If you’ve ever crossed the threshold of any store, restaurant or general place of business in Japan, you’ve undoubtedly heard this ubiquitous greeting shouted in your general direction. Translated literally, it is the imperative honorific form of to be/to come/to go.
The short answer is that there is no real meaning in the words; the meaning is in the gesture, the effort. What some have dubbed overly polite or even annoyingly robotic, I posit that this gesture is the very foundation, the hallmark of an excellent customer experience. A bastion of the selfless greeting, it gives and gives and asks nothing in return (linguistically, there is no appropriate response to it). The form is secondary to the function, which is to simply acknowledge. Irasshaimase is an ode, an entreating ballad to the customer that lilts: I see you here, and here you are most welcome.
The trick that many of us face in the digital age is that our customers don’t ring our welcome bell when they come in. The internet has taken a lot of the ira out of our shaimase. Our thresholds are more likely to be web pages, our guest books web hits. On a platform that, by definition, lacks humanity, how do we see our customers as people? More to the point, how do they feel seen by us? And how can we translate this to a digital language?
According to a Digital Banking Report survey of 500 financial institutions around the world, the top priority named by far (71%) was improving the digital customer experience. Customers are increasingly making decisions based on the ease of which they can access their financial institution. But it goes much deeper than mere convenience.
An “experience” is not just clicking on a combination of easy-to-find buttons. That is UX (User Experience). And yes, your website and mobile technologies need to work seamlessly, as a UX fail will certainly send your CX trending in the wrong direction. Reliability matters.
But while reliability and convenience should not be discounted, remember that a customer’s experience is wholly subjective, and based upon their perception of how they are treated. And that perception should be built upon a foundation of engagement.
I said that irasshaimase is about acknowledging the customer, being an audible welcome mat. But engaging the customer is taking to the next level. It is the difference between feeling “welcome” and feeling “at home.” Invite your customers into your cozy digital platform home. Don’t be shy. A virtual comfy chair and something cool to drink never hurt anyone’s perception, either. Here are 3 easy ways to engage your customers:
1. Courtesy calls. Call it anachronistic, but a good, old-fashioned phone call can really go a long way. People like to know that you are aware of them, even if they may not particularly want to shoot the breeze with you. Remember it’s about perception, and you are making the effort. I switched car insurance and internet providers in the past year. From the former, I got raised rates, monthly emails offering more insurance and nary a live interaction. The former called shortly after installation to make sure my service was okay. Now which one do you think I have the most loyalty toward?
2. Short, focused surveys. How many times have you gotten a survey from someone (even someone you wanted to say nice things about) and NOT done it or quit half-way through because it was just too long? People are generally willing to share their opinions…to a certain point. Constant Contact maintains that 5 minutes and/or 10 questions is about the threshold for the average respondent. If you want results, it is wise not to test these limits.
3. Useful email blasts. As mentioned above, my insurance agent sends me monthly emails, but they are usually all about the many other kinds of insurance he offers, and why I need them. Now, I’m certainly not going to suggest that you take out all sales elements of email blasts. However, I am going to say that you need to provide something of value (as opposed to a commercial) to your customers. To go back to insurance, yes, it’s possible I may want to bundle my insurance to save more. But what else might be of interest to me? A focused survey? An article about what I can personally do to lower my rates? Think from your audience’s perspective and you are sure to get not only more traffic and less unsubscribes, but a higher CX as well.