Importance of Cross-cultural Training

“If we are going to live with our deepest differences then we must learn about one another”. – Deborah J. Levine

The world has shrunk! It’s true – in the current scenario wherever you, wherever you work and live, you are sure to be interacting with people from different countries. They could be your co-workers, your vendors, your customers or all. For a business to survive, companies have understood that becoming a global company is the safest and most sensible option. But to remain competitive and have an edge, all employees must receive for better communication and learning. These cross-cultural training programs serve to enhance the understanding and appreciation of different cultures to serve customers and respect co-workers, from these countries and cultures, better. By increasing this inter-cultural expertise and consciousness, companies can reap the advantages of a workplace where people are mutually respectful, trusting and are thoughtful towards international co-workers and customers.

Cross-cultural training proves indispensable in providing a strong base for the desired behaviour and work environment. Most importantly such training mitigates the possibility of triggers that cause disagreements and heated arguments. It is often noticed that people from the same cultural groups tend to stick together as they feel ‘safer’ and more in control. However, the impression that others seem to get is that they are being rejected and kept out on purpose. Both direct and indirect communication often results in major misunderstandings and harmful suppositions tearing people apart from each other. For companies to present a united front and serve customers as ‘one team’, these differences can be detrimental. Also since customers would be multi-cultural these biases could destroy reputation and cause customers to leave. Companies just have to understand the varied backgrounds of their customers and even provide customer service in the language preferred by the customer. Cross-cultural training is completely unavoidable and totally necessary in today’s day and market scenario.

Before deciding on the scope and kind of training to be provided list down a few things:

– How important is customer service in your business strategy – if your company’s USP is low prices, excellent products and or the efficiency with which it operates, then as much of a focus may not be required.

– Which countries and its customers are you currently serving and which are your target segments. This will help formulate and structure the cross-cultural training better – for example the language that is additionally required to service them. Demographic information would also be necessary to have to ascertain the particularities of the target segments.

– Depending on your line of business, the customer queries could range from purely informational to more in-depth troubleshooting. They can call to seek advice or be looking for step by step assistance for something. The more complex the query, the greater the need to get cross-cultural training programs for your staff. Being able to resolve most queries in the first time, would raise the customer’s respect and trust in your company. Service differentiation would be your company’s hallmark with customer’s being more willing to do business with you and also recommend you to others.

– The fact is that even though self-service is on the rise, customer service via live agents will never fade out. People still feel the need to communicate with a human contact rather than have a machine belt out instructions. This coupled with rapid globalization, the importance of cross-cultural training, cannot then be overemphasized. The training programs that cover cross-cultural communication encompass tone of voice, words, vocabulary, cultural etiquette, voice modulation, accent counterbalancing and manner of speaking. Most interactions for cross-country would take place via the phone or email and hence these topics would be highly relevant in the training.

– In a cross-cultural scenario, it is no longer viable to just have customer service focus. The policies and processes around customer service must take in to consideration cultural aspects as well. For example – in some countries a revert time of 48 hours may be acceptable while in another country it would be considered obnoxious and amount to blatant ignoring of the customer leading to customer ire and possibly attrition. Cross-cultural training would help understand how to prioritize and provide service to match these differences.

Despite cross-cultural training, communicating with a wide cross-cultural customer base can still prove daunting and highly challenging. Some simple techniques would help to alleviate misinterpretations and confusion arising out of cross-cultural communication and could be detrimental in the long run. Put these reminders around to help your customer service agents:

– English may be the most common language even in cross-cultural communication. However, the accents may vary and hence it is prudent to slow down on the pace of speech. Ensure each word is clear and lucidly communicates what you are trying to say. Slowing down will also ensure that the pronunciation of words is a lot clearer and comprehensible.

– Ensure questions asked are clear and avoid the use of too many negative questions. Also ask one question at a time. Putting across too many questions in one sentence could confuse the listener especially if English is the second language – not easily understood. For example; “Are you satisfied with the response or should I provide alternatives or call you back with other solutions”? – This could be a highly confusing statement. Separate the questions and proceed to the next if required and only after the listener has responded to one.

– Customer service is about actively listening. Cross-cultural communication demands this to a higher degree. Let your customer speak, repeat what you understood and then take your turn to respond. Cross-cultural training will help you understand the kind of pauses people make while constructing a sentence, making it easier to actively listen.

– Never assume or presume you will remember. Write down important facts and figures to ensure there is no misinterpretation of what your customer is saying.

– Support and empathy are welcome and understood irrespective of language. Ensure that your communication is supportive, inspires trust and provides confidence to your listener. Cross-cultural training is helpful in understanding the simplest and easiest ways to do this.

– Repeat your understanding of what your cross-cultural customer said. Don’t assume they mean what you understood – summarise and present to verify the meaning of what was said. This proves extremely effective in ensuring clarity in cross-cultural communication.

– Your particular culture could have words, phrases, sayings and figures of speech but these could be completely irrelevant or even irreverent in another culture. Cross-cultural training will provide insight in to some commonly misused idioms which must be avoided to prevent misunderstandings.

– Avoid using humour or chit-chat especially when you are unsure of how it would be interpreted in cross-cultural communication. Many cultures don’t take humour and jokes very kindly while conducting business and use of the same may be construed as outrageously rude and unprofessional. Even if you know that humour would be acceptable, use it sparingly during cross-cultural communication.

– Cross-cultural training prepares one for the cultural etiquette that is understood by certain customers and will help to maintain these while managing customers. It gives customers a heightened sense of confidence and pleasure in doing business with people who understand them beyond business needs.

Following these basic tips will produce better results and provide certain advantages.

– Customer service staff that have undertaken cross-cultural training will most certainly be more effective, productive and better at their job

– Such training helps to reduce possible culture shocks for both employees and the customers they are communicating with

– Building on cross-cultural training helps employees become more adept at handling people and situations and hence better suited for leadership roles

– Cross-cultural awareness builds better and more sustainable relationships with cross-cultural customers

– Such training reduces the possibilities of miscommunication that could prove costly both in terms of money and reputation for a company. It also reduces incidence of service lapse and breakdowns.

– Cross-cultural training is an investment with rich dividends and pay-off in the long haul. It keeps companies ahead of competition and helps retain competitive edge.

Businesses are growing, the internet is bringing people closer and the world is shrinking – reach out to more customers across the globe and equip your staff with cross-cultural training to provide better, confident and more relevant customer service.

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