The Importance of Multi-Cultural Customer Service

Now more than ever, it's important for companies that want to grow to be able to provide customer service that meets the needs of a multicultural customer base. Whether that means understanding the varied cultural backgrounds of customers or providing customer service in different languages depends on what you sell and who your customer is.

Anand Subramaniam, the vice president of marketing for eGain, a company that provides cloud and on-site customer interaction software for sales, marketing and service, gives BusinessNewsDaily readers six tips on how to develop multilingual, multicultural customer service (MMCS).

Assess the importance of customer service.  Before getting started, you need to figure out how important customer service is to your business strategy. For example, if the linchpin of your business differentiation and branding is low prices, product excellence or operating efficiencies, a focus on MMCS may not make sense.

Assess target markets. The next step is to clearly understand what countries and customer segments constitute your target market. This will help assess the need for MMCS, and identify what languages to support in your MMCS strategy. In many cases, this will be obvious — for example, English for the U.S. or the U.K. and French for France. In other cases, you may need demographic information contained in census data that tells you what languages are primarily and secondarily spoken in your target markets.

You can also find language preferences through primary customer research, where you may find that customers have different language preferences depending on the communication channel. For instance, English may be OK for email and chat but not for phone conversations in many countries.

Assess the scope of customer queries. Customer queries fall into four broad categories of varying complexity and interaction depth: informational ("What is my account balance?"), transactional ("Can you help fill out my online form?"), advice-related ("What calling plan and phone model are suitable for my lifestyle?") and diagnostic ("My camera does not work").

The more complex the queries are, the greater the need is for MMCS. On average, transactional, diagnostic and advice-related queries present more service differentiation opportunities through MMCS than informational ones.

Train agents. Despite the increasing use of self-service, agent-assisted customer service is here to stay. Due to globalization, cross-cultural communication has become a vital part of every agent’s training more than ever before. It's important to cover topics such as vocabulary, tone and cultural etiquette. Clearly, this is more important in phone interactions than in other channels such as email due to its real-time, high-touch nature. This should be supplemented with voice modulation training and accent neutralization for offshore phone agents.

Adopt culturally nuanced policies and practices. Customer service policies and practices are often implemented with little or no consideration to cultural aspects — but they should be. For example, think twice before implementing cross-selling or upselling. In some countries, it may not be polite to cross-sell even at the end of a successful customer service interaction. Likewise, a 48-hour response time for email queries may be acceptable in some cultures but tantamount to ignoring the customer in others.

Leverage technology.
While MMCS can enable highly differentiated customer service, it also adds to the cost of service. It is therefore important to leverage technology-enabled automation, where possible, to curb MMCS costs. Language-aware customer query routing, multilingual user interfaces and content, business rules, knowledge-guided customer interactions and culture-aware interaction tools (e.g. chatbot technology, culture-aware knowledgebases) can help in this area. Real World Use Puts Technologies to the Test