The long term success of any online business relies on international eCommerce customer support.
Now more than ever, customers want to feel an affinity with a brand, and they want to know that they are supporting companies that share their values.
This consumer trend is known as The Shared Economy.
In The Shared Economy, there is mutual appreciation between buyer and seller, there are no boundaries for location, culture or demographic. Everything is accessible 24/7 regardless of who you are and where you come from. Expectations are set at the highest level and we must step up to the plate if we wish to succeed.
Assumptions about how to provide an excellent international eCommerce customer support experience can vary from culture to culture, and this often poses a challenge to online sellers who are expanding into international markets.
Basic human nature allows us to adapt the way we speak, so that we can be understood by people from different backgrounds. If you don’t adapt, your customers may go elsewhere. To evolve into a global brand, we must be flexible with our assumptions of who the customer is.
Each customer wants to be treated like an individual, but part of treating someone like an individual means that you need to identify with them and share their values. You need to understand where they come from, and how their needs might differ from your own.
To succeed at international eCommerce customer support in the biggest online marketplaces around the world, we must identify with a customer’s situation, customs and motives.
3 variables in international support
The way a person interacts with you, and what they expect from your service can vary from one continent or country to another. Not only through language and behavior, but also by device and channel. The most important thing you’ll ever learn in customer support is to listen.
Regardless of where you come from, if someone hears what you are saying, they are already empathizing with you and showing that they are trying to solve your problem.
Related article: Selling internationally: Five Critical Areas to Consider
2. Holiday observance
It is extremely important to consider holiday seasons when communicating with customers from international marketplaces. Online sellers need to be aware that there are unique situations in each country and culture that may impact on customer availability, and more importantly the potential disturbance that your manner of contact might inflict upon your customer.
On the plus side, there are holiday dates in the calendar, where your profits can benefit from interacting with your customers in advance, the obvious ones being Black Friday or Christmas.
3. Cultural considerations
To understand cultural differences, there are some intercultural skills that you can develop that will help you and your customer to identify with each other. These skills will allow you to communicate consistently and sensitively with people from other cultures. Intercultural skills will make you more aware of how you view and treat others, and will also inform how others view you.
If you adapt and learn these skills, there will be fewer misunderstandings and less chance of offending someone. They will present you with the opportunity to develop long-standing relationships with your customer. When your customer feels respected and valued, they will have confidence in your company and become a loyal customer.
The 5 steps to becoming an international eCommerce customer support superstar
Recognizing that cultural differences exist, and that they affect the way people communicate, behave and react to situations, is the first step. The next stage of the process is to learn the customer service skills that will help you to achieve a better experience for your customer.
Listening is the most powerful tool when responding to customer queries. Read the customer’s message thoroughly to hear and understand the problem that they want you to solve. If you are unsure what a question might mean, simply ask.
Observe how your customer has addressed you, how detailed or direct their message is, and how they phrase the language. Take note of whether their tone of voice is casual or formal. Do they like a personal approach? Many studies would reveal that the majority of customers prefer a personalized experience. Listen to what they say, how they say it, and respond in the same manner.
2. Be clear
Ask questions. It is essential that you understand the issue that is presented to you. Showing interest in the customer’s message conveys respect.
Clarify anything you don’t understand by outlining the problem as you have understood it, and offer a choice of resolutions. Be concise in your language, avoid jargon and colloquialisms, as these can lead to misunderstandings. Format and style your response in a concise manner for easy understanding.
3. Show respect
This is an obvious one, but sometimes we all need a little reminder not to speak until the other person has finished. Be prepared, by having customer information at the ready and show that you recognize them and their needs by knowing a little about where they come from. Be confident, calm and keep a level tone of voice in your interactions.
4. Beware of projecting attitudes
This one takes an element of soul searching. We need to question our own attitudes and take a look inward.
It is important that you are aware of how you react in certain situations. By learning how you might need to adapt your communication style, this will evolve into a more empathetic human approach. Be universally reassuring by showing empathy, patience, and respect. When you are fully aware of your own outlook, you can learn to understand other perspectives.
Here are some pointers for observing your attitude in customer responses:
- Try to make things clear to avoid misunderstandings.
- Observe whether your message shows emotion, and if your tone of voice alters depending on your reaction to a situation.
- Keep your tone of voice consistent and controlled.
- Take note of how you address people. Do you use first names, or are you more formal in style with salutations, like Mr, Mrs, Ms.
- How do you respond to messages that are phrased in an unfamiliar style?
- Check your punctuation and consider whether it is abrupt or respectful.
- Aim for a positive resolution.
5. Cultural Etiquette
Recognizing social etiquette for a diverse range of customers may seem like a daunting challenge.
Online sellers require a global perspective in their approach to customer support. To succeed, it requires an understanding of cultural values, behaviors and attitudes towards what customers from various cultures expect from support. Knowing even a little bit about their culture can make a huge difference in making your customer feel special and valued.
With a little bit of planning, and spending some time getting to know your customer base, you and your agents can easily learn how to be sensitive to their needs.
Below, I have outlined a brief worksheet for country profiles and etiquette in Germany and the US.
These are rough guides, and it is important to note that stereotyping your customer must be avoided at all costs. When you treat your customer like an individual, you will be able to read their mannerisms, and you can judge how to respectfully and effectively communicate your message.
There are some contrasts between Germany and the US for support preferences.
For German customers, a more formal attitude is required, and good manners are essential. German customers are known to value fairness, equality and honesty. German people can be quite direct in conversation, in contrast to the more convoluted British way of getting the message across, ‘I hope you don’t mind if I..’.
Their tone has been known to come across as blunt or impolite by some other cultures, but this is not the intention. The support process is simply regarded as a formal interaction.
US customers expect a different service. This may stem from their tipping culture where service is an integral part of their daily routine. When addressing your US customers, always use first names. US customers like their support agent to take control of the issue, present a solution and will enjoy a joke in the process, but they will also be eager to get things done and are not keen on waiting.
A Japanese customer will expect to greeted with formal salutations. There is a preference toward a polite discrete tone of voice. The agent may be expected to be more humble and less ‘showy’ with their confidence.
Tackling the Language Barrier
Now for the easy part.
eDesk solves the language barrier issues in two ways.
eDesk auto-translates messages, so that when you receive a message from a marketplace, webchat, or on social, you can set rules to translate it into your preferred language. You then have the option to respond in the customer’s language.
2. Scaling by measuring
By Language and Marketplace
eDesk provides the intelligence that is needed to scale your business by measuring the need for dedicated agents, by language and marketplace.
You don’t always need to employ dedicated agents for each language and marketplace that you are selling in. When expanding internationally, it is important that you scale your business intelligently. XSellco Fusion provides reports on the frequency of interactions in each language and marketplace that you sell on.
You can also analyze your busiest times and schedule your staff appropriately.
These measurements can inform your staff hires, if there are more tickets raised in one area over another, you might need to employ a multilingual agent, or you can make an informed decision to better place your resources elsewhere. Whatever the angle, you won’t be hiring blindly. Guess-work can be dangerous to the sustainability of any business.
If understanding different cultures and customs seems like a lot of effort, it’s definitely worth considering the value of your international customer base.
Brightpearl has estimated that by 2018, the cross-border shopping population will reach 130 million, This amounts to 307 billion dollars in sales. That’s an increase of 20 per cent from this year.
Now listening to your customers and understanding cultural expectations seems like a pretty good idea.