When was the last time you were delighted by a customer service interaction? Or the last time a customer service representative took a proactive step that prevented a problem from occurring in the first place? No doubt many people would answer “never” to both questions.

It’s a very different reality in Japan, according to Forrester Research analyst Ryan Hart. He writes that the customer service process at most Japanese companies lacks procedural rigor and accountability, yet the experience delivered to customers is far superior. This is due to the Japanese concept of omotenashi, which simply translated means hospitality but also connotes “a spirit of unobtrusive and respectful approach to guests that anticipates their needs, bestows respect, and surprises them at every point in the service scenario.”

Omotenashi is deeply rooted in Japanese culture, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be encouraged and cultivated by organizations anywhere around the world. Ryan says that companies can plant the seeds for greater empathy for customers by focusing on three main principles:

  • Base interactions on a relationship of equals. This might seem contradictory, because omotenashi is very much a “the customer is always right” philosophy. However, it is also a nondominant relationship. The representative and the customers are on the same level.
  • Anticipate what is best for the customer before a problem develops. Obviously this requires training and proactive planning and outreach.
  • Authentic, from-the-heart service can’t be scripted. The best customer service offers staff the flexibility to imbue the experience with a personal touch.

Human beings are social animals, and it’s impossible to deliver this level of customer service without face-to-face contact. That means when customer service can’t be delivered in-person, video communication is a must-have tool to enable visual collaboration. .

When serving customers remotely, video collaboration retains the personal connection required for omotenashi to occur. An equal, nondominant relationship can’t happen unless the customer and the representative can look each other in the eye. Seeing the other person makes for a less stressful, more constructive engagement.

A video connection also enables the customer service representative to anticipate the needs of the customer. Partially this comes from having a history of interactions in front of them, delivered by some sort of CRM system. But as importantly, it comes from seeing the customer’s body language and facial expressions. Combined with good training, this allows the rep to anticipate how to solve the customer’s issue or help avoid potential issues that could lead to customer frustration.

Finally, a video connection by its very nature improves the customer service experience. When both parties can see each other, the rep can’t multitask or read off a stale script. He or she must engage with the customer, and this greatly increases the chance for a productive, successful interaction.

Companies know that weak customer service damages the brand and hurts the bottom line. Many are also realizing that despite a slew of potential new customer service communication channels in recent years, many issues still require a one-to-one human connection that supports the omotenashi approach.

According to Gartner Research last year, by 2017 one third of all customer service interactions will still require a human intermediary. And global brands know it – Gartner reports that more than 100 of the top 500 global businesses will offer video-based chat for customer- facing interactions.

Video chat provides customers with a richer sense of presence, personalized experience by helped coordination of communication and the support of emotional expression, and the real-time sharing of content,” said Brian Manusama, research director at Gartner. “Video, enabled by increased bandwidth, has been out there in the marketplace for some years. The past year, an increased number of vendors have embarked on this trend with either point solutions or are integrated in current solution suites. This is a trend that will continue in 2015.”

The evidence is clear. In an increasingly technical and complex world, a face-to-face connection remains vital for effective customer service. Video collaboration makes the highest level of customer service possible, which is the competitive edge global brands need to stay ahead of rivals.

Using video, omotenashi can be practiced in any culture and in any location where there is a customer in need of assistance.