Japan’s take on Customer Experience: it’s the little things that matter

by Colin Shaw on May 7, 2012
Japan’s take on Customer Experience

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal pointed out that Japan even in through 20 years of recession continues to produce perhaps the world’s highest concentration of the highest quality goods and services in the world. The author, Tom Downey highlights several examples in the clothing and food & Beverage sectors. They are for the most part highly successful high profile small business examples that exemplify one of the key principles of customer experience – pay attention to the little things even if those things are not necessarily consciously perceived by customers.

At the 3 Michelin star restaurant Quintessence located in Tokyo, the manager is also the Maitre’D. When asked why he chooses to fill all those roles even though the restaurant can afford to hire more staff. His answer is “If I just manage this place but don’t serve dishes, then what’s the point?…I want to see exactly how each customer responds to what we put before them.” Does it stop with the hired help, of course not. The owner, Chef Shuzo Kishida says that he bought the place so that he could cook in a way that connects him to each customer. Furthermore, he personally tastes each dish that leaves his kitchen. It is significant that Kishida said he wanted to connect with “each customer”, not just customers. In a nutshell, this is the essence of all of customer experience. The work of customer experience is trying to get employees including senior management to understand and what customers actually experience so they can make fully informed decisions. It is not just the words; it is the actions that make this special.

At the luxury Peninsula Hotel, they have allowed the customer experience to shine from the inside out. That is, they have not imposed a standard view of what luxury is supposed ot be form the outside world. They have allowed the natural Japanese version to shine through. For example, they have hired retired gentlemen to serve as greeters because many Japanese businessmen are a bit put off by being surrounded by all employees who are all younger than them. Furthermore they have designed in experience cookies. As an example, when the hotel door staff sees a guest coming back after a run, they will phone ahead so that as the guest reached the door a greeter is waiting for them with a towel and a bottle of water. While these ideas may not be foreign in any given luxury hotel, their genesis at the Peninsula did not come from the headquarters playbook. They all stem from the Japanese custom of “omotenashi “- a kind of Japanese custom of anticipating the other’s needs. When such a culture is not intrinsic to the society, sure the business will have to generate that culture for itself… but in general every culture has it’s own form of intrinsic “omotenashi”.

At Bear Pond, a Tokyo coffee shop, the owner will not make espressos during certain hours apparently because the “spike on the power grid after that time precludes drawing the voltage required for optimal pressure.” To an untrained coffee drinker like me, this sounds verging on the ridiculous. However, it could very well be true for the perfect cup of coffee. This perfectionist has literally thought through every aspect of the experience provided. That is the very definition of a deliberate experience.

I pointed out my own Japan experience in a chapter I wrote for the book DNA of the Customer Experience: how emotions drive value. There, I highlight my experience at a jazz lounge that plays recorded music. The kicker is that it is a no conversation listening only place. In the book, I made that point that I brought lots of customers there to experience it because I found it so unique (ie, very high Net Promoter Score). I bring it up here because they paid attention to the little things a jazz aficionado would enjoy. They designed a complete experience around listening. You order drinks by writing them down. You could request any of the walls of classic real vinyl albums that lined the walls.

These examples all highlight a basic truth in customer experience; it’s the little things that matter. We are no longer surprised to learn that the biggest drivers of business value for many organisations are the little seemingly inconsequential things a business does. The collection of these little things can be referred to as the subconscious experience. Powerful stuff!

Qaalfa Dibeehi

Qaalfa Dibeehi is Chief Operating and Consulting Officer at of Beyond Philosophy one of the world’s first organizations devoted to customer experience. Qaalfa is an international co-author of Customer Experience: Future Trends and Insights. Beyond Philosophy provide consulting, specialised research & training from offices in Atlanta, Georgia and London, England.

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Colin ShawJapan’s take on Customer Experience: it’s the little things that matter