The products have been conceived, developed and commercialized. Marketing has identified potential clients, sales closed the deals and accounts receivable has collected payments. Now is when we reach the moment (or moments) of truth as service takes over the core customer relationship and responsibilities.
Customer service for clients around the world has never been as critical as it is today. As advertising and other forms of promotion grow steadily less effective each year, customer satisfaction and repeat business becomes more important. When asked, customers often give relevant input to product development to improve a company’s offering. And highly satisfied customers are more likely to refer your company to their network contacts.
Adding in the international context, how do you continually improve your company’s customer service?
1. Ask for Customer Input
This may seem simple, but many companies avoid or forget to ask their own customers for feedback. If your company has a small customer base, then you should be talking with each account at least once each year to follow up on their satisfaction. Internationally, you’ll need to adjust questions to fit in with local cultural norms. For instance, focus groups are less effective in Asia where participants only say what they think the group wants to hear. In-person individual conversations work best in Asia. Americans and Canadians often prefer a quick online survey so as to not waste unnecessary time giving feedback.
2. Upgrade Company Culture to a Higher Cross-Cultural Service Level
There may be a team or department in your company dedicated to post-sale implementation and service. But oftentimes customers will have interactions with a variety of company staff – from the accounts receivable manager, to shipping clerk to a company administrative assistant. Everyone in the company needs to be trained on how to interact appropriately with the company’s customers. This may sound like a given, but hundreds of horror stories lead me to believe that it is not.
3. Locally Define Service Success
Service expectations vary from place to place. What’s important is to learn how a certain market defines the customer experience. I own a Mini Cooper, which is a British-made car. When I take it in for maintenance, I sit in a comfortable waiting area and am always offered a bottle of water. Everyone is always extremely pleasant. But my American cultural irritation stems from being made to wait longer than the estimated time. I would gladly give up all other perks for fast service. As we say in the U.S.: time is money.
4. Know the Cultural Faux Pas
Customer service is an area where misunderstanding can create big problems. For instance, it is not uncommon in the U.S. to end a successful customer service call with a pitch to sell additional services. In many places, this would alienate your customer.
5. Balance Service Value With Costs
While we would all like to give excellent customer service for a rock-bottom price, this is far from practical. Realistically, excellent service truly does come at a high price. One way to help this alignment is to let clients choose their own service level at the appropriate price points. Keep in mind that in some cultures (Middle East, in particular) this is an area where customers are going to want to get more for less cost. Set pricing with room to come down and still be able to make a profit.
I hope this article was helpful to you. If you need help to developing cost-effective customer service programs for international markets, please contact me.