Omotenashi —

Reaching into one's customers’ hearts can only be done by reaching into one's own.

I was visiting a major law firm a few weeks ago and was farewelled by the young partner as he took a phone call, waving me in the general direction of the exit to find my own way out, through the labyrinth of passageways to the highly polished expensive marble foyer. Hardly a personalised experience where my business seemed valued and one that will hurt even more when I receive their invoice, I imagine. The statement will be equally clipped and impersonal merely quoting each ten minutes I spent with him and demanding a fee be paid within 20 days.

What is it about business today that we seem to have forgotten the rules and etiquette of human interaction and hospitality? It seems to me the corporate world has become so insensitive to people and their personal needs and wants, in favour of a database they regard as their customer service system. When you phone the company, or interact with most of its individuals, there is more often an abrogation of any personal responsibility or interest in favour of the mighty sign on the door — the brand. Have they ever stopped to think that they are the brand at that very moment? There are few values in a brand more prized than customer attentiveness, and most companies either ignore or cannot seem to deliver it. I've become curious about the subject and question why it's so difficult to deliver; I believe it's a cultural thing.

The Japanese word for hospitality is Omotenashi. It implies an insightful understanding of customer wants and needs, and thoughtful caring about each customer's well being - treating people as true individuals. 

The essence of Japanese hospitality is to serve the spirit of the customer through the spirit of the employee. Omotenashi behaviour is seen in the tea service. There is no master, no servant, rather there is equality, simplicity, care, and reciprocity; an activity which deals with human spirit rather than materialism.

In Japanese culture the guest, or in this case our customer, is more important than we are as a supplier, and one should always show respect for what the customer wants, how they react, and how they feel about your goods and services. Omotenashi principles suggest that one's salary is given by the customer and not by the company. Its primary rules are to deliver both visible attention i.e. hospitality, and invisible attention i.e. thoughtfulness. It removes the background push on product sales, instead relying on the development of a deep relationship with the customer to eventually get to the end result of revenue growth. Omotenashi means that if you have ten customers, by right there should be ten different Omotenashi. It is an attitude used in relation to attending to customers. Omotenashi sincerity goes back to the original art of the tea ceremony.

The true luxury experience of Lexus the Japanese carmaker and its customer attentiveness has become legend and integral to the brand. Each owner is treated as a personal guest in the house of Lexus. They very carefully anticipate different needs and wants and deliver a personalised vehicle in a very special way. 

Companies keep on saying “customer service is important” but this is never delivered in a personalised way which will encourage people to come back. In an age where large amounts of information travels at blinding speed, customers live in an environment where it is very easy to get lost among the thousands of services and products that exist. When you consider the theory that 80% of revenue is always generated by 20% of the customers, it clearly indicates how important relationships are.

Omotenashi captures the repeater strategy perfectly by creating a memorable personalised experience. Shiseido the successful Japanese cosmetic house believes that  Omotenashi is the “very source of their competitive strength”. In a recent survey for ANA Japan's largest airline, Omotenashi was voted as being the coolest thing appreciated by people of all nationalities.

Companies could do well to focus their brand in this space certainly in the western world where it's virtually unseen. Service businesses — particularly those that rely much more on intellectual capital and relationships — are often so remiss in what is a relatively inexpensive way of building goodwill. Omotenashi begins with training but then relies on the employee to develop his or her own style to obtain a satisfying experience for the consumer. Nothing is rushed; time is spent; education is given; advice is dispensed; manners are important; feelings are important; listening and empathy are more than words. And after the individual encounter, Omotenashi should be extended to the communities that are important to the firm.

When you engage with customers it should always be an act of human emotion, and it should convey both the desire for customers to enjoy themselves and a desire to make customers happy. Genuine hospitality, which thoroughly captures the hearts and minds of customers , will ensure they will want return time and again.

Reaching into one's customers’ hearts can only be done by reaching into one's own.