AEON, one of the biggest retailers in Japan, started an exciting initiative. The company introduced real-time video interpreting services for its customers. As Japan sees the record number of tourists and expects even more due to hosting the Olympics and the Rugby World Cup, the country faces a language barrier challenge.
The recurring theme of the Olympics in Tokyo is omotenashi, the traditional concept of hospitality that puts the guest before and above the host. The host does everything to make the guest as comfortable as possible to ensure the visitor can fully relax and enjoy one’s stay. Since there is not much difference in between the guest and the customer in Japan, the principles of omotenashi apply to customer service practices in many industries, especially in hotel, restaurant, and tourism. The foreigners arriving to Japan for holidays or for the Olympics fall under both categories.
The idea to implement interpretation services was born after AEON realized how big the amount of expected tourist from China is during the Chinese New Year Season. The company already has multilingual employees among the personnel. However, there are not enough of them to accommodate the demand and the diversity of language pairs. Thus, the company developed the remote interpreter solution.
About 550 employees have access to interpreters in 10 languages though electronic devices.
Earlier this year, on February 2nd, the company has started the campaign, and currently about 550 employees in the store chain have smartphones or tablet devices with them to contact interpreters when needed though a video-chat. The largest shop in the chain is located in Chiba and provides interpreting services in 10 languages: English, Chinese, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, French, and Russian. Another available option is a phone call. However, it is not as efficient as a video-chat since the interpreter cannot see the product in question.
Actual Service Provider
Interpretation services are provided by Mieru Tsuyaku, a platform that connects buyers and shop clerks to an interpreter who speaks the languages in question. There are two subscription plans available, light and standard. In the standard plan costs JPY 25,000 per month, and interpreters are available 24/7 all year round for all 10 languages. The light plan limits service availability from midnight to 9 p.m., offers half of the languages, and costs JPY 15,000 per month.
The extra feature provided by the company for both subscriptions is the Japanese Sign Language (JSL) interpretation option. It may be not that useful to foreign travelers but can be of great help for Japanese speakers themselves. Japan sees increase of JSL interpreters. Still, the situation is the same as with the foreign tourists: not enough professionals for everyone. Having a JSL assistant with you at all times will definitely improve the quality of life for many people living with partial or full hearing impairment.