by Masahito Namiki (Partner content provided courtesy of Interbrand Japan)
Land of the rising store
Amongst the retail circles of Japan, the hot topic of discussion is customer experience. The good news is that Japanese companies have finally started to embrace something new that isn’t an extension of the past. So now, we’re witnessing real variety, experimentation and some experiences that have turned out to be outstanding (such as Tokyo’s Ginza Six). But the bad news? Many experiences are concept-based, not brand-based.
There are a lot of retailers that really focus on what they consider to be a “good” experience. Beautiful, stress-free, comfortable, eye-catching and maybe even unconventional. Although these are must-haves, my observation is that customer experience is being defined in a very narrow sense – the term “experience” tends to focus predominantly on efficiency. I suspect this comes from a long-lasting corporate endeavor to always improve productivity. So we tend to focus on things like “stress-free” experiences. Great for the customer, right? Not necessarily, and not in the long run. Too much weight attached to it, and all experiences will converge into something similar. And then we will find ourselves stuck in a shallow pool of orthodoxy.
Another negative consequence of over-indexing on “efficiency-focused” customer experience leads Japanese companies to rush into this concept because they feel it can make a difference. However, the issue is that, more often than not, it appears to be a one-off unique concept, rather than a strategically thought out one that will amplify what the brand can and will promise.
Sound familiar? This is exactly what has happened and is still happening in communications. Attract the attention and then move on. Brand perception can only be built by fostering positive emotion. A combination of an “efficiency-focused” customer experience and a one-off concept-driven customer experience will not help because it isn’t a right extension of what the customer should experience (and feel) when interacting with a brand.
To avoid being sucked into this trend in Japan, we must avoid becoming obsessed with this notion of being “stress-free” because sometimes a little amount of stress can be necessary to the experience. For example, Isetan in Japan are unlikely to introduce a self-checkout system, which is ostensibly what we believe to be a “stress-free” customer experience. It may increase the efficiency of purchase, but it undermines the brand because the interaction between the customer and store staff is an essential part of the experience.
Creating a functionally perfect product didn’t work out for Sony, along with many other Japanese companies. In today’s world, it’s almost common knowledge that a perfect product needs to have functional utility and create some sort of emotional impact on the customer. So why do we obsess over creating functionally flawless, yet emotionally empty experiences? Just because experiences happen in moments doesn’t mean they can’t be repeated. Build function and emotion into your brand experiences, then you won’t have to worry about being different. Because you already will be.