We all know that a positive customer experience (CX) drives repeat business, increased turnover and higher profits.
Companies who work hard to ensure their customers have a positive experience certainly reap the rewards of their efforts.
All this is great, but unfortunately, where many companies then fall down is by assuming that the CX strategy developed in their domestic market also translates to their overseas’ markets.
It can be quite easy to assume that what works well at home will also lead the same levels of customer experience overseas.
So, what stops a successful CX approach developed in the home country from doing well abroad?
The key factor here is culture.
Where culture is unexplored or ignored, then what works well in Country A may even jeopardise the experience in Country B.
Let’s take a very simple example of the critical role played by culture by looking at a huge loss incurred by Home Depot, a large American Do It Yourself store. When Home Depot expanded into China it soon had to close all seven of its outlets when the Chinese ‘do it for me’ culture rather than a ‘do it yourself’ culture became apparent.
The very costly after-tax loss for this poorly considered decision was in the region of 160 million US dollars. Had Home Depot done their research and thought through the experience of customers buying their products, they would have realised quite quickly that they would need to dramatically rethink the way in which their products were positioned and sold.
Home Depot is just one of millions of examples that highlight the need to ensure that companies do not approach their CX strategies as a one fits all approach. For companies who prioritise the role of culture and who use it to shape country by country strategies then their efforts will not go unrewarded.
Key areas culture savvy companies are likely to look at when developing their international CX strategies, include the following:
By expectations, we mean what the customers expect to see and hear when interacting with the company.
A German customer for example values information and will probably need a little extra convincing before buying a product. This might come in the form of statistics or quality accreditation. American customers are more likely to put value on ‘time’ which means that a company may wish to emphasise the time saving qualities of their products.
They may also find that, whilst their American customers are happy to interface directly with the internet, that their Indian customers (who place considerable value on trust and relationships), find greater comfort knowing that there’s also a telephone number where they can connect and discuss their needs with a company representative if necessary.
If a face to face experience, they it’s likely that Russian and Chinese customers will expect the company representative to be extremely well groomed and well presented. For a UK customer however, grooming and presentation of a sales representative is less important. Beards, piercings, and the ‘right’ to present oneself how they choose (within reason) is typically acceptable.
So these are all small examples, but they give a basic illustration of the differences driven by cultural difference.
Localisation is also an essential part of a CX strategy.
Ignoring it is likely to cause issues at some point and it’s these issues which can very likely result in customer loss or complaints.
Let’s look at some examples of something that might work well in one country but which has a less positive impact in another or proves to be downright confusing. Take for example the use of a 12/11/2018 on an advert in the UK. To Brits, this means the 12th November. To Americans, it means the 11th December. If dates form a deadline in some way, then the customer experience will be destroyed if they customer realises they have missed a date by month.
Likewise, in some countries a car advert featuring a lady in short clothing might be absolutely fine, but clearly this same advert might cause offence in the Middle East. A picture which features someone eating a beef burger sounds innocuous enough, but this same picture might well cause offence in India where the majority of people are Hindus and where cows are sacred.
Colours also have different connotations in different countries and if numbers considered unlucky are used in adverts or displayed on products, then rather than the customer being drawn to them, they may instead prove to be an automatic turn off.
Another example of cultural difference is that different countries value sustainability in different ways.
Some countries such as Finland, Iceland and Sweden place great emphasis on sustainability whilst others don’t. Although they may love the product, if it’s delivered in excessive plastic materials then their experience is likely to be damaged and this is unlikely to result in further orders. Likewise, selling foods which are being shipped from overseas and packaged in unrecyclable materials is unlikely to appeal.
Companies who think about the culture of a country when designing their CX strategies are also likely to think about how they can draw upon the values of their target market. Emphasising the use of recycled materials or advertising company environmental projects on the website will all go a long way to helping boost the experience.
Developing a Culturally Astute CX Strategy
So what should companies be doing to improve the experience of their international customers?
Here’s our dos and don’ts:
• Don’t assume that the domestic CX strategy will apply in international markets
• Formulate CX strategies for each country separately and, where cultures vary significantly across a country, then split these strategies into regional strategies too
• Take the time to train staff across the business in cultural awareness. It doesn’t matter whether they deal with customers online or face to face as both mediums form part of the customer experience and both mediums will have a fundamental impact
• Think about the online presence of the company and consider country specific pages to allow online localisation changes
• Gather as much feedback as possible from international customers. Whether this is via an online form, telephone calls or onsite paper forms, customer feedback is an incredible way to help companies identify what they are doing well and what needs to change
• Act upon feedback. If the feedback isn’t right for a particular country and if it’s apparent that this is due to a lack of cultural understanding, then take the time to train the staff on cultural training for that specific country. Also engage cross cultural consultants who may be able to give additional pointers and direction