Retailers and brands with DTC ecommerce channels often look to international markets to grow customer bases and revenue. However, this presents a unique set of challenges, particularly when it comes to global customer service.
And yet customer service plays a pivotal role in shaping the success of a retail business. It is a crucial link that allows customers to interact with your brand. Through this interaction, customers come to understand your brand’s values, products and services, and ultimately form a connection with your brand.
In addition, excellent customer service retains customers and builds loyalty. It can also enable you to recover some or all the cost of acquiring the customer.
A satisfied customer can also generate new business. When a happy shopper leaves a positive review, they create social proof. And delighted shoppers who share their experiences bring new customers to your site.
If your brand already has a robust domestic customer service program, it is tempting to copy and paste that strategy into additional markets. However, shopper expectations are different in different markets. The need to localise customer service adds complexity to international expansion roadmaps.
Here are common challenges you may face and what you can do to overcome them.
Top Challenges in International Ecommerce Customer Service
The first step to providing exceptional global customer service is to understand its inherent challenges. Just like with other steps in the shopping journey – cart, checkout, logistics, etc. – you should localise your customer service. However, attempting to do it in-house is time and resource intensive.
Challenge 1: Understanding cultural nuances
Cultural nuances refer to the slight variations in behaviour, interaction and expectation that exist within cultural groups. These nuances can profoundly influence customer service experiences and expectations. For instance, let’s consider Japan and the United States.
In Japan, customer service is based on ‘Omotenashi.’ It means focusing on details, anticipating needs and being hospitable without expecting anything in return. It manifests in politeness and promptness.
On the other hand, in the United States, customer service tends to be more direct and informal. The American customer service experience typically values efficiency and problem-solving, and encourages open communication between customer and service provider. A satisfied American customer is one who has had their issue promptly resolved and received a ‘customer is always right’ treatment.
Disregarding the importance of cultural nuance can lead to bad shopper experiences and lost customers. But understanding and applying the right practices makes sure your brand gives the right impression from the start.
Challenge 2: Providing Omnichannel Customer Service
Omnichannel customer service is the integration of various customer touchpoints into a unified communication system. These touchpoints include chat, email, phone communication and live customer service representatives. The goal is to deliver a seamless and consistent customer experience regardless of the channel customers choose to reach out.
Integrating channels can be a challenge and more than that, you must integrate the right channels. That is, the channels that the shoppers in the particular market prefer to use.
Challenge 3: Localising language and call center hours of operation
Customers want to communicate with customer service in their own, local language. It is easier for a customer to describe their problem in their native language. And it increases the likelihood of a favourable outcome for that customer. But hiring local customer service representatives means that your brand needs to be able to legally recruit and hire workers in local markets.
In addition to native speakers, brands should make sure that customer service representatives are available during local business hours. Shoppers should not have to wait for a response because reps are working from distant time zones.
Best Practices to Deliver Excellent Customer Service Worldwide
To navigate these challenges, here are some best practices that global ecommerce leaders should follow:
Learn and Understand Cultural Differences
Each market and country has its own set of cultural expectations, norms and values. Shoppers around the world are accustomed to specific but different levels of formality, efficiency and empathy. To resolve issues and improve customer satisfaction, you should interact in ways that customers expect. Learning and understanding these can help provide a personalised and effective customer service.
Customer service begins well before a shopper needs assistance. You serve the customer when the site content is localised to the market. Giving shoppers a familiar experience builds trust and serves them better than a copy-paste strategy.
To achieve localised content, make sure to accurately translate your site and reflect local customs and norms. To achieve the best results, every part of the journey, from home page to tracking portal, should be localised.
Offer Multiple Communication Channels
Different markets may prefer different communication channels. Offering multiple options can help you reach more customers effectively. Market research can help you determine which channels to offer and prioritise.
Customer service is resource intensive, so you should deploy the most effective strategies. Not only should you offer different ways for shoppers to seek assistance, but those channels should be integrated for an omnichannel strategy.
Provide Support in Local Time Zones
With different countries in different time zones, you want to be sure that customers can reach you during local business hours. This is difficult to do if you’re operating all global customer service from a singular call centre in your home country. Every customer in every market should be able to receive service when they expect to.
Hire Local Staff
Locally hired staff understand the local culture and language better. With no language learning curve, customer service reps can focus on learning about your brand and your brand’s reputation so they can serve customers and represent you well. In addition, local customer service teams can also provide valuable insights into local customer behaviour and expectations.
Train Your Staff
When you do hire customer service representatives from outside the market, you want to make sure they are familiar with the market they will be serving. Equip your staff with cultural sensitivity training and understanding of the local region. This will help them serve customers better and avoid cultural misunderstandings that could damage the customer relationship.
Use Local Currency and Payment Methods
Smooth transactions improve customer satisfaction. Offer pricing in local currency and accept local payment methods. Allowing shoppers to pay in local currency also reduces the burden on your customer service. Shoppers recognize their currency and do not have to contact you to ask questions about the transaction.
Collect and Use Customer Feedback
Regular feedback from your customers helps understand their needs and expectations. Getting and addressing feedback is crucial for keeping global customers.
Conducting market research prior to launching your DTC ecommerce channel is essential. But collecting ongoing feedback allows you to fine tune your processes and strategies. This will help you constantly improve your customer service.
Respect Privacy Laws
Different countries have different privacy laws. Violating these laws can carry stiff penalties. Understand and comply with these laws to protect your customers’ information. You should also make sure your customer support personnel is familiar with the privacy regulations.
Building strong relationships with customers can lead to repeat business and customer loyalty. You are in the best position to build those relationships if you localise the customer service experience. Relationships require trust and localisation is the first step to building that trust.
Expanding into new, international markets is an exciting venture that holds great promise for retail ecommerce companies. However, to succeed, it’s crucial to understand and adapt to the unique challenges each market presents. By following best practices and tailoring your approach to each region’s cultural nuances, you can conquer international ecommerce and deliver excellent global customer service.