An a-ha moment about a-ha moments – SCN Encourager 5/13/2013

An a-ha moment about a-ha moments…

Do you know how to say “thank you” in Japanese? I suppose I could “google” it, but asking for your help is the truthful way to go. Had I expressed “thank you” in Japanese here, you would’ve guessed that I googled it, anyway.

After all, you see my daily struggles to write in English. You wouldn’t have believed I could weave in a word or two in Japanese. (Heck, I can’t even say “cerveza” in Japanese…)

If I had knew how to say “thank you” properly in Japanese, I’d offer my appreciation to Japanese CEO Hiroshi Mikitani. Remember, it was his book “Marketplace 3.0” that helped me bridge the gap between the Web 2.0 and Web 4.0.  I wrote about this in English back in April.

I described my astonishment with one of Mikitani’s first company-wide decisions, where he required all of 7000 Rakuten’s employees (native Japanese language speakers) to learn English within two years or face dismissal.

The bold move to nudge (er, cattle prod?) Rakuten into a major international e-commerce enterprise was successful. More than 95% of the company’s employees achieved the “English only on the job” goal within the set time frame.

Learning that the future Web 3.0 – according to Mikitani – related to the new communications necessary for our rapidly expanding international marketplace was a big “a-ha moment” for me.

Rakuten’s success with its “English only” mandate was helped by the Japanese society’s long commitment to language education provided another a-ha moment, as he described the reluctant workers at Rakuten embracing a “learn it, not fight it” approach to the company directive.

Despite these two a-ha moments in Mikitani’s book, I missed the one most relevant to all of us as school communicators. (But if you own a company and are requiring everyone to learn a new language, though, I take this back… my two original a-ha moments are likely the most relevant for you.)

But for all of us who do not have a billion-dollar international enterprise as a sideline, here’s my new a-ha moment for you to ponder.

Mikitani wanted Rakuten – every employee at every level – to be fully engaged with the company’s vision for success in the international marketplace. As his employees learned English to better connect with English speaking customers (Americans, Latinos, Chinese…), he also implemented several critical metrics for customer engagement.

How many times have you heard or seen the word “engagement?” We’ve all probably encountered this word more times than we can count lately – and I’m not even counting the times I hear it in conversations with my three daughters who are in their 20s. (AND I’m not even counting the times I used “selective listenting” and blocked it out.)

Mikitani was not comfortable using the word “engagement” within Rakuten without a firm grip on what it meant. He knew customer engagement was important – but what did it mean?

He wanted to know what was at the core of a high quality “customer engagement” experience.

He went beyond the company charts and “big data” spreadsheets and dedicated large portions of his time to listen and learn from both sellers and buyers. They were the ones doing the actual “engaging.” Mikitani wanted to find the common thread linking their best interactions.

He was delighted when he found it.

It wasn’t what he expected. And Mikitani took note of his surprise.

Mikitani’s search led him to the belief that every good and positive “engagement” (the kind that people would hope to occur again) is grounded in a “sense of discovery.”

With an evangelist’s fervor, Mikitani began to add the words delight, surprise, and discovery to his business vocabulary. In fact, he did more than that. He prioritized them.

One way he took these words to the ground level at Rakuten was in his meetings with his company web developers and marketing manages.

Previously, he would ask about the editorial calendar, product positioning, and promotional highlights. Now he asked about how his communications team had planned to engage and connect customers to “opportunities for discovery.”

By consistently building them (small delights, surprises, and discoveries) into a day-by-day, week-by-week tactical schedule, Mikitani was convinced that Rakuten could lead the field in customer engagement. And if the growth of his company is a fair measure, he’s right.

Think about your most recent a-ha moments. It’s great that they were beneficial to your greater understanding of something, of course. But weren’t they also fun?

You may cherish your a-ha moment fact. But there was also an a-ha moment experience… and all that led up to it.

Mikitani would encourage each of us to think about and PLAN how we can turn our customer engagement experiences into a series of enjoyable little a-ha moments. This is how you keep people coming back for more.

A-ha. This makes sense to me, but I may be prejudiced. Just being able to write about “engagement” outside of the context of “weddings” is surprisingly delightful.

Tom Page, SCN




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