Published: January 06, 2023 | Comments
I’ve been lucky enough to have spent most of my career in the contact center industry, and equally as lucky to have lived and worked in five countries – all with very different approaches to customer service. Here are some of my observations!
I spent 10 years in New York and San Francisco – both very multicultural cities. What struck me immediately was how progressive American companies were when it came to providing services in the language of their non-English-speaking customers. The big telcos, banks, insurers all seemed to have hotlines in Spanish, Chinese and other major community languages, as they were smart enough to know that in-language customer service correlates with higher customer satisfaction, retention, revenues and advocacy. This was in stark contrast to my hometown of Sydney where, despite 30% of people not speaking English at home, companies were still stuck on English-language only contact centers. There were of course exceptions, but not enough of them – even today, I argue Australian companies are missing the boat with linguistically diverse customers.
Having started my career as a Japanese-speaking contact center agent, I got to know first-hand what makes Japanese customer service so special. And it was that from the frontline to the CEO, the customer was always at the center in Japanese culture - long before the term customer-centric even existed! This led to a customer complaint in the contact center being followed by an apology letter or even a visit to the customer’s home by the CEO; or agents working way beyond their scheduled shifts just to ensure customers’ calls were being answered during unexpected peaks. I also found resistance to the idea of AHT (average handle time) because intuitively Japanese contact center workers just want to please the customer and resolve their issue no matter how long it takes. This is more aligned to current Western thinking, as customer metrics like CSAT and NPS now overshadow efficiency metrics like talk time. It was also very rare for Japanese agents to “give attitude” or be disrespectful – the word “sorry” is much more forthcoming in Japanese than English-language contact center interactions in my experience!
There could not be two more different cultures, when it comes to customer service, than Japan and Israel. While Israel is the source of many market-leading contact center/CX software applications, such as NICE, Verint, WalkMe and Centrical, consumers in Israel complain of rude, rushed service much more than in other countries I’ve experienced. Israelis are by nature direct and “straight down to business”, which may be helpful in a technical support interaction, but not as much when there is a need for nuance, empathy or patience. As the Startup Nation, Israel offers the world incredible technology innovation, so when I was looking for developers to build a contact center matching platform (Matchboard), Israel is the place I turned to and ultimately found the best option.
There is a general perception that Germans are punctual and highly structured in their approach, and during my time living in Germany and then managing a large German contact center client, I indeed found that to be true! Consumers in Germany like everything to be spelt out very specifically, and customer service promises and deadlines must be strictly kept. When negotiating a contact center outsourcing contract, I was struck by the incredible attention to detail of my German counterpart.
In my home country, Australia, customer service tends to be less formal and more friendly, on average, than markets in Japan or the UK. Aussies are renowned for their approachable, “matey” culture, which means less inclination to stick to scripts and more emphasis on developing a rapport with customers.
Many large Australian companies are outsourcing contact center services, just like in the US. However offshore, the location lineup looks a little different: while the US loves the Philippines, and the UK loves South Africa, over the last year Australian companies have fallen in love with Fiji for outsourcing services. Fijians are renowned for their warm, authentic customer service, which Australians are familiar with as they holiday in Fiji more than most other countries.