A few years ago, when speaking in Singapore, I asked my audience questions during my presentation, like I always do. To my surprise, nobody answered, and the presentation suffered for it. Later I learned that in Asia, standing up and answering a question in front of 100 people during a presentation was, from a cultural perspective, was considered rude. Now, I adapt my presentations based on where I am speaking.
It occurred to me that perhaps some of you have had something similar to your Customer Experiences in a different culture. Today, we will discuss how you can design a country’s culture into your global experience.
We covered this topic on a recent podcast. We determined that before you can include cultural differences in your experience, you must first define what experience you want to deliver regardless of culture. This exercise is one of the first things we do when consulting an organization. We call it a Customer Experience Statement (CES), and it defines the emotional outcome you want your customers to feel about their experiences with you.
For example, Maersk Line, the largest shipping company in the world, came to us years ago to improve their experience. We had them define their experience. Maersk decided that they wanted their customers to trust Maersk and feel cared for and pleased. We were able to accomplish that by making adjustments to Maersk’s experience that delivered those emotions. Over the next 30 months, Maersk improved its Net Promoter Score (NPS)® by 40 points and led to a 10 percent increase in shipping volumes. Defining that experience made a significant difference in how Maersk delivered their services and, in turn, how the customers felt about them.
When I describe this CES process in the context of adapting to country cultures, one of the questions I get often is, “well, if all the countries are different, then how can you have a statement that crosses all of those different cultures?” My answer is you should still define the emotional outcome because feeling cared for and pleased are humanistic feelings, not nationalistic ones. When it comes to your CES, you have this overarching strategy for a specific emotional outcome. Then, how you get them to feel that way, i.e., the tactics you use, should be filtered through culture. In other words, how you make a customer feel cared for in China vs. Japan or Turkey vs. England may be different.
The desired experience can be the same internationally, but what you do to get that as an outcome is different. Therefore, after defining your CES, the next step is to break down how you will do that in various countries. If you want customers to feel cared for, that might mean making direct eye contact and delivering a firm handshake in some cultures. In other cultures, that might mean a polite bow and deferring to them when they speak. But the underlying strategic goal of the experience is still the same.
In research that we did with London Business School back in 2005 for my book The DNA of Customer Experience: How Emotions Drive Value, we discovered that 20 emotions drive and destroy value. These are core emotions. While you may get some differences, but to be honest, I don’t get hung up on the nuances. The critical thing for me with an organization is, do they understand what it means and how are they then going to implement it?
If the organizations want to build trust and make customers feel cared for and pleased, we then use a pyramid, where we have the emotion and then the actions that get you to it. Moreover, we have one for each country. In the US, we may say we need to visit them once a week or listen to them more or whatever it may be. However, for China or the Middle East, that might be very different. You’re then allowing each of the countries to work out strategy implementation as defined by the CES to some extent. This method serves two purposes. First, it will enable the people who know best to handle the details. Second, it gives them ownership and responsibility in the outcome.
How Should You Use This Information to Improve Your International Emotional Outcomes?
When it comes to applying these ideas in the real world, it comes back to segmentation. Try thinking of the various cultures as different segments that exist within your target segment. Your target segment should be value-based, meaning it works with how people decide because of what they want. However, within that segment, they’re going to people who want similar things all across the globe. Therefore, if your product can give customers what they want, you need to ensure that those cultural differences don’t serve as barriers to the value you can provide.
With your target segment determined and the beginning of your experience developed, now you segment again. It would be best to fine-tune the message within these different cultures and a different set of protocols for that country that serve the same underlying value. In other words, use cultural differences as a way of filtering your segments and ensuring that no barriers arise.
However, we would caution you to avoid making your primary segmentation based on culture or country. If, for example, you develop an offering for India as your primary segmentation, you could have problems because India is vast and diverse; there are many different segments.
An appropriate way to choose your target segment is by defining what the people want and searching for a specific type of experience. Then, serve those customers with your experience. Then, within that group of customers, break it down further by country, e.g., we’ve got some customers who live in India, Scotland, and France. Then, ensure you can communicate with all of those groups effectively.
Remember that success in one country or culture is not exportable to all countries and cultures. You might be successful in the States and other Western countries, but that same success using the same tactics is impossible in Asia. You cannot overlay one experience upon another around the world. There are going to be nuances that you need to think about and segmentation to consider.
Moreover, this effort also speaks to the importance of diversity in your team. You can read a lot about cultural differences, but the nuances are significant. People from different cultures with the best intentions could accidentally offend each other because they come from different places and have different norms. If you want to be successful in different parts of the world, it becomes vital to have management representation and employees who have a voice. Your people should have experience in those parts of the world and be part of those cultures.
Remember also that the nuanced differences between are often subconscious and can lead to misinterpretation. Many cultural differences are nonconscious and picked up by the Intuitive System, which, you might remember, is our fast and automatic thinking (instead of our logical, deliberate thinking handled by the Rational System). The Intuitive System picked up these cultural cues slowly over the years as we were being raised in a culture. Therefore, they are often difficult to articulate. A person from that culture managing that experience locally has his or her Intuitive System trained already and can detect when something is awry. It is still essential to bear in mind that we are talking about human beings and human beings’ core emotions. Today, the issue is how do these emotions manifest themselves in different markets, segments, and cultures.
Finally, we recommend that you measure those adjustments to ensure that you’re achieving the outcome that you want to achieve. If you’ve done this right with your CES and defined the emotional effect you want, you need to know if customers feel that way due to their experience with you. There is a natural tendency to assume that you cannot measure emotions. However, you can, and most often, it is seen in how customers behave.
Part of being customer-centric is being sensitive to your customers’ cultures. Embrace it, and you could find that your customer-driven growth can be the same all over the world, even if the route they take to get there is different.
To hear more about this idea in more detail, listen to the complete podcast here.
Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX