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It is no secret that the Japanese have excelled at transforming common items into something that looks and functions masterfully, or turning a seemingly mundane task into an exceptional experience. For centuries, Japan has designed services and products with the human at the center.
These are extensions of a culture in which products and services are anticipated well before a guest or customer sets foot into a store, hotel or business—maybe even before a traveler even sets foot on the Land of the Rising Sun.
As a child, I often would go back home to spend my summers in Tokyo with my grandparents. A memory that stays with me are the trips we would take to Kamakura and Hayama. Hotels and ryokans treated every guest like a VIP—no matter if this was the first stay or the 100th stay. The attentive staff was neither pushy nor clingy nor obtrusive. It was a perfect balance. Everything from the first warm greeting to the way meals were prepared and served was an experience, executed smoothly and with such precision it never felt forced or unnatural. Moreover, the hotels had this uncanny sense of knowing what the guests needed. Every time I left, I couldn’t wait to come back again.
This value in providing a personalized, exceptional experience is deeply rooted in our culture and is known as omotenashi (pronounced: ohmo-te-nashe). Hard to define, it is often translated in western cultures too simply as “hospitality.” However, it is much more; it encompasses how people—guests and customers—are viewed and treated.
A deeply engrained cultural principle and philosophy, omotenashi is not taught. Instead it’s something pre-programmed into every Japanese person and passed down from generation to generation. It is a subtle, invisible aspect of Japanese culture. It is a seamless marriage of human and business practices.
What elements of the spirit of omotenashi can we apply to the customer experience and what are the results?
This seems like a lot of effort for companies. So, what are the results?
At the end of the day, the customer can choose to do business with anyone. However, would you rather spend your money where you find everything—even the most obvious and simple requests—take huge efforts? Or would you rather spend it somewhere that your needs are anticipated, your time is respected and you are genuinely appreciated?
Don’t take my word for it. To truly understand it, go experience it.
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