The unique Japanese mindset of service and hospitality is the way to more loyal relationships between customers and sellers - also in Western cultures.
Travellers coming from Japan often tell tales of the amazing hospitality they have experienced in the country's hotels and restaurants. The Japanese spirit of service is called Omotenashi. Omotenashi is a mindset that makes the relationship between customer and seller a long-lasting, non-dominant one. It embodies a service that anticipates the needs of a guest in advance and offers additional treats and gifts the guest doesn't expect.
Since it opened its doors in 2000, Rakuten University has been seeking to teach non-Japanese merchants to deliver Omotenashi. While Rakuten has established itself as the world's third largest online marketplace with revenues over seven billion pounds, the University is successfully bringing Omotenashi to the e-commerce space. The model works by ensuring that technology is always supported by human contact and interaction.
For those of you who don't have time to go on a course, Rakuten University shared some advice from its programme for online retailers with us.
1. Exceed expectations every time
Shopping online is largely a vending machine style experience - you see, you buy, you receive. Customers expect goods to arrive undamaged, be sold at the best possible price and meet stated specifications. It's vital to always get this right, but it’s a minimum requirement. To stand out you should seek to create something extraordinary. A surprise may come in form of a small gift, a bonus offer, a follow-up note or call, if appropriate. Ultimately loyalty is a question of perceived value, not price.
2. Tell your story
The internet is a powerful medium for storytelling. By telling the story behind the store, merchants are able to engage customers on a deeper level than price alone. People want to feel good about the products they buy and trust the stores where they buy them from. Use a range of media, such as blogs, photos and, increasingly, video, to tell your stories, each of which are unique and remind the customer that the vending machine approach to e-commerce is lacking the rich human connections that have defined the brick and mortar shopping experience.
3. Keep your friends close and your enemies closer
The e-tail space is evolving rapidly. While innovation and exceptional customer service starts at home, it shouldn’t end in-house. Your best practice should be constantly benchmarked against your competition. Engage with your rivals from a customer perspective to understand how you can take their offering and improve your own, from monitoring what tweets and visuals get shared and retweeted the most, to subscribing to their email alerts and tracking the personalisation and frequencyof their promotional emails.
4. Let customers engage on their terms
Today’s consumers are constantly connected. Their purchases are influenced by a multitude of sources from blogger reviews, tweets and Facebook posts to the banner ads they see when browsing online. Savvy retailers must ensure all preferred channels of communication are available, from Twitter and Facebook to private email. When it comes to engagement, speed is of the essence. In today’s information- and offer-rich web environment, failure to respond to an engaged customer could result in losing a sale to your competitor. Benchmark against your competition, but as a rule of thumb respond within 24 hours to any post/email/tweet.