Digital Omotenashi: What a Deeply Rooted Practice Can Teach Brands about Outstanding Customer Service

Tipping is not expected in Japanese culture. But despite no monetary rewards, Japan is world-famous for its exceptional customer service across industries.

Before traveling to Japan, one Wall Street Journal reporter “was told by well-traveled friends to expect a level of customer service so polished and comprehensive that even the most basic transactions can take on a ceremonious air.”

What’s their secret? Omotenashi.

Omotenashi is a deeply rooted cultural practice focused on anticipating customer wishes. According to Japan Today: “‘Omotenashi’ is hard to define, but Japanese use it to describe what they believe is their unique approach to hospitality.” Nothing is expected in return; omotenashi is a selfless practice that has greatly impacted the country’s image for travelers abroad.

So, why is omotenashi important? And why should businesses care to translate the practice into digital customer service and e-commerce?

Simple. Brands that practice digital omotenashi have lifelong customers. They develop and nurture more meaningful connections beyond the robotic service we often find online. Consumers depend on their favorite brands to deliver more than just product — ultimately resulting in more loyal buyers. But this is still a missing element of the competitive digital landscape, where customers jump from one brand to the next.

This concept of omotenashi is desperately needed in digital customer service. Today, most consumers interact with brands digitally, but the type of customer service available on these channels is still nowhere near the standard of omotenashi. From automated responses to having to call a 1–800 number for help, the current state of customer service is lackluster at best.

We’re all familiar with on-hold music via 1–800 numbers. Harris Interactive reports that 75% of consumers consider the waiting time to talk to a live representative far too long.

Another study — this time from Trackur — reveals that 96% will be unsatisfied but won’t complain directly to the company — but they’re far from silent: Unhappy consumers will voice their complaints to anywhere between nine and 15 people in their network.

According to McKinsey, “70% of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.”Today’s consumer, empowered by digital tools, has higher expectations and less patience than ever. In an age dominated by social networking, the ripple effect of a negative experience could be detrimental for a brand. Remember this fail? A Comcast customer recorded a disastrous customer service call and posted it online in 2014. The story quickly spread, resulting in one of the most viral customer service catastrophes in American history.

So, how does this translate to e-commerce? Here at LivePerson, we’re challenging businesses to set a new standard for online customer experience — aka, digital omotenashi.

The practice of digital omotenashi.

A noteworthy example of omotenashi: One Japanese customer was delighted when a cab driver opened and closed the door before she could even reach for it. It was a premeditated — yet unexpected — action meant to anticipate the customer’s needs.

Thanks to intelligent, cloud-based technologies, e-commerce and marketing professionals can provide the same form of anticipatory service online. By tracking historical behavior on-site, geolocation data, and recently viewed pages, customer care professionals can connect with consumers in a more meaningful, personalized way. With intelligence on their side, agents can cater to the individual — providing the luxury experience they seek.

In the video below, one of our customers discusses how his own company integrates the practice into its own customer experience. “Digital omotenashi means being where your customers want you to be, when they want you to be there, and how they want you to be there without being overbearing or intrusive,” he says.

Check out the full video to see how the company is transforming digitally.

4 ways to use digital omotenashi with your customers.

Your consumers don’t want to feel like a number. They want to feel they’re taking part in something significant, whether that’s a meaningful 1:1 relationship or supporting a brand that’s determined to be an agent of cultural change.

As more businesses look to refine their own practices internally, below are just a few ways to deliver digital omotenashi.

1. Act before they have to ask. Study the customer journey and anticipate needs. Offer helpful content at each stage of the buying cycle and map out frequent trouble zones where consumers need support (like at checkout). By using proactive chat, you can target consumers who show predetermined behaviors on-site. The goal: to offer customer service before it’s requested with an intelligent, targeted offer.

2. Listen. Tune in to customer chatter. Stay in the loop about what your audience cares about. A few tactics include following industry influencers and customers on Twitter or monitoring relevant groups and pages on LinkedIn and Facebook. Aside from social monitoring, it’s critical to document and address feedback from your own customer community.

3. Be always on. Brands often walk a fine line between annoying and helpful. The digital-first consumer expects brand engagement 24/7 when they need it most. But engage at the wrong time or on the wrong channel, and you could lose a consumer forever. One way to meet on-the-go consumers is to develop a mobile app. Another useful tactic: Offer digital communications (like messaging) during peak hours or to your highest-profile consumers.

4. Master the human element. Hospitality is at the heart of digital omotenashi, and it can only be delivered with a human-to-human connection. With the explosion of chat apps, bots, and 1:1 messaging services, it’s clear how consumers wish to engage — and an automated service can only get you so far. The era of one-to-many communications is over. Consumers demand relevant experiences as they would in personal conversations with friends and family.

There is yet to be a proven digital road map to mastering omotenashi online. But, if used strategically, continually evolving technologies can reinvent the customer service experience.

The practice of omotenashi elicits a feeling — something intangible yet memorable. How is your brand delivering omotenashi? Tell us in the comments below.

Article by Dustin Dean. Originally published on the Connected Customer blog.

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