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Overcoming the Challenge of Delivering Great Multi-Cultural Customer Experiences

Consistent delivery of a great customer experience in a multi-market, multi-cultural environment is a multi-faceted challenge. The specifics that define a great customer experience vary by country; but universally, when customers are delighted, they increasingly return, become brand loyalists and tell their friends, colleagues and families.

With over 11 years’ experience working with leading global brands, Empathica (a Mindshare Technologies Company) has identified the core elements of successful international Customer Experience Management (CEM) programmes that drive business improvement and customer loyalty. Here I share some of the key lessons we’ve learned to help you to prepare a successful CEM programme to deliver great cross border customer experiences:

1. Recognise that global brands are delivered locally

Even if the brand is global in its appeal, customers experience that brand differently from country to country. Service expectations between cultures and markets are different; behaviour standards that may make sense in head office may be ineffective (or even insulting) in other markets around the world. For example, mandating an American-style hearty hello to dining guests as they enter a restaurant might feel forced and inappropriate in other, more restrained countries.
It is crucial to listen to the local markets and their expectations, because even the best locally-adapted product can be damaged if delivered in context of a poor overall experience.  And that impacts the global brand.

2. Build the optimal programme under the opportunities and challenges of each market

To manage a business globally, being able to compare performance across locations and countries is crucial. But some businesses make a mistake in trying to make all things the same. In global CEM, there are multiple layers of challenges – from differences in technological capabilities and readiness to adopt customer experience strategies to cultural restrictions.

At Empathica, we assess market readiness carefully in designing a global programme.  What is crucial to the programme design is to understand what drives successful adoption within the particular brand and build on the type of introduction that works in that business.

3. Design the programme to be culturally relevant across all markets

CEM programmes need to be as sensitive to local markets as the service delivery is. For example, the method of invitation and the incentive for participation offered are crucial components in engaging each market. One way to maximise the programme’s consistency is to strive for functional equivalency – keep to a core design that ‘flexes’ to respond to local market requirements.

In order to manage business globally, comparisons across markets have to be meaningful. Research-driven global insights and measurement of global progress require a consistent framework to assess change. In order to provide that consistent core, we design multi-market programmes to be ‘functionally equivalent’ because sometimes the best of intentions can go awry. Consistent research methodology would require that all markets use the same incentive for participation. But what might encourage customer engagement in one market might drive discomfort in another. To maintain cultural relevance, you may need to adjust the programme design when necessary. In those cases, offering a similar, but not necessarily identical, incentive can help the programme thrive.

4. Translations are just the beginning of localisation

It is essential to engage your customers in the language of the location – don’t just translate the right words, use the right tone. And it’s not just the words and tone that you need to consider.  The cultural impact on scoring patterns is a much researched topic and one of subtle complexity. On a 5-point scale – with 5 being the best score, does a 4 mean the same thing in Germany, Japan and Mexico? Unlike in the UK, German schools use a rating system in which a 1 is best score, but a score of 5 would be near failing. It’s just as easy to invert the scale in the markets like Germany for whom a 1 is the highest performance. It’s knowing where changes like that need to happen that is crucial to the programme’s success.

5. Remember it’s not about the number

Once you’re using the right scales, how do you drive improvement? Many businesses want to set a single, global target; but the reality is that goal may be simply out of reach for markets that are ‘hard raters’. The meaningful comparison typically is not the score but the improvement ratio. By targeting a level of improvement (e.g. all markets are expected to improve 6 percentage points in the next year or to outperform the local competitive set), each market can identify ways to drive their improvement within the relevant context.

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