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The old adage “the customer is always right” applies just as much in a global digital economy. 

A recent survey by American Express of international customers found that almost two-thirds were willing to spend slightly more money with a company which provided better service. Others say they expect “excellent service” as standard, and it’s essential to gaining repeat business.

Yet it can be particularly tricky when marketing online, especially across different markets and languages.

Here are seven ways to make sure your customer service isn’t lost in translation:

1. Invest in employees

One thing that highly rated companies in the MSN Money Customer Service Hall of Fame have in common is devoting resources to their employees.

Many leading companies stood out by paying above average wages, providing benefits to part-time employees, and empowering staff to make decisions. Investing in training and development not only results in better service, but helps to retain talented staff.  

2. Be social 

Brandwatch’s recent Customer Service Index found that customers were increasingly taking to social media to voice their frustrations about poor service.

The winner, John Lewis, stood out by replying to customers’ tweets within a median time of 16 minutes. As well as dealing promptly with complaints, they also thanked customers who posted positive feedback. 

3. Admit mistakes

Everyone gets it wrong sometimes, but how companies deal with a complaint makes the difference. For example, staff at US-based Southwestern Airlines call customers with a pre-emptive apology in the case of any delays.

Listening carefully and effectively resolving a complaint can reverse a negative impression, and is a chance to show customers you care.

4. Get your website right

If you’re operating in different countries, a carefully targeted website in the correct language is a must. A poorly translated or difficult–to-use site will turn off potential buyers.

Making the user experience as smooth as possible also helps cut down on the number of calls. Don’t forget to get all the the details right – such as displaying prices in the correct currency, and local information about shipping.

Make sure your returns policy is clearly explained, and in line with local laws. 

5. Speak your customers’ language

It’s best to have locally-based, native-speaking sales staff to handle enquiries. Customers won’t want to call an expensive international number if they have a question, so make sure your in-country contact details are easy to find.

For smaller companies, if you can’t afford full-time sales staff in each country, restricting communication to email or online forms is the best option. Other communication channels, such as live chat, can help you respond to any questions promptly.

6. Consider cultural differences

Operating across borders doesn’t just mean changing the language. It’s important to consider subtle differences between cultures to make customers feel at ease.

For example, while Americans tend to favour a chatty, informal style, this isn’t the rule everywhere. Calling customers by their first name in Germany or Japan could be considered over-familiar and a faux pas.

The nuances of the Japanese language, and correct forms of address, can seem a maze to foreigners, but a native speaker can help.

7. Think long-term

Building up a loyal, international customer base does not happen overnight. Investing in staff training, social media, and creating a culture of great service all take time and effort, particularly when operating in a global market.

It’s important to think of every aspect of the user experience, from first impressions to after-sales service and complaint handling. But there’s no doubt a reputation for outstanding service makes the difference between one-off sales and customers who keep coming back.

Christian Arno

Published 22 October, 2012 by Christian Arno

Christian Arno is Founder and Managing Director of Lingo24 and a contributor to Econsultancy. He can also be found on Twitter

23 more posts from this author

Comments (3)


Anthony Phillips

Well done John Lewis.

about 4 years ago


cindy penn

I do believe that having no customer service being provided, company's product is useless due to the fact that customer service is one way to retain the customers or make them stay longer. We all know that looking for a customer to buy a product is achievable but the job, in order to make the company to prosper, does not end in looking for customer. Company must also find way to make their customer stay with them forever. And, it will be achieved through implementing great customer service.

almost 4 years ago


cindy penn

The best way to give customer service is to smile always. A smile can create lives. It will help the customers calm down.

almost 4 years ago

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