Research World: Sorry seems to be the hardest word

Originally published on, 11th March 2021.

Data scandals involving global data collectors can negatively impact people’s willingness to share personal data with research agencies. Can the Japanese culture of customer service give clues to how research can deal with this challenging reality?

In a world where huge corporations gather vast amounts of personal data and experiment with how the value of this data can be maximized, how can the research sector maintain or even increase trust with consumers. The answer may be found by looking at how many brands in Japan maintain & increase trust with their customers even in the face of great challenges, through a unique culture of omotenashi or customer-first mindset.

Omotenashi loosely translated as ‘the art of selfless hospitality’, has been central to Rakuten Insight for over 20 years, and contains a broad range of different values due to the cultural context of ‘customer satisfaction / service’ itself. In the West, salesmen have followed the mantra ‘customer is king’. In post war Japan, folk singer Haruo Minami coined the phrase ‘okyakusama wa kamisama desu’ or ‘Customers are Gods’. The original intended meaning was that if you imagine your audience are Gods, you will perform better and gain more personal satisfaction. However, this was misinterpreted and used by marketers, evolving to mean that one should worship one’s customers. Values included in omotenashi are a sense of selflessness, wholehearted, sincerity, customer centric, anticipation of needs, focus, caring touch, dedication, seriousness & attention to detail. Omotenashi would be the expectation towards the collection & usage of their personal data.

Neil Cantle is Regional Head EU at Rakuten Insight Global.

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Related articles: Research World: A cultural analysis of trust in Japan and South Korea, GRBN Trust survey: Gods not Kings, The land of the rising contradictions

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