Service really, really matters

Customer centricity, customer focus, service, deliver experiences, …
yes, ok. But how?

First of all, it is the people, again – you say, yes again and only them. To identify colleagues with the right attitude for your business, matching the brands philosophy has been mentioned here quite often and many times.

Let me today remind us a historic view on service from the early 1990ies. Japanese travelers at the time have been for businesses what the Chinese are today, yet in a more refined way. It is said the Japanese way of service was the most elaborate one, the most perfect one – if you mention customer service you automatically say Japan.

It is true and not true in the same time almost like a Buddhist exercise in non-duality, a wonderful little Koan…
Service in Japan, besides the Omotenashi spirit of excellence and its link to ishi-go ishi-e, has in all its perfection one thing that makes it sometimes tough for westerners and this is the absence of personal involvement, which is highly strived for in western culture, yet sounds quite weird to a Japanese person.
The reason is simple: to our friends from far-east it is absurd to be personally involved into service as the whole concept is about the perfect execution of a sequence.
As an example take the famous Japanese tea ceremony: During a tea ceremony basically you sit, heat water, make tea and drink tea. Period. It follows rules of what is considered to be the perfect movements, ingredients, setting, meditative contemplation to worship a bowl of perfect tea with all its distinct sensory surroundings put into scene by a master, who strives for perfection during his entire life in order to create the absolute, the one bowl of tea that is absolutely perfect and under no circumstances could be made better in every aspect. Thus, the person who actually makes tea is of non-importance, everything focusses on tea, not on people.

If you take the tea ceremony as the pinnacle of service – the concept of ishi-go ishi-e has been built around it in the 16th century by tea master Sen no Rikiū, who referred to it as “a meeting that could occur only once in a lifetime”. It also is strongly linked to Zen-Buddhism and concepts of transience and consequently much repeated to budō (martial arts) and there now is a whole load of history and tradition linked to it and I hope understandably, now no need for personal touch. – There can only be one way, the perfect way of things happening.

Omotenashi, the Japanese way of hospitality as a result of the above said, cannot happen on a personal level, as every aspect of service is expected to be is perfect in every sense… of the execution.

One little but (for me extremely beloved) important clash of civilisations is the process of payment. It is quite weird, but in Japan you do not give money or credit cards into the hands of a person, but you present it on a tray where it is taken from. – A concept fully unthinkable in Europe. Yet I learned to love it as it displays the urge to give service; money has to been taken to survive, but rather reluctantly and the person giving the service does not really feel well about it….

There can happen quite some misunderstandings e.g. when checking out at the hotel. In Japan this is sensitive and should happen without noise and in an almost ashamed way. Consequently, if you want to spoil the experience ask for non-payment related things during the checkout process you will observe, how the hotel clerk is suffering almost physically as (s)he has to combine genuine service with impure money. – No good. Wait and until the payment process is terminated and you can go on with other service requests again…

For us Omotenashi could mean to exercise the way of service and to leverage it to a new level of perfection in terms of grooming, language, manipulation of products, cleanliness of a store, in one-word transactional perfection.
This, seen isolated,  for me consists in a perfect yet rather distant experience in a store, where afterwards you would not feel too well, but as much as you think on the visit, there has no mistake been made, just may be the lack of personal touch.
May be the solution than is to add the personal twist Westerners strive for – the little personal extra displaying genuine interest, empathy and authenticity or however you want to name it.

One fun fact about the Japanese obsession of service is that if you fail the likeliness a Japanese customer does not come back is at 56%, a devastating ratio compared to 23% for HongKong, 33% for Singapore, 32% for US etc.

In other words if you focus on Japan you will make it everywhere.




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