international customer serviceThis month’s theme is International Customer Service. As small and medium-sized companies continue to internationalize, post-sale service will become even more important to these companies’ reputation and build long-term value. Here are some key mistakes to avoid in your international customer service:

1. Switching Language for Support
Business-to-business buyers normally prefer to receive all correspondence in their own native language. That said, in some technology industries, there might be a standard language (ex. English, German). And depending on the number of speakers of a particular language, there may be no local language expectation at all.

Normally I recommend that whatever language was used in selling the product or service should be the same for customer service. If your company uses a local distributor or representative who converses in the local language and culture, then that should continue if at all possible. It would be less realistic for that same customer to suddenly call overseas in a language less familiar to seek help. Likewise, if the product was sold directly by your company in your native language, then the customer should expect that direct support is provided in that language as well. Clients would likely balk or even reject the language switch.

2. Changing Local Support Already Known to the Customer
This is not a hard and fast rule, but a strong guideline. Customers abroad will form relationships with their local support. Even if you want to change to a lower cost provider when the contract is up for renewal, you risk alienating customers to are attached to that support resource. There are notable exceptions, a rep who is dishonest, unethical or doing a poor job, for instance.

3. Answering Rude with Rude
Each culture has its own criteria for what constitutes inappropriate professional behavior. For example, an upset customer in India or Israel is likely to be very direct and specific about their disappointment. The important thing to train employees is to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is standard training in the customer service field, but based on the markets serviced, may require some additional lessons on how to maintain a key relationship and work through the issue at hand.

4. Upselling on Support Calls
It is becoming a common American practice to take a successful customer service or support call and then turn towards trying to sell more products or services to the customer. While I think it’s generally a bad idea, it definitely has a net negative effect in many international markets.

5. Limited Cultural Training
Most small and medium-sized companies skip staff training on cross-cultural communications. Since most support actions are taken by phone or email, it is even harder to navigate cultural misunderstandings than in-person conversations. Without training, minor issues blow up into large ones. Training specific to your company’s processes, culture and markets is an easy upfront investment that saves time, money and frustration later.

I hope you found this article helpful. For help on troubleshooting international customer service issues, please contact me.