Lost in Translation: 6 Ways to Lose an International Customer

Written by Kevin Casey
Lost in Translation: 6 Ways to Lose an International Customer

Congratulations! You’ve successfully launched your business internationally and have built a solid, growing base of customers overseas. Now don’t screw it up.

 

You already know that a service snafu can send a domestic customer straight to one your competitors. The same holds true in international markets, too, but you’ve got a whole other set of concerns when you go global. Here are six ways to burn your bridges with international customers:

 

1. Apply the Golden Rule incorrectly.

 

The Golden Rule is well-intentioned, but don’t let it steer you into trouble in international markets. You can’t necessarily treat everyone the way you’d like to be treated; doing so may run afoul of local cultures and customs. Over at CEO Blog Nation, one management consultant notes a common misunderstanding when doing business abroad: “Directness — as in saying exactly what you mean or even in making significant eye contact — is NOT valued in many cultures.”

 

2. Disrespect local cultures and practices.

 

Indeed, another exec tells CEO Blog Nation that respect — of cultures, languages, time zones, and other difference — is crucial when serving foreign customers. For example, be aware of national and religious holidays in any country where you do business, lest you offend someone by sending them a sales spiel on those dates.

 

3. Forget about body language.

 

Language barriers mean more than the spoken word, especially if you’re conducting business by videoconference or face-to-face. “SmallBizLady” Melinda Emerson tells the Wells Fargo Business Insight series: “You also want to be very much in tune with non-verbal gestures.”

 

4. Don’t let customers help themselves.

 

Given the inherent challenges of different time zones, a strong self-service experience online and over the phone is essential. The Salesforce.com blog, for instance, points to self-service improvements as a way for companies to avoid service-level dips during the busy holiday season. The same principle can be applied to managing a global customer base.

 

5. Treat international customers as second-class.

 

If you view your international markets as secondary — as in: less important — you’ll likely treat them as such. Customers will notice and dump you for greener pastures. If you’re going to enter a new market, do so with a full commitment. A clear sign you haven’t made that commitment? Your company is unwilling or unable to speak the native language(s) of your international customers. If you don’t have the right language skills in-house, hire new staff accordingly or find third-party help.

 

6. Ignore your employees’ cultural IQ.

 

You train staff on everything from HR policies to new software. Why ignore your employees’ cultural awareness when entering global markets? Be sure to equip customer-facing employees with the proper tools and information for serving international customers. If you can’t do it on your own, consider a local business partnership that can help.

1 Comment

  1. lfgranes

    I love # 5. If this is the way you see international business, please don’t get involve with it. And please, don’t you ever forget, “The customer is always right”, because they have the money and they have the choice to go wherever they are treated the right way.

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