Avoid Assumptions When Communicating Across Cultures

Ways to Avoid Assumptions When Communicating Across Cultures

Avoid Assumptions When Communicating Across Cultures

During interpersonal communication, assumptions can sometimes result because of culturally specific understandings. Preconceived ideas can often cause relationship breakdowns and misunderstandings when dealing with a customer who speaks a different language. Even so, there are ways to avoid assumptions when communicating across cultures with someone who speaks a different native language than you do.  If you must assume, then assume that your customer is an intelligent and competent person with whom you can communicate. Then, work with a positive, “can-do” attitude to help ensure you that understand one another correctly.

Recognize that raising your voice when dealing with someone who speaks another primary language is useless. For some reason, many North Americans feel that if they raise their voice to someone who does not speak English well, the person will understand what is being said. An example of how communication can break down between people from different backgrounds was seen several years ago in the popular movie Rush Hour, starring actors Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker. In that movie, both played police officers, Tucker from Los Angeles and Chan from Hong Kong. They met at the Los Angeles airport when Chan flew into town. Here is a synopsis of a scene in which Tucker goes to the airport to pick up a Chan.

Tucker assumes that Chan cannot speak English and raises his voice as he yells, “Do you understand the words that are coming out of my mouth?” Not only did Chan understand, but he later begins to communicate fluently in English. When Tucker acts surprised, miffed, and states, “You did not tell me that you spoke English.” Chan nonchalantly says, “I did not say I didn’t speak English. You assumed that I did not speak English.”

Such actions do little to enhance communication. In fact, yelling or changing tone does nothing to enhance understanding and may well anger or embarrass your customer. It certainly makes you look foolish. Just because a customer is unable to speak English, does not mean that he or she is hearing impaired.

To prevent embarrassment and degradation involving customers, take time to research various cultures. Try to learn some basic phrases spoken by foreign-born customers who frequently do business with your organization. By improving your cultural awareness, global knowledge, and communication skills you can improve the chances that you will provide excellent service to customers.

For additional ideas on how to successfully avoid assumptions when communicating across cultures, check out Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and Customer Service Skills for Success.

4 Customer Service Skills That Can Help Enhance Customer Satisfaction

4 Customer Service Skills That Can Help Enhance Customer Satisfaction

4 Customer Service Skills That

Can Help Enhance Customer Satisfaction

Effective customer service skills that can help enhance customer satisfaction are important for every employee in an organization. However, they are crucial for front-line customer service representatives who are the first contact point for customers. Today’s customer contacts come from many sources:

  • Face-to-face.
  • Over the telephone.
  • Via electronic technology (e.g. chat, Facebook, Twitter or another online platform).

Customer service representatives must have the knowledge and skills required to respond appropriately in a timely manner. Anything less can negatively impact customer satisfaction and could lead to disgruntled customers, increased customer churn and negative word-of-mouth publicity. The latter can be deadly for an organization because in the past research found people with negative experiences often told nine to sixteen of their friends or acquaintances about their experience. With social media and mobile technology, that number jumps exponentially and can be worldwide in a matter of seconds via customer feedback sites like Yelp, Amazon, Facebook, and TripAdvisor. Such websites provide a forum for customers to exchange information and feedback or offer product and service reviews.

What Customer Service Skills that can help enhance customer satisfaction are crucial for organizational success? 

The following are four customer service skills that can help enhance customer satisfaction and increase customer loyalty.

  1. Solid product and service knowledge. Few things are more frustrating for a customer than a customer service representative who lacks the knowledge or available information to answer a question or help resolve an issue with products or services that the customer either has or wants. Successful organizations invest time and money in customer service training for all new employees on all aspects of the organization and what it provides to internal and external customers. If training is not provided, employees should take the initiative to ask questions of peers and supervisors and read available information and manuals. This demonstrates initiative potentially prevents an embarrassing situation in which the customer service representative cannot answer a customer’s questions.
  2. Active Listening Skills. Listening is the most used sense that most people have to gather information in order to formulate a response or make a decision. It is also a skill that is typically not taught in school or on the job, practiced effectively in life, or thought about as being important enough to strive for improvement by most people. Many people assume that they know how to listen simply because they have a normal range of hearing. This is a huge mistake. Hearing is an inactive physiological process of gathering sounds. Active listening involves actively focusing on what is heard and processing that information before formulating an appropriate verbal or non-verbal response. In a customer environment, active listening is a crucial skill and service representatives should continually work to hone and update this talent.
  3. Effective Communication Skills. All customer service representatives must possess effective communication skills and be able to effectively communicate verbally, non-verbally and in writing in order to interact appropriately with customers. These skills take training and practice. In addition to learning how to communicate in different forms, employees should seek feedback on how well they are doing in communicating with others. A simple means for them to find out how others perceive their skills is to ask people who know them and have seen them in action working with customers. By soliciting feedback on their communication skills, they can quickly identify strong and weak areas. In addition to formal communication training in the classroom or via technology, peer and supervisory coaching are two good ways that many organizations provide feedback to employees.
  4. Patience. Some people say that patience is a virtue. That may seem true when dealing with a frustrated, irritated or angry customer. A customer service representative who lacks patience in dealing with customers is likely to encounter more than one situation in which customer-service provider emotions escalate. The result of such encounters can be yelling (verbally or in writing through the use of all capital letters), threats, escalation to a supervisor, negative comments about the organization and employee(s) to others, and potentially, even violence. To ensure that this skill is exercised, many companies train employees to address frustrated or angry customers through roleplay scenarios and offer stress management training. They also empower employees to make decisions so that they do not always have to summon a supervisor in situations when customer issues arise. This can go a long way in helping keep emotional levels low.

There are many things that affect the outcomes of any customer situation. If a customer service representative possesses and uses these four customer service skills that can help enhance customer satisfaction, he or she is likely to be more effective in working with customers.

For more information on effective strategies customer service skills that can help enhance customer satisfaction and help build customer loyalty, research the topic on this blog. Also, check out Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service across Cultures, Customer Service Skills for Success and American Management Association’s self-study course, How to Be a Great Call Center Representative.

Effective Listening and Interpersonal Communication Skills for Customer Service Representatives

Effective Listening and Interpersonal Communication Skills for Customer Service Representatives

Effective Listening and Interpersonal Communication Skills

for Customer Service Representatives

Effective listening and interpersonal communication skills for customer service representatives are crucial in ensuring that customers are satisfied and less likely to desert an organization. Many customer service representatives assume that they know how to effectively listen to their customers. After all, don’t they do it every day? The response to that question for many of them is a resounding NO!

What a lot of people who deal with customers think of as listening is actually the physiological process of hearing. In that process, sounds are gathered through the ear and transmitted to the brain. Unless the person then takes time to focus on the context of the message, analyze it and respond appropriately, listening has not occurred.

The following tips can increase customer service effectiveness, help build customer loyalty and satisfaction and aid customer retention.

Learn how to effectively listen to your customers. You can do this by taking the time to read articles and books and attend listening training sessions on the topic.

Identify your own listening abilities and limitations. An easy way to accomplish this is to record yourself interacting with people who you know (e.g. family and friends) in order to hear what they hear during a conversation. If you are not listening and responding appropriately in such instances, you won’t do so with your customers either. Also, ask people you know well to rate you on various aspects of listening (e.g. attending to their messages and responding appropriately to what they said).

Recognize the verbal and nonverbal cues sent by customers. The majority of meaning in a message between two people is derived from the subtle unspoken cues that they send. If you are not familiar with such messages, study the topics to increase your awareness. Then make it a habit to focus on the “whole” message a person is sending to you when interacting face-to-face with them. On the telephone, learn to identify unspoken messages based on rate, pitch, volume, and inflection of their voice or their word choice and emotion.

Use paraphrasing throughout the conversation. By repeating back or summarizing in different ways, what your customer has said periodically, you can ensure that you understood their need or concern correctly before you offer a response or try to assist them. For example, if a customer calls about a defective product that they received, you might paraphrase with something like, “If I understood you correctly, you ordered _____ and when it was delivered, there was a missing part. Is that correct?

Get feedback from the customer. Do not assume that you responded correctly or that the customer is satisfied with your level of service. You want to be known as a person or organization that delivers excellent customer service. To make that happens, pause and ask for validation and approval throughout your interaction with your customer. Use closed-end questions that start with an action verb to get agreement or verification. Examples are:

  • Did I summarize your concern correctly?
  • Does what I said help you with this issue?
  • Is there anything else that I can help you with?

Realize that each culture communicates differently. There are entire books, training programs, higher education courses and conferences designed around the topic of intercultural communication. Take advantage of these resources if you plan to be successful in working in a diverse workplace or communicating effectively with others in your daily life.

Effective listening is about focusing on your customers and using effective interpersonal communication skills that will make them feel welcomed, cared for and served well. For you to perform your duties effectively as a customer service representative, you have to continually strive to learn and hone your listening skills and other people skills, especially when it comes to dealing with a diverse customer base.

For additional listening and interpersonal communication tips and hundreds of other customer service strategies that can aid in developing the best customer service culture possible, get copies of Customer Service Skills for Success, Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures, and How to Be a Great Call Center Representative.

Customer Relationship Management Initiatives Focus on Customer Loyalty and Retention

Customer Relationship Management Initiatives Focus on Customer Loyalty and Retention

Providing Effective Customer Service in a Diverse WorldAt one point in history, business owners knew their customers personally. They knew their customers’ families, what their religious affiliation was, and what was happening in their lives. Customers dealt with the owners of a business and had personal relationships with them. That was then, and this is now. That is why many customer relationship management initiatives focus on customer loyalty and retention.

Our current society is more mobile; people live in large metropolitan areas where customer relationships are distant, and families live miles apart from one another in many instances. Large multinational organizations provide the products and services once provided by the neighborhood store. All this does not mean, however, that the customer-provider relationship can no longer exist. Many successful organizations, and those who want to become successful, spend a lot of time, effort and money on building and maintaining strong customer relationship management program.

Why bother building relationships with customers? The answer would seem obvious—so that you can stay in business. However, when you examine the question further, you may find that there are more reasons than you think. This is where the customer relationship management (CRM) concept comes in. In effect, such initiatives strive to create ongoing friendships with customers and focus on making them feel comfortable with the organization and its service providers in order to enhance customer and brand loyalty. By training all employees, especially frontline customer service representatives, to more effectively interact with customers and deliver excellent customer service, organizations are more likely to gain and retain a loyal customer base.

To learn more about effectively creating a customer-centric organization that continually strives to improve service to internal and external customers while working to achieve customer satisfaction, get a copy of Customer Service Skills for Success.

Customer Service Representative – Active Listening Tips

Customer Service Representative - Active Listening Tips

Customer Service Representative – Active Listening Tips

Before you can effectively listen to your customers or clients as a customer service representative you must first prepare to listen. That is because active listening is a learned skill and is different from the passive action of simply hearing sounds. Not only do you need to take the opportunity to attend training sessions on how to become an active listener, but you must also focus your attention when listening and practice the skill on a regular basis in order to improve.

The following are some simple strategies you can use to increase the chances for a more positive interaction with your customers when talking to them face-to-face or over the telephone.

Eliminate physical barriers to effective communication. This means stop distracting actions. This includes using technology, taking notes (not related to the customer that you are serving), talking to others, or attending to other tasks.

Block mental barriers to communication. Many times you may have things going on in your brain that can cause you to not focus your complete attention on the person in front of you or on the telephone. Examples of this are biases against a person or group, preconceived ideas about what someone is saying or someone who reminds you of similar prior situations or people, anger, irritation, or physical and personal issues that distract from the job at hand. If you cannot appropriately attend to a customer or situation, excuse yourself and ask someone else to step in for you.

Focus on the customer and project a positive service attitude. Do this through your facial (e.g. smiling), non-verbal cues (e.g. posture and gestures) and verbal responses (e.g. tone, inflection, and pitch) while listening attentively to what they are saying.

Summarize your understanding frequently during a conversation. This is paraphrasing and involves repeating the customer’s message back to them in your own words. For example, once a customer has described why he or she came by or called, you might say something like, “So Mister Brown, if I understand you correctly, the issue is … Is that correct?” This approach lets the customer know that you were actually listening and helps ensure that you take the appropriate action or respond correctly. Just be careful to alternate your responses so that you do not use the same approach over several times. That would make you sound like a parrot and could actually irritate the customer.

Ask appropriate questions to clarify and get feedback from the customer. Closed-ended questions are good for affirmations that you understood something correctly or to get agreement or permission, but do little to involve your customer in a conversation. For example, “You would like to exchange this red scarf for one that has red in it but also has some more supple colors as well. Is that correct?” Closed-ended questions typically start with an action verb (e.g. do, did, can, should, or will) and normally lead to a short answer or yes/no response.

To engage your customers in more open dialogue, you might use open-ended questions. For example, “What would the perfect scarf look like to you Ms. Harrison?” This type of question allows the customer to take control of the conversation. It also can provide a subconscious feeling of empowerment, control, and decision-making. Such feelings can lead to less opportunity for dissatisfaction or change of mind later because the customer made the purchase decision and may not feel that you forced something on them that they did not want or like. Open-ended questions normally start with words like what, how, and why.

For more effective customer service tips, strategies and techniques for active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication with customers and other skills to help improve customer relationships, meet customer needs, wants and expectations and create a more customer-centric organization, get copies of How to Be a Great Call Center RepresentativePlease Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and Customer Service Skills for Success. The latter book is the top-selling customer service textbook in the U.S.

Three Negative Nonverbal Messages To Avoid When Serving Customers

Three Negative Nonverbal Messages To Avoid When Serving Customers

Some customer service representatives develop unproductive nonverbal behaviors without even realizing it. These may be nervous habits or mannerisms carried to excess (scratching, pulling an ear, or playing with hair). In a customer service environment, you should try to minimize such actions because they might send a negative or annoying message to your customers. They can also lead to a perception of bad customer service.

An easy way to discover whether you have such behaviors is to ask people who know you well to observe you for a period of time and tell you about anything they observe that could be aThree Negative Nonverbal Messages To Avoid When Serving Customers problem.  People develop unproductive nonverbal behaviors without even realizing it. These may be nervous habits or mannerisms carried to excess (scratching, pulling an ear, or playing with hair). In a customer service environment, you should try to minimize such actions because they might send a negative or annoying message to your customers. They can also lead to a perception of bad customer service.

The following are three common nonverbal communication behaviors that can annoy people and cause customer relationship breakdowns or comments about you and your organization when used with customers.

Pointing a finger or other object at someone

For many people pointing a finger at them is often viewed as a very accusatory mannerism and can lead to anger or violence on the part of your customer. If you must gesture toward a customer or toward an area or item, do so with an open flat hand (palm up) in a casual manner. The result is a less threatening gesture that almost invites comments or feedback because it looks as if you are offering the customer an opportunity to speak. Additionally, this is the appropriate means for pointing towards something in many cultures.

Raising an eyebrow

This mannerism is sometimes called the editorial eyebrow because some television broadcasters raise their eyebrow. With the editorial eyebrow, only one eyebrow arches, usually in response to something that the person has heard. This mannerism often signals skepticism or doubt about what you have heard. It can be viewed as questioning the customer’s honesty.

Peering over the top of eyeglasses

Many people who need glasses to read but not to see for distances may forget that they have on glasses when they are interrupted while reading or using them. As a result, they may speak to others while wearing their glasses sitting low on the end of their nose. This gesture might be associated with a professor, teacher, or someone who is in a position of authority looking down on a student or subordinate. For that reason, customers may not react positively if you peer over your glasses at them. Typical nonverbal messages that this cue might send are displeasure, condescension, scrutiny, or disbelief.

By improving your customer service skills, you enhance your opportunities to deliver excellent customer service. For additional useful customer service tips and information on how to create a customer-centric environment that can lead to enhanced customer relationships, customer satisfaction, and reduced customer attrition, get copies of  Customer Service Skills for Success and Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures.

What Is Organizational Service Culture?

What Is Organizational Service Culture?

What Is Organizational Service Culture?

Promoting a positive service culture is one way to help ensure organizational success.  Without the mechanisms and atmosphere to support frontline service, the other components of the business environment cannot succeed. Put simply, organizational culture is what the customer experiences.

A positive organizational service culture is made up of a collection of subcomponents, each of which contributes to the overall service environment. Typically, culture includes the dynamic nature of the organization and encompasses the values and beliefs that are important to the organization and its employees and managers. The experiences, attitudes, and norms cherished and upheld by employees and teams within the organization set the tone for the manner in which service is delivered and how service providers interact with both internal and external customers.

For additional information on the various elements of an organization and how they impact the culture, developing good customer service skills that lead to customer service excellence, and hundreds of useful customer service tips, get a copy of Customer Service Skills for Success.

Use Positive Verbal Communication to Avoid Customer Relationship Breakdowns

Use Positive Verbal Communication to Avoid Customer Relationship Breakdowns

Use Positive Verbal Communication to

Avoid Customer Relationship Breakdowns

Customer service representatives and their organizations spend a lot of time, effort and money creative a positive service culture designed to attract, nurture and retain customers. Because of this, it only makes sense that when you are interacting with your internal and external customers that you take the time to think before you speak in order to avoid saying something or asking a question that might be misunderstood or cause offense.

Sometimes the simplest things can cause problems, especially if someone is already irritated. To avoid creating a negative situation or escalating customer emotions when things are already amiss, choose your wording and the questions you ask carefully.

For example, consider the following technique for positively phrasing questions. Find a way to rephrase any question that you would normally start with “Why?” The reason is that this word cannot be inflected in a way that doesn’t come across as potentially abrasive, intrusive, or meddlesome. Don’t believe it? Get a recorder and attempt to ask the question “WHY?” in a variety of ways with different voice inflection without sounding harsh, challenging or skeptical.

As with many experiences you have stored in your brain, the origin of negative feelings toward the word why likely stem from childhood. Do you remember when you wanted to do something as a child and were told no? The next word that probably came out of your mouth (in a whiney voice) was “Why?” This was a verbal challenge to the person who was telling you that you couldn’t do anything. And the response you probably heard was “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the mommy (or daddy), that’s why.” Most likely, you didn’t like that type of response then, and neither did your customers when they were children. The result of this early experience is that when we hear the word why as a question, it can sound like a challenge and can prompt a negative emotional reaction (blame a flashback to memories for this). To prevent this from occurring, reword your “Why” questions or others that might be perceived as arrogant, rude or challenging.

Instead of                                    Try

Why do you feel that way?           What makes you feel that way?

Why don’t you like . . . ?               What is it that you don’t like about . . . ?

Why do you need that feature?  How is that feature going to be beneficial to you?

Why do you want that color?      What other colors have you considered?

For additional customer service tips, ideas and strategies on how to more effectively communicate with external customers or co-workers (internal customers) and how to create and maintain a positive service culture, get a copy of Customer Service Skills for Success.

Causes of Customer Service Breakdowns – Being Preoccupied

Causes of Customer Service Breakdowns - Being Preoccupied

Causes of Customer Service Breakdowns – Being Preoccupied

There are numerous reasons why customer service breakdowns occur. These run the spectrum from lack of sound customer service skills to bad customer service representative attitude.

In today’s hectic workplace where customer service representatives are constantly multitasking, it is sometimes easy to forget that your customers are a priority. Being preoccupied and not giving full attention to a customer is one quick way to cause a service breakdown. This is often due to trying to juggle multiple tasks or simply failing to care about the quality of customer service that you deliver.

If you have ever called or visited an organization only to have them put you on extended hold while they performed some task? Have you ever visited an organization where a customer service representative failed to acknowledge your presence and serve you right away? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you know how your customers might feel under similar circumstances. If you must put someone on hold while on the phone, do so only if you are currently serving another customer or you have no other option, but make sure that you explain why they are being asked to wait and how long it will take to get to them.

To prevent possible negative situations with customers from developing, if a customer arrives and you are performing an administrative function, such as filing, calculating, writing, or stocking, quickly get to a point where you can pause and serve the customer. In the meantime, take a moment to make eye contact, smile and either tell them or non-verbally (by holding up a single index finger) that you will be with the customer as soon as possible. This is an especially important action when dealing with someone from a culture in which relationships are an important aspect of business (e.g. the Middle East, Hispanic cultures, and Asia). Such efforts may not satisfy everyone, but they work with most customers, who understand that many service providers are doing more with fewer human assets these days.


To learn more customer service tips, ideas and strategies that might help prevent customer service breakdowns and how to better deliver excellent customer service to your internal and external customers, check out Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures and Customer Service Skills for Success




































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































































Customer Service Representatives Have to Power to Help or Hurt Their Organization

Customer Service Representatives Have to Power to Help or Hurt Their Organization

Customer Service Representatives Have

to Power to Help or Hurt Their Organization

You may have heard that one person can make a difference in the world. Well, one customer service representative can make a difference in the level of success that is achieved by an organization.

Think about the fact that if you are in a position where you are the first person with whom a customer or potential customer comes in contact, you have the power to create a positive image in that person’s mind. You are the face of your organization in such instances. What you do or say from the time you greet the customer until the transaction ends will cement an image in their mind. Through your professional presence, knowledge, verbal and non-verbal cues and attitude towards service, you can create an experience that will have the customer thinking either, “Wow, this is a person/company that I want to visit again” or “Where did they get that person? I’ll never do business with this organization again.” If the latter occurs, your organization has a problem because research continues to show that dissatisfied customers will tell many other people about a negative service experience. This less than favorable word-of-mouth publicity can bring disaster in the form of lost business. And, don’t forget that it is your current and new customers who provide the revenue that pays for your salary, benefits, training, and much more, so you have a vested interested in ensuring that each interaction is positive.

The important thing to remember about customer needs wants and expectations are that if you do not deliver what they believe to be exceptional customer service, they will simply go to another organization that will. By using professional customer service skills, such as listening, sending and receiving positive non-verbal communication, and verbally communicating in a positive manner, you can determine how to best serve your customers.

For more information, customer service tips and ideas on how to deliver the best possible customer service to a very diverse customer world, get a copy of my book Please Every Customer: Delivering Stellar Customer Service Across Cultures.

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