In today’s global marketplace, companies are increasingly extending their customer reference programs to target customers worldwide. A globalized customer advocacy program can increase sales and accelerate the sales cycle, but building a global program is not simply a matter of extending domestic efforts. It goes beyond experience in marketing, knowledge of technology and expertise in gathering and creating evidence. It requires a focus on cultural nuances and regional business etiquette.
A globalized program can also improve customer relations by increasing customer retention, loyalty and trust. By adopting the following three strategies and building the program right from the start, you will increase your odds of success and create a customer advocacy program that speaks to customers wherever they are in the world.
Respect regional business etiquette. What qualifies as acceptable business etiquette in one culture may be seen as a faux pas in another. For example, while small talk is appreciated but not critical in some cultures, it is absolutely essential in others. Furthermore, appropriate subject matter for small talk varies across cultures, so choose your words wisely and avoid politics. In Arab countries, for example, it’s OK to ask, “How is your family?” but avoid specifically asking about a person’s wife or daughter.
In some countries the surname may be listed on a business card first. If you are unsure how to correctly address someone, it is acceptable to politely ask, “How would you like to be addressed?”
Even the gesture of giving a person a business card is subject to varying rules of etiquette. In Asia it is customary to present a business card to the person you meet, text-side out, with both hands – and never with the left hand alone. Likewise, it is polite to take the card that is offered to you with both hands, looking at the card and then at the person, acknowledging him or her. Keep the card on the table or desk in front of you during the meeting. In Asian cultures, the card is seen as an extension of the person, so putting it in your pocket or wallet right away is seen as a sign of disrespect.
Relationships don’t form overnight. Establishing long-lasting business relationships takes time, and the time required varies between countries. If companies want to develop strong customer advocates in other parts of the world, they need to invest the appropriate time to make those relationships last. In some countries, establishing rapport can take several months; in others, it can take several years. When marketers run a flexible centralized program with a global focus and local execution, they can focus on building trust with customers and internal teams.
Often, creating partnerships in other countries can help companies cultivate relationships that pay off with strong customer references.
Pay attention to cultural nuances. It is important to study the appropriate titles and greetings for different cultures; they vary widely, and a simple misstep could tarnish your reputation. In some cultures, titles and forms of address are very important and are viewed as a symbol of respect. For example, in Japan, you show respect by adding the honorific “san” to the person’s name. “Koji-san” is a respectful form of address to Mr. Koji.
Even the manner in which you gain contact with someone at a company should be considered carefully. In Asia and the Middle East, efforts to engage a particular contact at a customer company may depend on whether you can arrange an introduction from someone who is either higher in the chain of command, or someone whom the desired contact admires. In more egalitarian societies, like Scandinavia, on the other hand, you are better off simply contacting a person directly, because invoking the name of someone else may be seen as unwelcome “name-dropping.”
It is universally acceptable to demonstrate a genuine interest in people and show respect. Humor, however, is subject to overwhelming subjectivity, and should be used sparingly. What’s perceived as funny varies wildly between locales and regions, and even between individuals.
Deborah Hanamura is an experienced marketer with expertise in business development, branding and positioning, social media, direct marketing, and communication strategy. She has provided strategic marketing insights and guidance to companies of all sizes for nearly 20 years. Her clients include Microsoft, Johnson & Johnson, GE, NIK Software, PURUS Technologies, TUK Footwear, and the World Health Organization.