If businesses were people, customer service would represent their personalities, for support interactions reflect the character of the company in question. Brands across industries recognize the criticality of superior customer service, yet many global companies still struggle with developing consistency throughout varying countries.

According to a recent Deloitte study, 40 percent of organizations worldwide have dedicated resources and capabilities to focus on customer experience in the contact center, while 62 percent view customer experience as a competitive differentiator. Thus, accuracy and quality of information (82 percent) and ease of interaction (73 percent) stand as the top priorities across global contact centers. However, developing strategies that span the globe and establishing successful service teams can become tricky as organizations work to balance culture and consistency.

This article originally appeared in the June 2014 edition of Dialogue, our monthly e-Newsletter. Click here to learn more and to subscribe.

Many organizations view their service delivery segments individually, country by country. However, this method doesn’t support the ideal consistent global service delivery model or customer experience, as this divided strategy cannot sustain the expansiveness of the average global enterprise. Contact centers, instead, must work to centralize the resources that support their global customer experience, such as technology, delivery, design, and the innovation lifecycle, in order to remain nimble and aligned with the company’s global business initiatives.

For global contact centers, the best service delivery models are those that can adapt quickly to changing consumer expectations while accounting for regional differences. “Customers across the globe are speaking out and speaking loudly—they want a frictionless experience and they need to know that the companies they do business with have their backs,” says Richard Bledsoe, executive vice president and head of International Global Markets and Industries, at TeleTech. “Companies need to respond and proactively stay ahead of these advanced customer demands.”

Companies must look to implement flexible technologies and adopt the right skills and processes necessary for their particular brands to manage and maintain this continually adaptive experience across multiple countries. By creating this solid infrastructure, contact centers can begin to establish an international understanding that enables them to address and solve issues adequately and respectfully.

Yet, despite the confusion that may arise when conducting business across numerous countries, there are two characteristics that will help companies understand and react to unique, country specific consumer needs:

  1. Local Expertise: Companies that assign brand and customer experience ownership to an individual in each country of operation often find more success when it comes to addressing local consumer preferences. While establishing global standards for customer experience are important, it’s critical to also possess in-country responsibility for understanding the unique requirements of those consumers.
  2. Continual Testing: Successful organizations understand that consumers will inevitably prove that their initial service delivery designs are flawed, hence why it’s important to frequently modify the design to maintain and improve performance. Testing various iterations minimizes risk and accelerates the pace of innovation because the process exposes the best strategy for maintaining the highest level of service quality.

By implementing such strategies and tactics, global service teams can begin to tackle the three greatest challenges facing their international operations: cultural understanding, privacy regulations, and localized communications.

The Culture Clash

Before any company can successfully conduct business in another country, their global service team must understand the cultural differences from country to country, for an acceptable practice in one may offend the customers of another. However, organizations cannot achieve such goals without immersing themselves in the behaviors of these constituents.

American workers are typically known for their strong work ethic and singular focus on getting the job done across the globe. Yet, while this focus works well in the U.S., it can be detrimental in other countries. For example, in the U.S., it’s accepted practice to work through certain less important holidays. In many other countries, this practice is frowned upon, as companies are expected to respect and not disrupt the observance of a holiday—especially religious holidays—for work reasons. Brands can learn much about business and life from other cultures. By demonstrating an openness and respect for local customs, organizations will find that they can build very strong relationships and mutual respect among coworkers and business partners.

To surmount this potential culture clash, brands should seek to hire employees who demonstrate a passion for communicating with people from different countries. These agents must possess the strong desire to learn more about these cultures, for they are more likely to embrace educational training exercises, thereby making them the types of representatives every company wants to see on the frontline. Such an eager perspective also ensures that these agents will share what they learn from each interaction with executives and their management team in order to educate the entire enterprise.

Under Lock and Key

When working with global customers, security and privacy must be top of mind, for many countries have location-based regulations and restrictions for data hosting and email. Thus, companies must tailor their offerings to address these concerns, while also educating and preparing support staff should any issues arise. Employees across the organization must be well-versed in the laws and cultural preferences of their customers’ countries, particularly as they pertain to the business’ offerings and the reasons behind them.

Because privacy touches many areas of the customer experience, global companies must be extremely vigilant of the varying regulations within the countries they serve. For instance, U.S. consumers are accustomed to the fact that, when they call into any given contact center, their conversation may be recorded for quality and training purposes. However, in Europe, contact centers must offer callers the opportunity to opt out. U.S. consumers are also familiar with validating their identity by confirming their social security number, yet for Europeans, even addressing such sensitive information can become quite touchy, potentially threatening the customer’s trust in the brand. Thus, global companies must proceed with caution as they adapt seemingly common practices to accommodate the preferences of differing countries and regions.

Localization, Localization, Localization!

Global companies, above all else, must do everything in their power to deliver customized, localized service responses by providing easy access to representatives who speak the given country’s or region’s native language. While adjusting for language differences between English-speaking countries takes significant effort, it’s important to recognize that just more than 5 percent of the world speaks English. Not only does this figure highlight the magnitude of the challenge facing such global organizations, but it also shines light on the fact that companies must respect the global economy and step outside their comfort zone in order to build and maintain lucrative relationships.

While implementing localized policies and procedures are necessary on the front end, companies must also train agents in their native language to maintain consistency and ensure understanding. Many tend to assume that, because an agent is multilingual, they should be trained in English, but this common misconception often leads to a breakdown in communication. If localized agents will be interacting with customers in Japanese, for instance, they should also have access to desktop systems and CRM tools that reflect the country’s native language. Otherwise, companies risk diminished service, as agents scramble to mentally translate what they see on their screens, delaying response times and increasing the potential for customer churn. Ultimately, all efforts must further the organization on its journey toward successful global service. Thus, clear communication holds the key to long-term loyalty and solid relationships.