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Introduction

Last month, I took you through the concepts of how customer service, specific to one culture or another, can add to your success. I referred to  Trompenaars’ Seven Dimensions of Cultural Differences and touched on cultural dimensions on the continuum from “particularistic” cultures to those that value “universalism”. In today’s blog post, I continue to detail how you can tailor your customer service to the culture surrounding you:

How will your customers reach you?

Your target demographic may not reach out to you by phone or email. For example, in China, WeChat has become the service channel of choice for most consumers. Don’t neglect your website: beyond the usual frequently asked questions, a well-curated and maintained knowledge base can answer many questions for your clients. If a client still needs to call for service, they’ll at least be better informed when they do. 

While researching your target demographic, check if the preferred channels change from one large market segment to another. Be flexible and give your teams the tools they need to meet your customers where they are.

Customer Service in English

Many countries are host to multiple languages: Canada uses French and English, and Switzerland uses German, French, Italian, and Romansh. India has 23 official languages and 30 that at least 1 million people speak. Most experts advise that you provide customer service in English and at least one of the major languages used by your target demographic. It may be impractical to hire staff fluent in every major language. Still, many people worldwide do speak English, even if it is not their native tongue, making it a useful “backup” language. If your customer service menu doesn’t list the language that they are most comfortable in, many customers choose English.

Build or buy?

You must decide what sort of customer service team you want. Do you want to build an in-house team or outsource to one of the many companies in the third-party service market? 

A key driver in this decision is cost: building a highly-skilled cross-cultural customer service team costs both time and money. A good rule of thumb is that until your revenue from business in the new country exceeds 10% of your company’s total revenue, outsourcing is usually the best choice. But as your business grows, there’s nothing to stop you from gradually building in-house customer service resources, then switching over to your internal team when you reach your desired revenue threshold.

Advantages of outsourcing include cost and time-to-value. There are many companies with deep experience in this field, and they can get your customer service up and running within days or a few weeks at most. 

If you decide to outsource, then it’s best to stick with a single vendor if possible. Doing so affords you better consistency and the flexibility to make changes quickly. Look for directly relevant experience: do they have people who are fluent in at least one of your target languages, as well as English? Do they have experience in your industry, and ideally with your target demographic? Do they have the necessary cultural literacy?

The biggest advantage of building in-house is direct control and adaptability. Your staff answer to you alone; you can invest the time and effort to ensure that your in-house team has exactly the expertise you want. 

Building your team in-house means you should seek as much advice as you can on matters of language and culture. Use the knowledge base you have in the employees who are natives of your new country. Try to get feedback from members of your target demographic.

To succeed

As you expand internationally, plan to adapt customer service and every other aspect of your business to the cultural expectations of your new markets. Keep an open mind and a flexible attitude, and don’t expect your customers to adapt to you. Demonstrating your cultural awareness helps you stand out from your competitors, whether they are native companies or, as you are, coming in from outside.