Insight hits with a flash. You walk away feeling enlightened, empowered, with a different mindset. I had such a moment on a recent trip to Japan when I visited a local bath house.
" The business side of a bath house is fascinating."
Peter Hanami，Author & consultant
In fact, I had many such moments. History is full of stories of inspiration hitting in the bath but at this bath house it was not just the bathing – it was the whole elaborate ritual (and commercial) experience which provided insight into what makes a successful business model.
Japan has many public bath houses and they can be classified into two main types, onsens, which derive their water from a natural source, and sentos, which use regular heated water. In Japan, it is common for people of all ages to visit a bath house, as a way to relax or unwind after a busy day or as a leisurely day out.
At the start of the 19th century many homes in Japan didn't have baths and a whole industry of providing bathing services began and it has grown into a lucrative business. Although many modern houses now have baths, people still like to visit a bath house with a natural spring. It is an experience and many say the water has a different quality on their skin.
Venturing to use a bath house for the first time is a unique experience and one that takes patience, curiosity and perseverance. There are very precise rules and etiquette. When taking a Japanese bath you wash before you enter the bath.
The business side of a bath house is fascinating. When you pay at many bath houses, the transaction is processed by a vending machine. Inserting notes and pushing a few buttons, your admission tickets are delivered along with your change (And the machines always work).
This automation is replicated throughout the bath house with vending machines for drinks, snacks and restaurant meals.
That was one insight: automated processes can provide seamless convenience for customers.
With a vending machine, you can create a receipt, buy multiple tickets at a discounted rate and reduce the need to wait and carry money.
As my Japanese father-in-law often says when using vending machines, “totemo benri desu" - they are very convenient!"
That's another obvious but often forgotten insight: How can you enhance and add value to your customer's experience?
Something which strikes you immediately when you visit a bath house is how happy the customers are. No glum faces here. The same feeling is often found when visiting a bustling sushi shop.
As a customer you can't ignore this positive atmosphere which slowly becomes contagious.
Business insight: what are the touch points in your business that can make your customers happy and really satisfied?
With all this automation I bet you're wondering why do they need staff at all? Well, believe it or not, there are still plenty of staff on hand within a bath house. Staff are busy at the front reception desk watching customers using the vending machines, roaming the rooms and in a variety of other positions throughout.