The world is getting smaller. Nations and communities are becoming more diverse. Due to advances in communication, the spread of e-commerce and the ease of travel, many businesses today can expand to cross cultural and geographic boundaries. With the rapid changes in technology, modern day customers have grown comfortable with shopping online from whichever corner of the world they like, and e-commerce businesses may easily receive orders from virtually anywhere.
Professionalism in customer service means different things to different people, but all of them are worthy of your time, respect and attention. When customer service representatives acknowledge and respect diversity, they have a greater opportunity to attract and retain diverse customers, build better rapport with them and increase customer satisfaction.
In this article I’d like to highlight some ideas on how you can develop your cultural competence for customer service to better understand the different needs and expectations of diverse groups of customers.
Respecting customer diversity is more than simply good manners
We all know the old golden rule: treat others the way you want to be treated. But simply treating customers with the same courtesy and dignity is no longer enough in this shrinking world. In order to truly succeed, you need to grow beyond the “one size fits all” mentality and learn to understand and respond appropriately to the preferences of customers from varying ethnic, social, and economic backgrounds. In this truly global economy, skills like cultural awareness, flexibility, and effective communication are critical for customer service representatives to properly deal with the expectations of people from different cultures.
Kelly McDonald, the author of “Crafting the Customer Experience For People Not Like You“, emphasizes that by creating a customer experience that addresses a specific customer group’s needs and wants, you can differentiate yourself from your competition and grow your business with new, incremental customers.
It doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Just learn how to create positive experiences for those groups of customers “who are not like you” by letting a specific customer segment know that you understand and are responding to its needs. And you’ll get a great opportunity to shine and develop a significant competitive edge.
Targeted marketing and service efforts aimed at diverse customer groups can pay big dividends, – highlights Jonathan M. Tisch in “Chocolates on the Pillow Aren’t Enough: Reinventing The Customer Experience“. Sometimes it takes out-of-the-box thinking to understand the varying segments of your market… Devote time and energy to open-ended brainstorming about your customer subsets as well as to quantitative research into their needs and wants, and then develop programs to attract and satisfy those preferences. Your organization may be able to build a significant new business base among once-neglected customer groups.
Making cross-cultural customer interactions simple
Whether your customer interactions carried out by phone, via email, in Live Chat or in person, there are some common sense principles that could significantly improve service.
1. Reinforce importance of recognizing customer diversity
Every business has a culture, and respecting diversity should be one of the primary values guiding your team. Make sure all your employees show genuine sense of fairness and goodwill, and take customer requests seriously, no matter what their race, religion, social status, or other characteristics are. No condescending. Put it clear that it is unacceptable to laugh at customers, embarrass them, or treat them as though they are less intelligent than you.
An important step into improving customer satisfaction might be authorizing your service representatives to take extra time to help customers overcome language difficulties or to provide additional explanations when needed. This might require adjusting your internal policy of handling calls and even increase average call processing time as it takes more time for non-native speakers of English to collect their thoughts and translate questions from their native tongue.
2. Know your customers and seek out culture-specific knowledge
The nature of your clientele is more likely than ever to consist of people from all corners of the world. Whenever it’s possible, spend time to learn about where your customers are from, and get a basic knowledge of relevant world views, values and beliefs.
It’s especially critical when your company’s marketing efforts are aimed at some new segments of the market. Customer service representatives should be aware of such campaigns to be able to properly deal with members of the communities targeted for the business expansion. Otherwise, communication obstacles and being not ready to interact with new group of customers might have a detrimental effect on business or customer relationships.
On the other hand, try to make the most of every piece of information you might have at hand. For example, in Live Chat you can easily find out geographical location of visitors calling you for help and better understand their individual needs based on their browsing history. Mastering a few key phrases in their language might be a great way to build rapport as well.
3. Listen actively and recognize patterns for communicating
Customer service representatives with good listening skills can quickly build rapport, effectively address the issue and suggest a timely solution. A good practice here would be to pay attention to customer communication traits and mirror them to increase the effectiveness of interaction, for example, slow down or speed up their speech rate, use the same terminology, and paraphrase what is said by the customer to show that their needs are being heard. Representatives should be prepared to repeat themselves without sounding annoyed, speak clearly, using short sentences.
My personal tips when dealing with non-native speakers are really simple. Monitor conversation for understanding and if it looks like the customer hasn’t fully understood, go back to the last point you received confirmation they did and start it over in smaller, slower steps. Avoid jargon, jokes, complex negatives and plays on words as these might result in a foul-up or even carry the risk of causing offence.
4. Create a welcoming environment by having a diverse workforce
Hiring bilingual employees who not only speak some other language but also have unique insights into different cultures would help create a fantastic customer experience. Kelly McDonald in “Crafting the Customer Experience For People Not Like You” puts it clear: When you hire people who are not like you, you’ll see your business grow with new customers very quickly. That’s because we all have a network of friends, neighbors, and family—people we tell about where we work and what we do. So when you hire someone who is tapped into a whole new network, word will get around that your place of business is the place to go.
5. Share your experiences with colleagues to work out consistent approaches
Cultural diversity is a real gift for customer service reps. Dealing with customers from other cultures provides a great opportunity to learn from others and grow in our humanity. You can learn from your customers, and you certainly can learn from your colleagues. Every time you have something to share about your interaction with a customer representing a different culture, let your colleagues know! No matter whether it was a subtle misunderstanding or an embarrassing communication failure, it can serve as a positive lesson for the whole team. Ask your colleagues how they would handle a similar situation, or just tell them about what leaves you feeling a bit puzzled. This would give your team a tremendous chance to interact, find clues or solutions, adapt them and do better next time.
At Provide Support, we brainstorm and share our experiences and knowledge with each other to better understand people from different cultures, come up with creative ideas and new approaches — and better serve our customers. We also are proud of our ability to effectively address our customers’ diverse needs, and truly enjoy dealing with people with different backgrounds.
Over to you
How do you feel about customers from different cultures? Have you ever encountered any cross-cultural conflict in customer service? Do you have any other interesting examples to share? Tell us your story through the comments section, we would love to hear from you. And as always, thank you for reading our blog!
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