Japan is a country with a strong work ethic, world-leading politeness and a unique form of decorum known as omotenashi, which translates as the 'Japanese hospitality spirit.' The virtues of relational consideration and honesty are valued highly, and Japanese customers often have high expectations of a customer experience that reflects these characteristics.
During COVID-19 Japanese consumer buying behaviors shifted towards digital channels at the peak of the crisis. As such there was a digital acceleration in Japan, and while this was a welcome development for consumers, many companies struggled to fully align their offline and online offerings, creating barriers for some customers.
Despite this many organizations still rated highly with customers, largely because of their swift responses to COVID-19.
With customer expectations being as high as they are in Japan, there is the oft-repeated saying that the 'customer is king.' This was not a barrier for the airline ANA which found itself in the top 10 this year — perhaps because of its long and established reputation for customer centricity.
As one customer notes: "ANA provides stylish and sophisticated services, but there is also this sense of security you get from their scheduled operations and safety procedures."
And while Japanese brands are valued for their functionality and convenience, they are not as valued for their ability to be close customers' hearts. Japan's scores across The Six Pillars certainly reflect this reality, exceeding global averages in Personalization and Time and Effort, but falling slightly behind in Empathy. The focus on functional needs has made it difficult for Japanese companies to connect at a deeper level with customers and create premium brands.
Indeed Empathy is crucial in today's environment, particularly when the online experience is rising in importance. Being able to connect personally online (including social media) while delivering an equally strong and consistent offline experience is the first step towards the creation of a bond that will ultimately strengthen the Empathy pillar.
Integrity is also important in Japan. Brands need to have a clear and well-communicated sense of purpose and values, ensuring that they put their promises into action and take the initiative in times of crisis, being seen to act swiftly. And while Integrity is the most important pillar for advocacy for many countries in this year's study, in Japan Personalization takes the lead. In Japan it is vital that companies have a deep understanding of each customer's unique circumstances and can proactively provide services that are tailored to them.
There is one company that encapsulates everything that Japanese consumers are looking for in a brand and that is Isetan — a department store that has been operating since the nineteenth century. Following a merger with the Mitsukoshi brand in 2008, Isetan absorbed Mitsukoshi's myriad hospitality skills, which it combined with its own ability to sense trends. The result was a company that truly embraced omotenashi through its staff, who were trained to deliver an exceptional level of service, even going so far as to pre-empt customer needs.
Looking ahead for Japan, it is likely that the digital acceleration will continue. It will be crucial for service companies that use both online and offline channels to continually evaluate their offerings, working to deliver a high level of consistency across all touchpoints. Omotenashi will certainly help with this. It is a unique Japanese value which creates a genuine customer connection that strengthens the pillars of Personalization and Empathy.
Some organizations had already tapped into this new reality. For these companies, the challenge will be to maintain a pioneering energy, continuing to innovate and constantly strive for a unique 'one-of-a-kind' experience, helping to differentiate them from their competitors.
The road ahead will be difficult for all. COVID-19 has prompted consumers to scrutinize the 'purpose' of many companies. Customers are questioning the value that some organizations provide to the environment, society, and to their communities. This means that Japanese companies still have room to improve the way in which they communicate their purpose — they must embody it and convey it in a way that people can perceive.
“COVID-19 has revolutionized the mindset, buying behavior and experience for customers. Companies need to transform their customer experience to adapt to the new normal. Japanese companies have strengthened their relationship with customers by carefully responding to their functional needs. However, this alone is not enough to create a strong relationship. Going forwards it will be important to strengthen the emotional value, in addition to the functional value, and to make the customer experience 'the one and only experience." ”
KPMG in Japan
Tokyo Disney Resort
ANA (All Nippon Airways)
JAL (Japan Airlines)
Leading online retailer
Note: Brands except Tokyo Disney Resort are listed in alphabetical order.