the customer needs completely; as shown by how the SIM card desk is also able to help me get to my hotel quickly afterwards.
  2. Attention to detail: Japanese quality is famous all over the world, for precisely this reason.
  3. Genuinely appreciate the fact that the customer came to you; this is the reason why the practice of tipping to reward hospitality does not exist in Japan.

Translating Omotenashi to benefit your service desk

How can service desks put this concept into practice? If you are aiming for service excellence, try to incorporate each of the three core values of Omotenashi into your service delivery. For example, consider my experience at our Shared Service Point when my headset suddenly gave out last week.

1. Anticipate the customer needs completely

My colleague in IT knew that the fastest solution would be to take my laptop and figure things out that way, but she also realised that I would not be able to go without it. Instead, she asked me when I would be having lunch, so that she could fix the problem then without my work having to suffer. Obviously, I was also feeling lots of frustration that I needed to express – why is it that technology sometimes just stops gives out on us? It was great to see that my colleague in IT felt equally frustrated; we grumbled about Microsoft together for a moment, which made me feel like I myself was not the problem (instead of hearing that dreaded term, ‘user error’).

2. Attention to detail

My IT colleague didn’t just examine the symptoms and then resolved those; she looked for the actual cause as well. The cause might actually be a generic one, meaning that it might reoccur with other people and other headsets. If, instead of quickly fixing each problem as it presents itself, you take a more in-depth and broad approach, you will be able to prevent more wide-spread problems from manifesting themselves.

3. Genuinely appreciate the fact that the customer came to you

I was greeted by name – our Shared Service Point made me feel like they enjoyed me stopping by, instead of making me feel like I was keeping them from more important work.

More inspiration for achieving great Customer Experience

You don’t need to go so far as to bow to your clients, but giving customers that ‘red carpet feeling’, as Lexus puts it, is not that difficult if you just take care of things properly. Good luck!

If you are looking for more inspiration, rest assured; you won’t have to wait until the Summer Olympics of 2020. We have some content for you to help you on your way:

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