Tips for Working With International Clients
One of the wonderful things about being a consultant in Northeast Wisconsin is there are so many great companies in our area. The beauty of technology and our inter-connected globe means you can have customers and clients anywhere. Not only has my company acquired customers in the Midwest and across the Unites States, but we have gained customers in other countries as well.
In my time as a consultant, I've learned quite a few things working with International customers. Here are a few tips that will enable you to deliver excellent customer satisfaction, even if those customers are, literally, on the other side of the world.
Time Difference - One of the biggest challenges in working internationally is the time difference between you and your clients. When you have a customer call write down what time it is for each one of the people on the phone that is in a different country. Be sure that if it is 8:00 a.m. in the United States when you start the call, you realize it is 10:00 p.m. in Hong Kong and your client would most likely rather be getting ready for bed. This will help you focus on what needs to get done in the meeting and help you keep the meeting from running long.
Know What Day It Is - When I work with a client in another country on a regular basis, I add that country's holiday calendar to my calendaring software. That way, whenever a meeting needs to be scheduled, I don't have to embarrass myself by not knowing that November 2nd is Day of the Dead in Brazil and nobody will be coming into the office. Outlook and Google calendar, two of the more popular calendaring options on the market, make this easy.
Communication Costs - Communicating overseas by phone can be expensive, especially if you are making calls several times a week for hours at a time. There are several excellent options that enable you to mitigate these costs.
In many countries, a good percentage of people are now using Skype, a software application recently purchased by Microsoft. Skype does an excellent job of enabling you to talk to several people at once. In my experiences, numerous organizations use Skype and many of them prefer it to a phone call. Obviously, all of the call participants need to be sitting at or near a computer for this to work.
Google also has voice calling options within their Gmail application. If you use this option you'll want to download Google Talk so you can quickly make a call without logging into Gmail.
Both these application require the people you want to communicate with to have the software installed. If that's not an option, or you have customers who exclusively use landlines, both Skype and Google offer the ability to buy minutes to call people directly. These rates are generally MUCH cheaper than dialing internationally over the phone.
Finally, Microsoft Lync has abilities similar to Skype and Google Talk, however there is the added benefit of being able to share computer screens and for multiple users to work on the computer desktop at the same time.
There are many other options available for effective communication such as Instant Messaging, Google docs, Go To Meeting, and more. However, nothing beats a person to person call.
Culture - Given the size of the United States, our culture is very similar across the country. It can be very surprising to see the amount of differences in other countries, especially in Europe. For example, Switzerland has three official languages: German, French and Italian in a country the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined.
In India, when a person shakes their head up and down, instead of it meaning yes like it would in the states, it generally means a person is saying no.
The United States is also a large country for both political and economic reasons in the world. You can almost guarantee that customers you have overseas know who the President of the United States is as well as some of our recent political news.
The reality is, if you want to be able to engage with your customer, you owe it to yourself to pay attention to what happens in the countries where they do business. Economist Magazine is a great business resource for this. It discusses the political and policy situations in many countries and will make you a better informed person when talking to clients from other parts of the world. A less expensive option is Google News, which has the ability to set the edition of the page that is displayed. So if you will be spending a week with a customer in Britain, check out the British edition of Google News for a couple of weeks before heading over there.
Remember, you are building your business ties based on your relationship ties. If you visit another country and your potential client says a dish is a local favorite, or something they are particularly fond of, they are most likely trying to introduce you to a part of their culture and share it with you. So, when visiting Scotland if a client says they love haggis and ask you to try it, be sure you do!
Working with clients overseas can be a very rewarding experience. Just be sure you are respectful of the customer and their culture and make sure you sit and listen before speaking. In today's global economy the world is your customer base!
This blog post originally appeared at [Skyline Technologies] (http://www.skylinetechnologies.com/Insights/Skyline-Blog/December-2011/Tips-for-Working-With-International-Clients)