To the distress of eCommerce retailers everywhere, customers have high expectations when it comes to customer service standards. Failing to meet those expectations can make or break your brand. In fact, over 90% of consumers say they’ll abandon a brand that consistently delivers a poor customer service experience. There’s also evidence that consumers will reward brands that offer good customer service.
One of the key demands customers have is that you respond to them quickly, which can be a problem if you’re selling in international markets. Customers expect to be able to reach you and obtain a fast response, via both email and phone, and even by live chat and social media.
They also expect to be communicated to in their own language. Don’t make the mistake of putting your sales info into new market languages while failing to implement language resources who can handle customer service requests.
Nurturing your customers in their vulnerable post-purchase phase is essential for their lifetime value to your brand. But it can be complex to reach them via all their chosen channels, in their language of choice, and in the right time frame–especially if they’re in a different time zone.
Just meeting these requirements is hard enough for most businesses. But the cultural adjustment that’s required to meet the needs of customers in a different part of the world can be a bigger stumbling block than outsourcing companies realize–even if the language is the same.
One example is how your company handles returns. Customers tend to have high expectations when it comes to your returns policy, and they’re particularly influenced by competitors in their own market. It’s worth being aware of what the standard returns policy is locally, as this can highly influence expectations.
Germans are notoriously eager to return goods, partly because dominant local retailers tend to have generous return policies. If you’re retailing in Germany, particularly in a high-return category like clothing, be prepared to adjust to local expectations. You may need to perform particularly well in this area of customer service just to keep up.
Successful customer service isn’t just about waiting for customers to reach you with questions. It’s also a question of pro-actively following up to ensure they’re happy, and finding ways to re-engage with them via channels like email or social media. Just ensure that you localize these communications properly so they meet audience expectations while maintaining your brand identity.
In some cultures, it’s inappropriate to assume you can use a customer’s first name in communications, for example. Others respond better to a softer sell.
One mistake that brands often make is failing to have the right language resource on hand to respond to customers, particularly if a customer approaches them with questions or complaints.
It’s common to outsource customer service functions to other markets in the hopes of saving money or getting better service. However, it’s worth remembering that, despite sharing a language, many Indians, South Africans, and Filipinos, for example, have never set foot in the countries they are supplying customer service to.
That can lead to culture gaps and difficulties in understanding between the customer and call-center employee. For instance, many people from these 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. Idioms are dead giveaways that you’re dealing with someone from another culture, and these can cause difficulties as customers struggle to make themselves understood and comprehend your call-center staff.
For example, one Indian employee of a Florida-based firm with a branch in Delhi learned to say ‘no worries’ and ‘take it easy’ and avoid the Indianism ‘do the needful’ and ‘fortnightly,’ which is understood only by British and Indian consumers.
It’s tough briefing your customer service agents on serving customers from different cultures, even if they share a common language. In the UK, many telecom companies have decided to return their call-center operations from India and other overseas locations to the UK.
Here at home, Delta Airlines made 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 roundabout.
Trying to help agents understand which idioms from their own culture are likely to cause problems for foreign customers is also helpful. Teaching agents some common ones that can break down barriers with the customer’s culture is also a good idea.
Indian call-center agents are often encouraged to undergo voice and accent modification training to soften their 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 U.S. or UK. Some outsourcing centers advocate 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 become endangered. Until then, it’s essential that your customer service approach finds affinity with your audience to prevent your brand from alienating customers.