For anyone who has worked manufacturing, engineering or with improving business processes the Japanese concept of Kaizen should not be anything new. The idea of constant improvement pioneered by Japanese business and taken to perfection by Toyota has spread worldwide to be used in anything from hospitals to sports teams.
The beauty behind it is not actually constant improvement, that fact is a given since once we are happy with our results we stop improving.
No, the beauty is the standardization of all processes across the organization. Even though this might sound like hell on earth for your average hippie standardization is a core concept in driving change. Kaizen is no exception since if processes are not standardized it will be impossible to implement any improvements across the board. In other words you have a compartmentalized entity in which what works in one location can not be applied to another.
So we standardized and improved and we felt good about ourselves.
The Japanese however did not stop there.
Anyone who has been to Japan can attest to, not only the great food, but also the amazing level of customer service that you will receive in any shop or restaurant that you might enter.
This is what the Japanese refer to as “Omotenashi” or in loosely translated English “consideration”
Omotenashi comes from the Edo period in Japanese history (1603-1868) when Tokyo became the capital and a population explosion followed. With so many customers and manners deteriorating the traders of downtown Tokyo came together and created a number of rules for how one should treat ones fellow man so as to keep everyone calm, and most importantly, shopping.
These rules included things like “face your umbrella outwards as you pass each other so that you both stay dry” or “if someones foot gets stepped on both parties should apologize”
Now customers stayed calm, did not start fights and kept coming back to the downtown area since they felt relaxed and civilized.
Japanese companies have since taken this into their training practices and used it to standardize customer interactions in order to provide a uniform experience throughout the whole company. They realized early that the real face of the company are the people and that is how the customers will perceive them.
The best example is perhaps the owner company of the retail giant Uniqlo, First Retailing. They realized early that customer interaction is such a vital part of their corporate philosophy that when planning for their international expansion they implemented a program to bring foreigners to Japan and train them in Omotenashi before sending them back to run shops throughout the world.
One might think that standardizing customer interaction through training creates robots without personality but this is far from the truth. You are not standardizing people but behavior like saying “Thank you” and “Please” which is something that our educational often fails to do these days.
You are in fact empowering staff by giving them a tool box on which to fall back on not only for those dream customers we all love but also for the difficult ones that we hate dealing with.
When the interaction itself becomes second nature is when we can really start seeing value. Now the focus is no more on the interaction but in anticipating what the customer wants before he/she wants it.
Isn’t that a place you would rather be?