You’d probably say yes, and, indeed, excellent customer service is absolutely necessary to be successful in this highly competitive market. The game is not about who’s got the highest volumes. You may sell more due to the aggressive marketing campaign. And your competitors will invest into customer service building up trust and loyalty, creating a passionate community around the brand. Eventually, they will win – people tend to buy more from those, who they believe in and from those, who care about them.
However, the perception of excellent customer service varies in different cultures.
How do I know it? I live in Eastern Europe now, have lived in Western Europe before and work with Americans. And of course, I work in customer service.
Why should you care? There’s quite a mix of nationalities in America. The knowledge about cultural differences become a valuable asset not only in the international market, but in the American market as well.
What I’ve learned along the way is that the golden rule “Treat others the way you want to be treated” doesn’t always work here.
There are three cultural dimensions you should be aware of to make it right. And they are power distance, collectivism/individualism, uncertainty avoidance and high-/low-context.
Power distance defines what level of social inequality is considered to be normal in the society.
In countries with high power distance (Belgium, France, Malaysia, the Arab World etc.) the communication between a customer and a customer service representative is a sensitive issue. There is a certain amount of emotional distance among people at different levels of the hierarchy. The customer expects to be treated with a lot of respect and ‘as a king’.
On the opposite side, there are low power distance cultures – Netherlands, the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, the Nordic countries and some others. The power in these countries is almost equally distributed among the people and there’s no problem and it’s even expected to communicate with your customers as with equals.
Mistakes can be crucial. If you talk to a customer in an Arab country as you talk to one of your old friends, you’d probably lose him and earn some complaints over the web.
Level of individualism defines whether people imagine themselves through “I” or “We”.
In countries with generally individualistic culture (the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, Netherlands, New Zealand etc.) people tend to be more independent, value distance and make a decision on their own rather than as a part of a social group.
In countries with collectivist cultures — China, Japan, Mexico, Eastern Europe, Arab countries and some others — each person is an active player in society and does what is best for society as a whole rather than themselves.
In terms of customer service, the relationship between customers and a company should be a priority in collectivist cultures. It’s extremely important to build up a harmonious relationship and establish trust with customers there, while in countries with individualist cultures it’s better to concentrate on a task a customer wants you to perform.
Uncertainty avoidance is a society’s tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity.
In countries with low uncertainty avoidance (the United States, England, India, Denmark, China, Singapore etc.) people often rely on informal norms and behaviors in most matters.
By contrast in high uncertainty avoidance countries — for example in Japan, Turkey, France and Germany – people tend to be more rational, they need a lot of information to make a decision. If there’s an issue — try to proceed with careful changes and step-by-step planning and instructions.
We sometimes wish that we could go back in time, erasing words or acts and replacing them with better alternatives. Unfortunately, such reversal is impossible. So be cautious of cultural differences and make your business thrive 🙂