If you ask a foreigner in Japan what impresses them about this country, I believe one of the most common answers will be the sophisticated customer service, which is often referred to as おもてなし (Omotenashi).
Omotenashi is the word Japanese use to describe how their service is provided by paying attention to detail and anticipating the needs of their guests, thus offer them a once-in-a-life-time experience. The spirit of Omotenashi comes from the phrase “Ichigo-Ichie”, which means every encounter is unique and special. Therefore they try to exceed the expectation of their guests and deliver the most excellent and unique hospitality.
I’ve been here for nearly two months, and I have got so used to the high-standard service here that I know I will miss them when I go back. It was the old lady staff at Famima who gave me wet tissue and helped me clean when I spilled my coffee, the shop owner who gave me extra “サービス” takoyaki and cheerfully talked with me about Vietnam, staff at the counter helped me hold my umbrella when I carried too many things, taxi drivers open and close the door for customers automatically, or bus drivers saying “Thank you” to every passenger getting off their bus. Those are the little things that make a big difference.
My internship at Gelateria is the best chance for me to experience Japanese customer service not only from being a customer but also to learn and understand Omotenashi from the service provider’s side. I was trained about how the standard of service should be delivered and was again impressed with their attention to detail. We never work with the gelato with our bare hands, but have to wash our hands carefully and wear gloves during work. If we need to use keyboards, smartphones or need to go to the toilet during work, it’s important to take the gloves off. Payments are made by a ticket machine because we cannot touch money. It’s not only because of hygienic reasons, but also our feelings and respect that we have for our own products and our customers.
I have learned to smile and keep a happy mood when talking to customers. It’s crucial not to sit down during work and maintain your focus, so that you are always ready to attend to a customer’s needs at the moment of notice and answer every questions from them. Saying no to customers is not encouraged because it may leave a bad impression. Instead we try to find a way to say yes by explaining the reason and offering them other options.
However, the most important thing I learned here is that true Omotenashi can never be attained with a manual or standard alone. It’s a one-to-one relationship that changes from customer to customer, from moment to moment. It’s our true happiness at heart that can warm the encounter and make our customers smile.