To the bane of eCommerce retailers everywhere, customers have high expectations for your customer service standards. Failing to meet those expectations can really make or break your brand; over 90% say they’ll abandon a brand that consistently delivers a poor customer service experience. There’s also evidence that consumers reward brands that have good customer service.
One of their demands is that you respond to them very speedily – which can be a problem if you’re selling internationally. Customers expect to be able to reach you, and get a rapid response, via email and phone – and often by live chat and social media too.
For obvious reasons, they expect that to be in their own language. Don’t make the mistake of putting your sales info into new market languages but failing to follow up with the language resources to handle the ensuing customer service requests.
Nurturing your customers in their vulnerable post-purchase phase is essential to their lifetime value to your brand. But it’s tough work reaching them via all their chosen channels in their language of choice and in the right time frame – particularly if they’re in a different time zone.
Just meeting these requirements is onerous enough for most businesses. But the cultural adjustment that’s required to meet the needs of customers in a different culture can be a bigger stumbling block than outsourcing companies realise – even if the language is the same.
One example is returns and how your brand handles them. Customers tend to have high expectations for your returns policy and they’re particularly influenced by your competitors in their own market. It’s well worth being aware of what the standard returns policy is locally as this influences expectations too.
Germans are notoriously keen to return goods, and that’s partly because the dominant local retailers tend to have generous returns policies. If you’re retailing in Germany, particularly in a high-returns category such as clothing, be prepared to adjust to local expectations. You may need to perform particularly well in this aspect of your customer service just to keep up.
Successful customer service isn’t just about waiting for customers to reach you with queries. It’s also a question of pro-actively following up to check they’re happy and trying to re-engage with them via channels such as email or social media. Just make sure if you’re doing this that you properly localise these communications so they meet audience expectations while keeping consistent with your brand identity.
In some cultures, it’s inappropriate to assume you can use a customer’s first name in communications, for example, and some cultures respond better to a softer sell.
One mistake that brands often make is to fail to have the right language resource on hand to respond to customers via these channels, particularly if a customer approaches them with queries or complaints using these channels.
Call centre solutions
It’s common to outsource customer service functions to other markets in the hope of saving money or getting a better service. It’s worth remembering that despite the shared language, many Indians, South Africans or Filipinos have never set foot in the countries they are supplying customer service to.
That leads to some culture gaps and difficulties in understanding one another. For instance, many people from gentler cultures are unprepared for how aggressive a disgruntled American consumer can be.
Even where agents and customers nominally speak the same language, culture can be a barrier between them. Idioms are dead giveaways that you’re dealing with someone from another culture and they can cause difficulties as customers both struggle to make themselves understood and understand your call centre staff.
One Indian employee of a Florida-based firm with a branch in Delhi learnt to say ‘no worries’ and ‘take it easy’ and avoid the Indianism ‘do the needful’ and ‘fortnightly’, which is understood only by Brits and Indians.
It’s tough briefing your customer service agents on serving customers from different cultures – and that’s even if they share a common language. BT, EE and Santander all took the decision to return its call centre operations from India and other overseas locations to the UK.
In the US, Delta Airlines took a similar decision. Outsourced worker accents and lack of cultural affinity with domestic customers were both cited as reasons why some companies choose to “onshore”.
If you are using a non-local customer service solution, there are a few points to bear in mind. Really good training can help prepare your agents for any language and cultural barriers. A well-trained agent will mirror the customer’s own approach, whether it’s friendly, formal, straight to the point or more circuitous.
Trying to help agents understand which idioms from their own culture are likely to cause problems for foreign customers is very helpful; teaching them some very common ones that could break down barriers with the customer’s culture is also a good idea.
Indian call centre agents are often encouraged to undergo voice and accent modification training to soften Indian accents. This includes training in grammar, diction and voice modulation.
Agents are coached to change the rhythm of their language to sound more like English speakers from the US or UK. Some outsourcing centres encourage complete cultural immersion, including encouraging agents to watch soap operas and keep up with local news and sports for the market they are serving.
As Artificial Intelligence improves in leaps and bounds and chatbot technology, such as MobileMonkey, becomes increasingly ‘human’, it’s likely that the call centre agent’s role may be endangered. Until then, it’s essential that your customer service approach finds affinity with your audience to prevent your brand from alienating your customers.