When you walk through the doors of any shop, supermarket or restaurant in Japan, you are guaranteed to be greeted by staff calling irrashaimase! which means ‘welcome’. As you leave arigatou gozaimasu or, ‘thank you’, will echo in your ear and the sales assistant might even walk you to the door, ready to hand over your purchase. Japan’s level of customer service is impeccable and probably unmatched by any other nation. Even your McDonald’s cheeseburger comes with a McBow. Though it might feel slightly alien at first (at least, to a Brit), the level of attentiveness paid to customers is admirable and you might even take it a little for granted after a while in the country.
Of course, what we’re talking about here is traditional customer service. The traditional customer walks into the store, buys the product and enjoys friendly assistance from the staff in the process. In the past decade, however, the concept of the customer has changed significantly. Now, customers want to collaborate on product design, they discuss products across social media channels, even influencing decisions at a corporate level in the process (consider how The GAP was not able to change its logo after customers took to social media with fury at the new design). And what about a company’s ‘brand power’? Barbara Kahn, Professor of Marketing at the University of Pennsylvania puts it in no uncertain terms: the real definition of your brand is whatever the customer thinks it is.
Customers are becoming increasingly engaged with brands and clear about what they expect from a product. It’s no longer enough to walk your customer to the doorway, hand over their purchase and say ‘thank you’—customers want to take that product off the shelf and change its design; make it their own. Customisation, customer engagement and customer value have become a critical element to gaining competitive advantage. This is not only true of the retail sector, but the manufacturing sector, which is also experiencing the growing trend of ‘servitization’—the move away from a focus on production to the integration of products and technology-lead service offerings that create customer value and, ultimately, drive competitive advantage.
Businesses looking to grow through exporting are also faced with a new category of customer—the global customer who has one particular demand: I’m interested in your product, but I’d prefer to buy from you in my own language. Providing information where it is needed in the relevant target language is a strategy to create a smoother and more intimate customer experience. Barclay’s Bank posts the following advice on its website for potential exporters: “Because people are more likely to buy online in their own language, you should translate your website into the local language of your target countries. This will also help them find you online, because they’ll be searching in their own language”. This is by no means an easy feat for the would-be exporter; nevertheless, the customer has spoken.
It’s here, then, that the 21st century customer has even had a hand in shaping the language services sector. The days of simple text translations in Word documents have given way to a huge demand in the market for multilingual websites and delivering a multilingual, localised brand message to global customers. There is language-specific SEO and multilingual product brochures, as well as video content. Global customers want the experience in their own language, and the language services sector has grown and evolved to help businesses answer this call.
The 21st century customer has higher expectations than ever before; competition on price and the pressure for differentiation, in turn, is driving the need to create greater customer value. But businesses can use these phenomena to their advantage and those that are able to deliver on customer experience and customer value might find themselves ahead of the competition—at least for now.