Irasshaimase: Welcoming the Customer

Yesterday I had lunch at a sushi bar with a colleague. Having lived in Japan, many of the sights, sounds and experiences of the Japanese culture are second nature to me.

Thus I was a little surprised when my colleague asked me what all the staff were calling out every time a customer walks in the door. I explained that the expression is irasshaimase”, and is a welcome that you hear in all Japanese restaurants, and in Japan in almost all shops and shopping areas. Its almost like there’s a competition among staff members as to who can welcome a customer first and with the greatest spirit!

Go to a Japanese shopping mall, and the sounds can be amazing as you hear this constant din of welcome.

It is a fantastic experience to be made to feel welcome, instantly, as you walk into a restaurant or shop. The staff are welcoming you, showing you that you’re valued. With the welcome over, the great customer service continued right up to when we paid. As we left, shouts of arigato gozaimashita” (thank you very much) could be heard.

After our sushi lunch, we decided to continue our conversation over a cup of tea. We walked up to a nearby coffee store, part of a large Australian franchise chain. The front door was partly blocked by 2 staff members putting up Christmas decorations — at lunchtime! We stood in a queue, with one customer in front of us. That one customer was being served by the other 2 staff members. No-one even acknowledged our presence in the store.

After four minutes (yes, I timed it) finally someone looked to me and said what can I do for you”. I looked at my watch, then placed my order. The service was offhandish, and the teas were ordinary. The experience was poor.

Too often western businesses get offhandish, and take their customers business for granted. Customer service is a hit and miss affair in many western countries, and we could certainly take a lesson from the Japanese when it comes to welcoming and acknowledging a customer into our business. This should apply equally to customers in front of you, those on the phone, and those doing business with you over the web.

Lessons for the Customer Experience

  1. Acknowledge your customer immediately when they enter your business. Make them feel welcome, and let them know that they are important to you. Make it a game among staff as to who can greet the customer first. A welcome should occur within 10 seconds, if possible.

    Establish an irasshaimase” culture in your business.* 

  2. If you’re unable to attend to your customer immediately, inform them of how long they can expect to wait.
  3. Ensure the irasshaimase experience” continues throughout the customer’s visit. Remember to thank them for their business.

Customer Experience

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