man standing behind dancers in brightly colored dresses
PHOTO: sydney Rae

Does your client portfolio include customers from abroad or do you expect it to in the future? If so, it’s important to apply cultural awareness to every aspect of your customer experience (CX) strategy, including customer service, advertising, labelling, selling and promoting products. Failing to incorporate the concept of cultural diversity into your CX strategy can cost your business money and lost sales potential.

When analyzing foreign markets, it’s worth considering various cultural aspects, e.g. everyday communication, internet usage, marketing and advertising, ecommerce trust, seasonal sales potential or even color perception.

Communications With International Customers

It should come as no shock that customer experience matters as much to your foreign customers as it does your domestic. To maximize chances of effective communication, you’ll need to accommodate cultural peculiarities. It’s about overcoming the language barrier, but also knowing how to use a language.

Studying cultural differences can save you a lot of awkwardness. In terms of everyday communication and tone of voice, consider this example: Germans prefer a formal communication tone, in contrast with Americans who gravitate towards a more casual approach. Clearly your communications will need to reflect those preferences, with your business approach in Germany being pretty formal and impersonal, e.g. by using the form Sie or Frau/Herr (Ms./Mr.) rather than the more casual greetings commonly used in English-speaking countries.

Related Article: 3 Keys to a Global Marketing Mindset

Cultural Differences and Customers’ Feeling of Security

Consumer perceptions about the safety of sharing sensitive or personal data, such as in the case of online purchases, varies across countries. Ignorance is not bliss: if your customers don’t feel safe entering their personal or payment details, you’ll lose orders.

According to Symantec's "State of Privacy Report 2015," on average 57 percent of Europeans feel uneasy about the security of their data. Spaniards expressed the biggest concern: 78 percent of respondents reported feeling insecure in this respect. Germany came second at 62 percent. In contrast, UK-based customers reported feeling relatively comfortable about their data with less than half of the respondents being wary.

Being familiar with such data is important from the CX perspective. For example, knowing these trust issues will mean you may need to make an extra effort with German or Spanish customers. You may need to reassure them in a special way before they try new solutions or press the buy button.

Additionally, consider security and online payment. Credit cards are not always the preferred choice in some countries. For example, a popular payment method in Germany is by invoice. To make your customers feel more secure, research the most popular/preferred payment methods in a given country. This way, you’ll instill trust in your foreign customers. Otherwise, if they see payment methods they’re not particularly familiar with, they may be wary about security.

Related Article: International Ecommerce: What Foreign Customers Expect From Your Online Store

Details, Exact Numbers and Trust Badges Create Certainty

Consumers in some countries may be more detail- and fact-oriented. For instance, German consumers are generally more careful and misstrauisch (distrustful). Eighty-two percent of Germans reportedly read Terms and Conditions before making an online purchase. They usually need more time and information before taking the leap.

Germans tend to be curious about the legal situation and related regulations (AGBs: Allgemeine Geschäftsbedingungen). When no AGBs are applied on foreign markets, they can find it mind-boggling. Further, Germans can become skeptical about a product if they encounter translation mistakes on the website. They like to judge a website’s trustworthiness by trust badges, frequently used by German ecommerce websites. Germans also love products that come with assurances of quality, for example TÜV-certified.

Thus, you can give your German customers more details and exact numbers to create more certainty. You can also add trust badges to your website and hire a German native speaker to create flawless copy. It’s also recommended that you add an Impressum: a legally mandated statement included in books, magazines, newspapers and websites to state ownership and authorship.

Cultural Differences and Customers’ Perception of Color

Cultural awareness is useful when you choose colors for your website, brand or when your product comes in various colors. People across the globe don’t perceive colors in the same way. In the Netherlands, orange is the national color and associated with the Dutch Royal family. Egypt, on the other hand, associates orange with mourning. 

Colors should communicate desired values/emotions and reveal your product attributes. For this reason, if you sell high-end products, in many cultures black would be a better choice than pink as your signature color.

Ninety percent of snap judgements about products can be based on color alone. Choosing the right colors can have an immense impact on increasing your conversion rates. Keep in mind, consumer perceptions of the appropriateness of the color in relation to your product is more important than the color itself.

Related Article: Can Crappy Company Colors Crush Your Success?

Cultural Differences, CX Strategy and Local Seasonal Events, Lifestyles and Rules

When selling in different countries, make the most of seasonality, i.e. country-specific, seasonal events and peak sales periods. Consider national holidays, festivals or days, such as Carnival in Germany or Black Friday in the US. These are the times when you can earn internationally even more than during the busy Christmas season.

So if you decide to pursue the German Carnival revelers by selling fancy dress costumers in January, you will need to tweak your sales strategy long before the carnival months arrive. Adjust your product portfolio to focus on costumes and a seasonal marketing promotion.

Further, your CX approach should consider how the lifestyle of your customers affects their buying decisions. For example, in some markets, such as Germany or Scandinavia, consumers’ lifestyles reconcile ecology and sustainability with comfort and pleasure. Such consumers may prefer buying a minimum amount of products but of better quality and at a higher price, e.g. organic products. They will also expect more attention and information from your customer support to make sure they get the best quality.

Finally, cultural differences will point you towards restrictions that could get you into trouble. Moving into a new market without knowing existing restrictions on selling certain products online (e.g. beauty products, cosmetics, certain tableware) can cause an unpleasant surprise.

Cultural Differences and Advertising

Cultural differences can make or break the success of your advertising strategies. Here are some examples.

As already implied, Germans are information-oriented. They like to know a lot about products, read detailed price / feature comparisons and value honesty over hyperbole and promises. As a result, your adverts should include some solid data and case studies rather than emotional messaging or sugar coating. Yet this same approach for an American audience may appear cluttered. Germans, in turn, may find the emotional ploys of American ads as trivial or hiding facts. 

Related Article: Top 5 Pitfalls to Avoid When Scaling an International Startup

Cultural Differences Apply Even When Customers Speak the Same Language

You must acknowledge unique cultural characteristics and business practices, even in the case of countries that speak the same language. English itself is not a uniform language, but has a number of varieties: American, British or Australian, to name but a few. Vocabulary and spelling differences can vary from one country to another. Yet the UK and US are often viewed as very similar markets: consumers speak English, wear similar clothes and follow similar trends. It may seem obvious until ... you dig deeper.

When it comes to spending and the future, UK consumers tend to be more pessimistic than the Americans. According to researchVisualDNA conducted with 20,000 consumers, split evenly between the two countries, the British are three times more likely to be careful spenders and less likely to buy on credit.

This may be a good and a bad thing. A pessimistic person may not be a heavy spender, in general. However, they may be keen shoppers when it comes to buying products which increase the feeling of security, e.g. relevant electrical equipment or large purchases for the home.

Localize to Offer Native Buying and CX Experience

To expand your international client portfolio, it’s usually not enough to translate your offer into different languages. Big brands recognize the importance of localization.

For instance, McDonald's put in place subtle localization strategies across the world and created regional menu items for individual markets. Apple follows a very strict CX protocol tailored to each region to match the culture appropriately. To localize copy, ideally hire a local copywriter familiar with local demographics and cultural taboos. This way you’ll improve customer experience, but also increase the credibility of your product.

There’s an array of other factors to consider. For example, be ready to make some adjustments when you translate a website, e.g. some German words are much longer than the English ones so you may have to tweak the design. Additionally, think about the difference in country-level domains, such as .co.uk, .au, .de, .fr, etc. Familiar domains increase the feeling of security and confidence customers have about your website.

Further, different nationalities have different delivery preferences and expectations. For example, Australians who live in a vast country may accept longer delivery times. Many Brits, on the other hand, will expect same-day delivery. Address their individual needs during the checkout moment or you may lose sales.

Related Article: Content Translation Wins Customer's Hearts and Minds

Start With Cultural Awareness

If you’ve segmented your customers on your domestic market, you may have found it challenging to cater to their different/specific needs. Customers from different countries and cultures can double these challenges.

Cultural differences have an impact on customer preferences and buying behaviors. In today’s global world, accommodating cultural differences of your international customers is essential to ensure successful customer experience. Awareness is the starting point. Cultural awareness involves practically every aspect of the CX strategy, such as customer service, advertising, selling, website design and everyday communication.

Offering a localized customer experience adapted to specific cultural mindsets can make or break your sales, customer retention and loyalty.