Many companies that I know either use local distributors to manage their international clients or they rely on a small team within the company to work directly with the clients.
Regardless of which model they’ve set up, in reality they likely have various staff members interacting with their foreign clients.
It may be an accountant following up on accounts receivable. It could be the sales and marketing department’s administrative assistant. Or it could be someone from the shipping department.
Unfortunately, not all staff members are ready to deliver international customer service.
Some staff may struggle with understanding an international client over the phone. Others may get frustrated when a client takes a long time to explain their situation. Or, too often, international clients are either ignored or routed over to a designated team.
Here are five ways to strengthen your company’s overall international brand through more comprehensive customer service:
1. Define Customer Service as a Company-Wide Responsibility
There may be those in the company that view customer service as relegated to a specific department. It is everyone’s responsibility to deliver quality service to customers in every interaction.
2. Create an International Service Standard for the Company
Some staff may naturally be polite, articulate and have good follow through on client-related tasks. Some may not. It is critical to define expectations. For international customers, there needs to be special emphasis on politeness and listening skills. Correspondence and calls need to be broken down into simpler sentences without any local cultural expressions about sports (for example, "a ballpark estimate”). Make communications clear, friendly and more polite than most Americans are used to.
3. Train on the Service Standard
This is a key step that most companies miss. Since most interactions happen without an audience, how would company leaders know if an employee is not treating international clients and partners in an appropriate way? Training can show staff smart ways to deal with common situations such as challenging phone comprehension and how to make an international client feel truly welcome when they visit company offices.
4. Communicate Client Conversations and Emails
With many internal points of contact, it is critical that there are ways to collect basic information about those interactions. In some companies, colleagues send an update to a specific account owner. In others, there may be a customer relationship management system that acts as a collection point for interactions. Both methods give a way to ask for follow up on questions or other client needs.
5. Special Case: Face-to-Face Interactions
While many international clients remain at a distance for all but a few account managers and project implementation staff, there needs to be preparations whenever a client is coming to visit company headquarters or if the client will be coming to an event where company staff are present.
Hosting international dinners and other events requires knowing a particular culture’s expectations. It can be quite different. Disappointing clients or partners can create a sense of mistrust.
Once in Denver, a commercial real estate firm played host to their Chinese partners. By the end of the visit, the relationship was completely severed. The company leaders had no idea the expectations or that they had done so poorly as hosts. The departure was just unexplained.
I hope this article was helpful to you. For more articles about doing business internationally, please visit my company site: The International Entrepreneur.