In this blog, we will explore automated customer service in the Japanese language. Japan's customer service is recognized for its superior quality, and technology has played a role in significantly enhancing its effectiveness. Given this high level of competition in customer service provision, it is no doubt fundamental for international businesses to be able to communicate with customers in Japanese.
Japanese is a language spoken by around 130 million people worldwide, primarily in Japan. It is also spoken by smaller communities in other countries, such as the United States, Brazil, and Canada, where a relatively significant number of Japanese descent are living.
The Japanese language is part of the Japonic language family, which includes the Ryukyuan languages spoken in Okinawa and some neighbouring islands. It is believed that the Japanese language has no direct connection to any other language, although some linguists have proposed connections with languages spoken on the Korean Peninsula and in northeastern China.
The Japanese language is known for its unique writing system, which combines Chinese characters (kanji), hiragana, and katakana. Kanji characters were borrowed from Chinese and are used to represent complex words, while hiragana and katakana are used to represent syllables and sound effects.
Hence, Japanese is a phonetic language. The way in which the characters are pronounced is determined by the phonetic rules of the language. For example, the hiragana character "か" (ka) represents the sound "ka," while the character "き" (ki) represents the sound "ki." Similarly, the kanji character "日" (hi) represents the sound "hi," and the character "本" (hon) represents the sound "hon."
In terms of grammar, the Japanese language is quite different from English. It has a subject-object-verb word order and uses particles to indicate the function of each word in a sentence. Similar to the Korean language, Japanese has complex systems of honorifics, which are used to show respect to others. Verbs have a variety of forms to indicate politeness. These systems can be quite similar in structure, with different levels of formality used in different contexts.
Despite these differences, there are also some similarities between Japanese and English. Both languages use the Latin alphabet for transcribing sounds, and both have borrowed words from other languages. For example, Japanese has borrowed many words from English, such as "tire" (タイヤ) and "computer" (コンピューター).
According to the EF English Proficiency Index (EF EPI) for 2022, Japan ranked 80th out of 111 countries surveyed, indicating a "low proficiency" level. In fact, English proficiency in Japan has remained to be low over the years since 2017.
Like some other Asian countries, such as China and Korea, Japan’s education system faces the problem of putting too much emphasis on grammar and reading comprehension rather than speaking and listening skills. This resulted in poor oral communication skills among Japanese students.
Unlike some other countries where English is widely spoken and used in everyday life, such as Singapore or the Philippines, English is not commonly spoken in Japan outside of academic or business settings. This limited exposure to English can make it more difficult for Japanese people to develop their language skills. Additionally, this may have made some Japanese people feel that it is unnecessary to learn English since Japanese is such a widely spoken language within the country.
Japan has been well-known for its excellent and friendly customer service. Omotenashi is a special term in Japanese which roughly translates to "hospitality" or "service mindset." It encompasses the traditional Japanese values of humility, respect, and attention to detail, and it is considered a core part of Japanese culture and is often referenced as a defining feature of Japanese service and hospitality.
Omotenashi has a long history in Japan, dating back to the Edo period (1603-1868) when the samurai class would entertain guests in their homes and provide them with luxurious and attentive service. The concept of Omotenashi has evolved and has been passed down from generation to generation in the form of traditional Japanese manners and customs. The traditional Japanese tea ceremony, which places emphasis on the spirit of hospitality, is an example of this.
The term has been picked up by more people around the world as Christel Takigawa, the Tokyo 2020 Bib Ambassador, presented an eloquent speech to the International Olympic Committee emphasizing Omotenashi.
In recent years, Omotenashi has also become increasingly important in the tourism industry to attract and retain international visitors. The Japanese government has actively promoted Omotenashi as a unique aspect of Japanese culture and has trained and certified tourism-related businesses such as hotels and ryokans in the principles of Omotenashi.
The commitment to providing excellent customer service has led to many innovative approaches to customer service in Japan. Companies are dedicated to making use of technologies to improve customer experiences.
In recent years, Japanese companies have been experimenting with using robots to provide customer service. For example, the Henn na Hotel in Nagasaki uses a team of robots to greet guests, check them in, and answer their questions. The robots are designed to be friendly and approachable, and they can even speak multiple languages.
According to J.D.Power’s survey of auto dealerships in Japan in 2022, 28% of customers use the mobile app developed by the manufacturer of their vehicle, compared with 22% in 2021. In particular, half of all luxury brand customers use the mobile app, suggesting that such mobile apps are increasingly used by owners.
These have demonstrated how important it is in Japan to leverage technologies to provide the most accessible and convenient customer service. Many other technologies, such as real-time notification in transportation, and chatbots like those provided at Algomo, are all feasible solutions to being innovative in providing customer service in Japan.
Attention to detail is highly valued in Japanese culture, and this extends to customer service.
Despite the basic principle of being friendly and helpful to customers, companies pay extra attention to other aspects such as packaging, cleanliness, and presentation.
For example, in restaurants in Japan, presentation is a key aspect of the dining experience. Dishes are often served on beautiful plates or bowls, and the way that the food is arranged on the plate is carefully considered to ensure that it looks aesthetically pleasing. This attention to detail is also evident in the way that the restaurant is decorated, with each element carefully chosen to create a specific ambience.
In addition, department stores and gift shops in Japan often offer an exceptional level of service when it comes to packaging and wrapping gifts. In many stores, there are dedicated wrapping stations where employees are trained in the art of gift wrapping.
In general, the Japanese language is well-supported by many platforms for chatbot development. Mainstream natural language processing (NLP) tools and chatbot development platforms all support the Japanese language, including Dialogflow, Amazon Lex and Microsoft Bot Framework.
A quite standardized writing system and relatively simple grammar structure have made it easier to process Japanese texts and hence to develop chatbots that can recognize and generate Japanese text.
According to a report by Research And Markets, the chatbot market in Japan is expected to grow at a CAGR of 29.4% during the forecast period of 2020-2025. The report attributes this growth to the increasing demand for automation in various industries, such as healthcare, retail, and banking.
Since LINE, Facebook and other messaging tools with a vast number of users have become open-sourced in 2016 in Japan, third-party enterprises have become able to develop message-tool-used products as Chatbot platforms. This has become one of the triggers to launch the domestic conversational AI platform market. (Source: Yano Research Institute Ltd)
Japan's three biggest financial groups have been active in adopting AI-powered chatbots to help with reports and other internal tasks. The recent developments in the market accelerated this trend further.
Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group will begin using a chatbot this summer for such work as drafting approval requests and responding to internal inquiries, aiming to boost productivity by saving employees time and effort on cumbersome paperwork. In the future, it will also consider extending the use of chatbots to answer customer questions online.
While such big names as Morgan Stanley have been delving into AI chatbot technology elsewhere, it has mostly been startups leading the way in Japan. These moves by MUFG and its peers could spur other major Japanese companies to follow their lead.
LINE is one of the most frequently-sued messaging platforms in Japan. During the COVID-19 period, the Japanese government has used the LINE Official Account platform to provide information and updates.
Users can add an official account on LINE and receive daily updates and notifications from the government. The account features a chatbot that can answer frequently asked questions related to the pandemic. Users who test positive for COVID-19 can report their status through the LINE Official Account. This allows the government to perform contact tracing and notify individuals who may have been exposed to the virus.
Rinna is a technology firm based in Japan and Indonesia. Its primary focus is developing AI solutions for businesses. The company provides various pre-designed AI characters, including professional, humorous, friendly, compassionate, and enthusiastic, which can be applied to chatbots, customer engagement, and conversation analytics. The customer engagement and conversation analytics features help the chatbot to send targeted ads within messaging apps that promote personalized conversations, the
While Rinna's services are available in China, Japan, and Indonesia, the company's primary industry focus in Japan is retail, entertainment, and government. Its AI character in Japan has an estimated 40 million users and can interact with customers by talking, introducing products, playing games, and demonstrating abilities through chats.
Bespoke is the firm behind Bebot, which is one of the most widely utilized chatbot platforms in Japan. The company was established in 2015 with the objective of developing AI solutions to foster a sense of community by connecting tourists with locals.
As a result of this mission, Bebot was introduced, which serves as an information desk and is primarily used for customer support of public services, tourist information, and disaster responses backed by local authorities. Consequently, Bespoke's clientele encompasses municipalities, public institutions, and airlines in Japan. Moreover, it has gained prominence among businesses in the banking and finance sectors, which are accelerating the integration of AI solutions in their customer services.
Ensuring exceptional customer service is a critical aspect that businesses operating in Japan should prioritize. Along with delivering amicable in-person service to clients, it's equally essential to demonstrate care and respect towards customers in online interactions. As the chatbot market is rapidly expanding in Japan, it holds immense potential to support Japanese businesses in their quest to provide top-notch customer service.