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Customer Service Essentials for an International Business

When an international business expands in the global market, it's critical that its customer service is up to par and tailored to the local culture in a foreign country. Understanding the nuances of customer service in each foreign country where a business is located is the first step to providing top-notch customer service worldwide.

Customize the Service

"You have to figure out what service is in those countries - what the customers really value," says Jeff Eilertsen, vice president of client success at UP! Your Service, a service culture consultancy based in Singapore. "Generally in the world of customer service, companies try to create scripts and very strict processes for people to follow. That may work in a homogenous environment, but when you're expanding overseas, you just have to be careful."

One of his clients has a chain of retail stores in 14 countries throughout Asia, and each country has a different standard of service excellence, he says. In Vietnam, for example, the retail chain determined it would offer a complimentary motorbike valet service since parking in the area is scarce. 

“Hire locally when possible so that you have that local understanding versus dropping in and trying to do business and not understanding some of the cultural nuances off the bat.”

— Jeff Eilertsen, vice president of client success at UP! Your Service

Create Focus Groups

Finding out what foreign customers value isn't always easy. Eilertsen recommends setting up focus groups with foreign employees or potential customers to walk through the whole customer service experience from start to finish and identify perception points along the way. "Perception points are anywhere a customer notices something and forms an opinion," Eilertsen says. "Perception points are experienced through our five senses." Make sure to identify the critical places where that can distinguish one's business.

Hire Foreign Employees to Understand Cultural Differences

"Hire locally when possible so that you have that local understanding versus dropping in and trying to do business and not understanding some of the cultural nuances off the bat," Eilertsen says. He also advises business owners to first be a customer in the foreign country so they can see local practices.

"They could learn who customers are, how transactions take place, cultural nuances of selling, service and money exchange, and more about the local labor market," Eilertsen says. "See what customers really value - related both to products and service provided."

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Stay Open

For an international business, providing good customer service shouldn't be limited to business hours in one time zone.

"The biggest issue for a small business person is you really need to be open 24/7 if you're going to do business in these other time zones," says Verne Harnish, chief executive of Gazelles, a global executive education and coaching company based in Ashburn, Va. "That provides a good customer service." 

If manpower is an issue, Harnish recommends hiring a service to help communicate with customers, such as Chicago-based WebGreeter, which provides live online chat support to website visitors. Also consider partnering with a customer service call center based somewhere outside the U.S. "It's cost effective, and they can be phenomenal at servicing customers," Harnish says. 

Once a business working overseas has nailed down its customer service plan, it's  important to keep in touch with the customer, short of pestering them with lengthy customer satisfaction surveys. Just ask, "What can we do better next time?" Eilertsen says. "That will go a long way in building that customer service."

For great customer service in business when it comes to exchanging foreign currency, consider using a trusted online foreign exchange provider that has tools such as a free online currency converter to calculate euro conversion and offers convenient bank-to-bank payments on the go via laptop, tablet or smartphone. Plus, customers have access to 24/7 customer service with a live representative, unlike the limitations of normal banking hours.



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