How to make international customer service more effective

Regardless of what your product is, the linchpin on which your business revolves is customer service. The interactions between representatives and clients can often make or break a business, especially a startup that's looking to compete in the larger market.

Customer service can be all the more important in international markets where your brand may be unproven. Just like development or translation, you shouldn't approach customer service from a one-size-fits-all perspective. Here are some things to keep in mind when devising your regional service strategies so your brand can stand out from the rest. 

"Different areas define good service in differing ways."

Define your goals regionally
Different markets can be influenced by various factors, and as a result, operations may look very different in one place than in another. This is important to take into account when determining what your service goals are going to be in a given region. Keep in mind that different areas define good service in differing ways. Some places, such as the U.S., may value expedient service and fast turnaround times above all else, while some parts of Europe and Asia pride themselves on hospitality and a friendly and comfortable atmosphere. These different goals may lead you to two conflicting strategies – for example, in trying to facilitate the fastest service, you will likely compromise on some of the superfluous amenities that may be valued by certain cultures. Rather than trying to reconcile all of these goals and offering a mediocre overall experience, instead focus your efforts where the regional market in question will appreciate it most.

Specialize, but not exclusively
It's clear that to meet the various needs and standards of different regions you'll need a team of service representatives specially trained and versed in cultural know-how to best interact with your clients. But while these specialists will form the bulk of your service efforts, don't forget to imbue your other support staff with a basic cultural understanding as well. For example, complicated customer service tickets may end up getting escalated to different departments, such as accounting or manufacturing. These professionals don't need the extensive cultural fluency of your frontline support staff, but they should be able to perform their job functions in a way that conveys competence and inspires confidence in your brand.

Do your homework
Cultural sensitivity is perhaps the most important element of customer service in international markets. In addition to business practices and industry standards from region to region, your service representatives should also be versed in the cultural and linguistic idiosyncrasies of the market in which they're operating. This can range from a grasp of colloquial dialects to better connect with local customers to knowledge of business etiquette and how to act during transactions. Excellent customer service depends on the representative's ability to connect with customers on a personal level, and displaying an affinity for local cultural habits is a subtle and effective way to do that.

"Encourage your clients to offer their feedback."

Be receptive to feedback
Nobody's perfect. It's possible – expected, even – that when you begin moving into new markets, there will be an adjustment period for your customer service representatives. For growing businesses, customer feedback is a crucial tool that can help steer future development efforts. Encourage your clients to offer their feedback, whether it's through a phone survey or email form sent out after an interaction. Of course, your representatives themselves are members of the local community and can offer you valuable insight right from within your own company. You can encourage this exchange of information by offering online resources for employees and managers to communicate, such as forums of email listservs, so that they can share best practices. 

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