How to Communicate With Customers From Diverse Cultural Backgrounds

Customer Support Agents

In the digital age the world keeps growing smaller and smaller. As a result, customer bases are increasingly becoming more multicultural and international. This means that successful customer service teams need to be prepared to communicate with customers from diverse backgrounds.

Here we’ll look at four practical tips to help you communicate effectively with customers from a different cultural background.

1) Be mindful of your cultural lens

As human beings our culture shapes the lens through which we see the world. Anytime we communicate with other people, we interpret that interaction through the values and customs of our culture. Problems in communication happen when two people from different cultures assume the other shares their worldview.

One way this can happen is through conversational context. Some cultures are low context cultures. This means that conversation is largely to the point and assertive. In a low context culture there are also less formalities. You mean what you say and say what you mean. Low context cultures are also more individualistic, with an emphasis on the individual over the group.

There are also high context cultures. Here conversation is less direct and relationship-based. Not all the meaning of a conversation will be verbal, as there are typically unspoken rules and formalities which guide communication. In a high context culture communication is more nuanced, and you may have to read between the lines to communicate effectively. High context cultures typically put a greater emphasis on the group rather than the individual.

When working in customer service it’s important to recognize what kind of culture your customer is coming from.

2) Use simple and direct language

When your customer speaks English as a foreign language, it’s important that you communicate in succinct sentences. Whether you’re speaking or writing, simplifying what you say will help the customer understand what you mean, and lessen the chance of a misunderstanding. Keeping your ideas and phrases simple and direct might feel strange, or even uncomfortable for you as a native English speaker. However, what you sacrifice in language style, you will make up in clarity.

3) Confirm the customer understood your communication

Don’t assume the customer clearly understood what you said. This is especially true is our customers are consumers vs other businesses. People feel uncomfortable when they don’t understand one another. To avoid this discomfort, a person may not ask for clarification on their own. Sometimes this is a conscious decision, othertimes it’s not. Take time to listen to your customers. It’s polite and considerate to give them the opportunity to ask for clarification without making them feel like they’re being put on the spot.

4) Educate yourself

Educating yourself on the culture and the language of your customer base is a great way to show that you and your company are attentive to the needs of the people who buy your product or use your service. Understanding and appreciating their culture will help you communicate more effectively. It will also give you the opportunity to recognize your customers needs more efficiently, helping you to build a customer service culture.

Learning the language of your customers is highly beneficial in customer service. A working knowledge of their native language will give you a better idea of how to communicate with them in English. More often than not, bilingual people carry over the grammar and diction patterns of their native language into their second language. Adjusting your English according to their language’s pattern will help you when you run up against the language barrier.

You need not worry about learning your customers’ native language to fluency, unless of course language learning interests you. A quick overview of the language on a language learning blog like Live Fluent, will give you enough information to understand the fundamentals of the language.

Final thoughts

Serving customers from a different cultural background presents unique challenges, but also unique opportunities. Culture and language barriers often leave a gap in communication. Successful customer service means meeting the customer where they are at and bridging that gap; not waiting for the customer to come to you.

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