The Secret to Truly Exceptional Customer Service: Digital Omotenashi

Posted by
Dustin Dean
Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Customer Success
03/05/2015 - 01:05

Tipping is not expected in Japanese culture. 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 deep-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 omotenashi practice to digital e-commerce and customer service?

Brands that practice omotenashi have lifelong customers. They develop and nurture more meaningful connections beyond the robotic service we often experience. Consumers depend on their favorite brands to deliver on more than just product, ultimately resulting in more loyal buyers. This is something that is lacking in the competitive digital world, where customers jump from one brand to the next.

Digital omotenashi is desperately needed in American customer service. Most consumers today are interacting with brands digitally, but the type of customer service available that brands deliver in these digital channels is still lacking, and nowhere near the standard of omotenashi. In fact, most consumers still have to call an 800 number to get help, which is lackluster at best.

We’re all familiar with hold music via 800 numbers. Harris Interactive reported that 75 percent of consumers said the waiting time to talk to a live representative is too long.

Another study from Trackur found that 96 percent will be unsatisfied, but won’t complain. What’s more, those unhappy consumers will voice their complaints to anywhere between 9 and 15 people.

In an age dominated by social networking, the ripple effect could be detrimental. If you haven’t heard, one 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 disasters in American history.

Today’s consumer, empowered by digital tools, has higher expectations and lower tolerance than ever. According to McKinsey, “70 percent of buying experiences are based on how the customer feels they are being treated.”

So, how does omotenashi translate to e-commerce? Here at LivePerson, we’re challenging businesses to set a new standard for online customer experience, called 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 reach for it. It was a premeditated 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 onsite, geolocation data, and recently viewed pages, customer service agents can connect with customers 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, Director of Online Care Operations at Time Warner Cable, Carter Calle, discusses how his own company is using LiveEngage to integrate 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.”

Check out the full video to see how Time Warner Cable is transforming digitally.



4 ways to use digital omotenashi with your customer

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

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

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

  2. Listen. Tune in to customer chatter. Stay in the loop on 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, on the wrong channel, and you’ll lose a consumer forever. One way to meet on-the-go consumers is to create a mobile app. Another useful tactic: offer digital communications, like chat, 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 and 1:1 messaging services, it’s clear how consumers wish to engage. The era of one to many is over. Consumers demand relevant experiences, as they would in personal communications with friends and family.    

There is yet to be a proven digital roadmap 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 and memorable. How is your brand delivering omotenashi? Tell us in the comments below.

We’ll be featuring real examples from companies practicing the art of digital omotenashi in future blog posts. Subscribe today to receive email updates when new posts are published.

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