Japanese Woman

There’s something special about service in Japan.

The closest I’ve come to experiencing it, is walking into a Sushi Train restaurant on the Gold Coast and having a bunch of people yell, “Irasshaimase!”

It’s quite confronting when you first experience it. It translates as “welcome” and it’s a friendly exclamation that you do get used to after you visit a few times.

But for the friends of mine who have been to Japan, it’s nothing like the true “Irasshaimase Konichiwa!” that you get from the guy who opens the door to the store for you.

And apparently, you never have open the door to a store in Japan because someone is always there to open it for you.

This door-opening and enthusiastic welcoming is all part of a culture that the Japanese refer to as Omotenashi.

The closest we can get to a translation of that is something like, serving guests wholeheartedly with anticipation, selflessness, and sincerity.

This is a far cry from self-scanning your groceries at Woolies only to have the dreaded, Item removed from bagging area warning droning at you for seemingly no reason apart from trying to make you feel like a thief.

Anticipating what your customer will need from you

This isn’t a trick section.

Surely you already know what your customers need, want and will buy from you? Right?

Yesterday I was speaking at a conference in Brisbane along with Amanda Stevens, a very smart and funny consumer futurist.

She was telling us about a situation where she went to buy a clicker for her presentations from one of those large computer stores with salespeople on commission.

The guy who served her was one of those mansplaining types. He knows everything about every product. And after just one question about what she was looking for, he reached for the lowest-priced one and handed it to her before she could answer more specifically about what she was after.

She walked out with a clicker. and the guy had got a sale.

But if he had have expressed some kind of interest in what she had to say, and had listened for even just 30-seconds more before reaching for a solution, he could have turned that $90 sale into a $250 sale.

Humans – men particularly – are problem solvers.

When someone comes to us with a complaint or a problem our brains immediately enter problem solving mode. All our survival instincts kick in to help save our fellow villager from the sabre-toothed tiger that is chasing them.

It’s efficient. It’s quick. It’s helpful.

That’s if it was a sabre-toothed tiger chasing them, instead of a work deadline that they just wanted to vent about.

The first part of Omotenashi is anticipation of your customer’s needs in a lightning-fast way that they they don’t even notice.

Like opening a door, pouring a glass of cold water on a hot day or directing them to the restrooms.

But anticipating your customer’s needs takes a LOT of practice and a LOT of listening to what they actually want.

You can’t anticipate that someone needs to find the toilet until you’ve seen that look on at least 200 people before, and you now recognise the pattern.

The clue to being a master of this anticipation is watching and listening to everything that every customer has to say.

The selflessness of service

We all have that one friend who only listens long enough to us to find the gap that will let them start talking.

And it’s obvious that they haven’t heard a word that anyone else had to say because they say something so random and out of place.

We have a tendency to go in to autopilot when we’re working with customers or clients. It’s like we just want to get the deal done, get the invoice paid and get on with our lives.

Which is the complete opposite to what the customer wants. Which is, often, to be reassured that everything is going to be ok. After all, they’re sinking their hard-earned cash into what you’re doing for them.

This is the self-centred approach to service. Doing the bare minimum to get the absolute maximum out of the customer.

It’s what pretty much every large business today does. Stay in any hotel and you’ll experience this. Go to any supermarket and it’s obvious.

But once in a while, someone will do something very different. Something outstanding. And you really do notice it.

This is the customer-centred approach to service.

Amanda told us the story of a hotel in Melbourne that, after she told them she was taking her son to the aquarium because he is obsessed with penguins, returned to the room later to find a book about penguins and a penguin stuffed toy on the bed for her son to enjoy.

That’s stand-out stuff. 

That’s Omotenashi.

How does this work in the online world?

The social media and digital marketing world is a little different, but there’s still room for a little Omotenashi online too.

When was the last time you did any of the following?

  • Spent 30 minutes supporting others with comments on LinkedIn
  • Sent back a personal thank you to someone who connected wth you
  • Replied to every comment made on your post
  • Released a free guide or mini-course just to help people out for free
  • Invited a bunch of your local followers online to coffee
  • Sent a random follower a single, personal thank you for following you
  • Did a shout out on a post on social media to someone who may never be able to pay for your services

All of this is Omotenashi too.

It’s not about turning yourself into a slave. It’s about setting yourself apart from all the others who do you what you do, but are doing the bare minimum.

You may think that the people you’re doing this for are not your target customer. So would should you bother?

How would you even know if they were your target customer if you didn’t bother to listen to them, watch them and work out through experience what they need.

Or even more likely, those people you gave a great experience to are married to, related to, live next to, work with or are catching up for coffee later with someone who is your ideal target customer.

You could spend a fortune on advertising your way into people’s heads.

Or you could just not be a dick. And try being a decent human being to the people that are already around you.

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