Reading between the lines
You may or may not be familiar with the terms ‘high context’ and ‘low context’ — they refer to styles of communication — but you must have definitely come across customers who fall under either of the categories. High context communication is used by those who are inclined to assume that the agent has a higher level of intuitive understanding — the capability to read between lines. According to studies (Tung, 1995), 70% of the world is estimated to be high context. Examples include Russia, Japan, China, and the Arab nations. Now, what does this mean for customer support?
- Low context cultures value relationships — your agents should go beyond transactional conversations.
- They value traditions. Begin your conversation with greetings and pleasantries.
- Reassurance is key. Incorporate what they’ve said into your responses. Make it clear that you’ve listened to them.
- Go beyond the face value of what is said. Read between the lines and make suggestions.
High context cultures, on the other hand, try to avoid as much as confusion as possible. They prefer to get right to the point. In most cases, they also skip pleasantries and engage in friendly conversation right away. Examples of high context countries include Germany, the USA, and Scandinavian countries. Here’s how you should interact with such customers:
- High context cultures are not big on formalities. Skimp on the pleasantries and adopt an informal tone.
- Be clear and precise in your communication. Do not expect them to read between the lines too.
- There is no implicit communication. Take what they say at face value.
- Reassurance is still key. Summarize your conversation at the end of the call.
To be (emotional), or not to be
There are emotional cultures, and then there are neutral cultures. Like the name suggests, emotional cultures value emotions and appreciate it when the customer support agent displays sentiment. They believe that this makes customer support more human, hence more trustworthy and warm. Examples of emotional cultures include Italy, Spain and Mexico. Here’s what you need to do to align yourself with this audience:
- Stay calm. Do not be overwhelmed by the emotions displayed by the customer.
- Avoid being transactional. Return the warmth you receive.
- Stay alert. Positive emotions can easily turn into negative ones if you take it easy.
- Do not jump to conclusions. Angry conversations can be steered towards positive experiences with a bit of empathy.
Neutral cultures, on the other hand, perceive emotions as a sign of being irrational. They restrain themselves from sharing if they are happy or disappointed. For a support agent who is sensitized to neutral cultures or is a part of one, this may sound very familiar. However, dealing with it will still be a challenge because there’s no immediate feedback or reaction they can leverage. You can consider the following actions in this scenario:
- Do not be disheartened if your emotions are not reciprocated. It’s not you, it’s them.
- Do not try to force the person into giving emotional responses — they’ll be unhappy and you wouldn’t even know.
- Stay objective. With more objectivity comes better credibility and fewer escalations.
- It’s imperative to listen to every word on every customer call. More so, for an emotionally neutral customer.
Being flexible with timelines
Time is a human construct and like any human construct, different cultures approach it in different ways — some view time as linear, others view it as flexible. In flexible cultures, adaptability is considered important. Examples include India, Brazil and Nigeria. You can keep the following action points in mind while interacting with such customers:
- Be flexible and spend more time to find the right solution. They are not going to accept every canned answer.
- Plans may not be set in stone — some may be estimations, others just intentions. Make room for them.
- Attention to detail is valued over schedules. Do not rush through a phone call in an attempt to finish all items on your agenda.
The saying ‘Time is money’ can be directly attributed to cultures that share a linear view of time. They believe that future can be planned and may attribute flexibility with shoddy service. Examples of such countries are Germany, Japan, and Sweden. In such instances, support agents should
- Give clear and precise answers.
- Give direct answers to queries asked. Do not anticipate the intention of customer and then frame your answer.
- Stick to timelines. If you cannot do so, inform them well in advance.
- Communicate explicitly if you are making any estimations.
Feedback is an important device to measure customer satisfaction. Now the catch is, not everyone gives it in the same manner. Culture plays a role here too! The important things is, you need to take this into consideration and normalize for it while measuring your performance. In some cultures, feedback — especially the negative kind — is given subtly and politely, at times indirectly too. Examples include Japan, Saudi Arabia, and Mexico. In such instances, you should
- Be polite in your response as well. Do not get confrontational.
- Be more perceptive for your own good. Again, do a bit of reading between the lines.
- Understand that it is a Code Red situation if the negative feedback is harsh.
By contrast, there are cultures that are very direct with feedback. They will not cut corners when it comes to appreciating you as well as informing you that you are doing a very bad job. Examples include Germany, Israel, and Russia. You can handle direct feedback in the following ways:
- Be very direct in your communication. Neither underpromise nor overpromise.
- Understand that negative feedback does not mean the end of the world or your relationship with the customer.
- Get over the negative feedback soon, work on the next task to their satisfaction and re-establish a good working relationship.
Tackling language barriers
Language is one of the most direct indicators of customer diversity. With remote call centers and virtual phone teams, more businesses are global than ever before. And the truth is that there is no one global language for business. Support agents themselves might not be comfortable with operating in English. If you are facing this problem, check out the localization options available in Freshdesk Contact Center. Currently, we support English, German, and French. We will soon be launching a localized product interface in 32 other languages including Dutch, Chinese and Portuguese.
At the same time, multilingual support is easiest with phone support because typing in regional languages is still not the best of experiences. There are two things that you can do to make the phone experience even better. One works at an individual level, and the other at business level.
- Be more patient with customers who are not comfortable with the language you are interacting in.
- Consider hiring individual agents or establishing small call center teams in different countries to offer personalized, local support while keeping costs low. For instance, connect an agent in Brazil or Germany (or any other market you’re in) to your existing Freshdesk Contact Center account. Through the real-time dashboard, you can can monitor them from your location. Our customer, The Dutch Label Shop, has a small customer support team spread over 3 continents, addressing issues from their respective regions.