Customer service for different cultures  | Macro

Customer service for different cultures 

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By Leigh Westbrook, Head of FM Delivery, UK & EMEA, Mace Macro

Firstly, I would like to dispel a myth – not all English businessmen wear bowler hats. Likewise, I have never seen a Spanish business person leave the office for a siesta, or been in a meeting with a German colleague who worked purely from process. These are potentially dangerous stereotypes and there are many across most countries in Europe. There are however, very specific cultures (and sometimes sub-cultures) that do need to be understood and adapted to in order to deliver great customer service across borders. 

Understanding and embracing different cultures should not be underestimated, and speaking as someone who personally communicates with customers across 13 European countries, I would be hugely naive to think that I don’t need to adopt different approaches when communicating with them. 

In this blog I share a few of my observations and tips to improve both your and your customer’s service experience: 

  • Take the time to understand what your customer’s business needs are – these can change by country but also by region within a country. Showing you have done your homework goes a long way.  For example, understanding that a particular site/office is more customer focused and is used as part of sales pitches to potential new customers, means that you can tailor your services to ensure that you are supporting your client for their end goal. Keeping up with your client’s business strategies, enables you to proactively adjust the way you deliver your services and move with any changes that come along. 
  • Do not assume everyone adopts or displays their local culture in its entirety – people are still individuals and you must recognise that. Flexibility is often required. 
  • Customers in other countries will have different expectations of customer service - managing expectations is important regardless of cultural differences. There may be some local customers who request separate, localised reporting, for example. Whether you can do this is down to your key stakeholders and the agreement you have in place. If it can’t be done, managing the expectations of that local customer becomes key – just because you may not be able to give exactly what they want, they should still feel valued and that comes from good communication. 
  • Other people within your organisation may not fully appreciate the subtleties between cultures - customer service is not just dealing with customers; it is also about educating your own people. 
  • Understand that the way you write an email to a customer affects (sometimes irreversibly) their perception of you and your business. Sometimes the very British way of starting an email with ‘Hi, I hope you are well…’ can be perceived as woolly, lengthy and pointless by some nations, whereas some countries prefer a warmer tone to their email communications. 
  • Be wary of using localisms and slang – it does not always translate as well as you intend! I once used the phrase ‘he knows his onions’ to be looked at blankly!! 

This is a taster of some of the differences I experience in my daily work with colleagues and clients across Europe.  It’s part of what makes it interesting and exciting, and time spent understanding our differences and paying attention to how people communicate and do business really helps to deepen our relationships.

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