Respecting Customer Diversity – Happier Customers

If you do not intentionally include, you unintentionally exclude.” – Neil Lenane

With social media and the internet, no place seems too far, no business seems out of reach and no customer seems unattainable. Businesses are exceedingly appreciating and respecting customer diversity as technology brings countries, communities and people closer together – at least virtually. I can’t remember when was the last time I saw a company that had customers only from one region or country. Even a cursory glance across a range of companies will reveal that they have expanded to cover cross-cultural customers, thereby transcending the limitations of boundaries. Customers are happy conducting business online and can do so from any part of the world and companies that will keep pace and continue respecting customer diversity will grow by leaps and bounds. Newer companies are jumping on to the ‘diversity’ bandwagon providing stiff competition to established businesses, some of whom are scrambling to meet the shrinking world’s expanding customer base.

We have discussed a number of facets that are encompassed in the larger field of customer service and every facet deserves its due attention and focus. For a traditionally run business seeking to broaden their customer base to include customers from different countries, they would need first revamp their company strategies and put in place a workforce that would be able to handle the different customer base. It starts with ensuring that your company representatives not only understand but are focused and trained in respecting customer diversity that will enable them to meet and exceed the demands of these customers, leading to a happy set of patrons. No company can hope to grow beyond a certain size unless it broadens its scope to include cross-country customers and ensures that they take every measure to understand their expectations while respecting their diversity.

Companies must create a cross-cultural mind-set and develop the competence and skills of their customer service staff if they want to successfully build a diverse customer base that is happy, loyal and profitable.

– Given that within one’s own country, the customer base can be extremely varied, this would ring truer in the case of customers from different countries and demographics too. The underlying principles of respecting customer diversity remain the same – treating all with courtesy, respect and empathy. For everything else, it is crucial to remember that there is no ‘umbrella’ rule to serve all customers. We have discussed at length before, that each customer is different and these differences are more pronounced when nationalities and cultures differ.

– Customer service staff must be brought up to the mark to understand and respond suitably to the large cross-section of customers keeping in mind their particular preferences. Customer predilections would be based on their social and economic backgrounds and their culture and ethnic upbringing. The customer service staff would need to be additionally trained in communicating correctly, understanding different languages and dialects and also be attuned to understanding and appreciating the differences. Companies that have not managed and displayed respect for this diversity have found themselves embroiled in long and arduous litigations.

– With fierce competition breathing down each company’s ‘neck’, companies have to create differentiated and memorable customer experiences for all the customers they have enlisted. Being able to prove their mettle with each different customer base is a sure shot way to outrun competition and keep a positive spotlight on your company and its offerings.

– While the bad news is that portrayal of respecting customer diversity is like walking on eggshells, it is not impossible to do. Keep politeness, speed of response and accurate information as the base, and create great customer experiences by letting the diverse customer sections know that not only do you understand them you are also committed to exceeding their needs and are willing to take on board their opinions and suggestions. It’s okay to beat your drum to gain more than a bit of a competitive edge.

– Never make the mistake of using the same marketing and selling strategies to different sets of customers. Take time, collect data and fully understand the needs of each customer segment separately before putting any policies in place. Also open your mind to a hitherto ‘untouched customer segment – you never know when a large but ignored section of people can become a highly profitable and loyal customer base.

– Cross-country customer interactions would rarely ever be face to face. It becomes even more important for the customer service representatives to show concern and ensure that they are respecting customer diversity in everything they say and do. Under no circumstance must they display a difference in attitude based on a customer’s religion, language, social standing and other personality traits. Laughing at or behaving snidely with any customer for any reason must not be tolerated and must attract severe punitive action.

– Consider putting in place a specialized set of customer service representatives who would be highly skilled and adept in dealing with customers who may need detailed explanations and more time to serve either due to language barriers or any other reasons. This would free up the normal flow of calls and servicing channels for other customers with no such problems. This may seem like an added expenditure, but when compared against the cost advantages and time saving through this method in the long run, it more than justifies the cost and effort.

– Respecting customer diversity is not just limited to conducting sound business interactions. Imagine the customer’s delight if you greet them in their particular language or dialect or engage in a relationship building discussion armed with their region’s or culture’s or ethnic background’s information! We all know that relationship building is a very vital part of customer service and the more customers that a company reaches out to, the better their chances at success and long term gains.

– Don’t start a marketing campaign before taking cognizance of the new market segment / customer base being targeted. Not having a proper hold on the new target segment could lead to problems and a failure of the marketing campaign since the customer service representatives would be unable to interact appropriately with the particular customer base. This could prove to be detrimental and damaging in more ways than one for the company.

– It would be great for a company to ensure that their service representatives are able to listen attentively to be able to pick up some key words or phrases used by the customer and mirror their style of interaction. This creates affinity and draws the customer closer in the first interaction. The service staff must make it a practice to repeat their understanding of what the customer said to ensure clarity and eliminate ambiguity.

– To expand the customer base, companies would need to hire more staff – it would hold them in good stead to hire staff that can speak a number of languages especially one that the target audience would understand. Recruiting a diverse set of employees would help too – it will make the customers feel more at ease and be able to communicate a lot better. Within the company too it can foster a better understanding and respect for diverse cultures and languages and pave the way for more cohesion within the teams.

When a company is able to effectively address their varied customers, needs they would be able to truly enjoy dealing with them. Respecting customer diversity is crucial to a company’s business and will open up opportunities not envisaged earlier.

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