Cultural Intelligence In Customer Satisfaction


Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

It seems obvious that in today’s global economy big and small companies should train their employees to deal with people from different cultures both inside and outside their countries. I don’t speak only about languages but I am also interested in social interactions between front line employees and their clients who are from various cultures.

In a previous article I spoke about the four aspect of emotional intelligence  and mentioned how social awareness allows the individual to perceive the emotions of others, giving them the ability to better empathize and connect with others. Relationship management is also very important to build bonds and maintain connections with clients.

Social awareness and relationship management are critical in the service industry where the satisfaction of the customer is everything.

Cultural intelligence is the same as emotional intelligence with an additional level of complexity as your employees should be able to develop connections and empathize with people from a large variety of cultural backgrounds.

I have been living in countries such as Japan and United States, were you can get outstanding customer services  24/7. Therefore  I have high expectations toward sales people. In America for example, business people return a phone call or an email whiting a couple of hours even on a Friday night. I have recently been in a small Chinese restaurant who did not charge me for a dish I didn’t like . I got a $100 store credit for returning a broken pressure cooker 6 months after I bought it even without receipt.

There are tons of courses on emotional intelligence for sales people and customer service representatives in the US, but it is far from being the norm in other cultures. I was recently dealing with a French service provider that inspired me to write this article. French are well-known for their arrogant sales people and there is still the mentality that the company is making their clients a favor to serve them. In my case, it was a small French relocation and real estate company based in Moscow who asked me to justify in very aggressive emails why I did not choose their services even  trying to intimidate me by saying that other companies in Russia will take advantage of me. I did not choose them because they did not reply to queries on timely manner, I had to  wait one month to get a response because it was public holidays for example and most of all because no emotional bonds were created and I never felt understood. I guess this French company survives because: “in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed are kings”

The company I chose is specialized in the Russian real estate market for expatriates, medium size with  a large international network but still small enough to work with individuals like me unlike large relocation companies that deal only with HR of big multinational companies. Despite the 8 hours time difference with the US, the agent was responding to my emails very late at night, on weekends and holidays. They understood that despite the fact that I am French, I am also very much “international” and during my visit to  Moscow for house hunting, they organize a meeting with an American lady, freshly expatriated from Europe who gave me great tips on what life in Moscow looks like for new comers. The agent was a young Russian woman with kids and it helped because she could understand me on practical things like finding a laundry room with a dryer and a modern kitchen or helping me getting information from the school about bus routes and stops.

I think consumers and clients are being more and more empowered via Internet and social networks and small businesses can only survive in this interconnected global world if they establish authentic interpersonal relationships instead on focusing on selling products or services. Some big brands already got hurt with people sharing negative stories on a global scale. 

I read an article  that gives you key steps to develop a multicultural customer services:

 Due to globalization, cross-cultural communication has become a vital part of every agent’s training more than ever before.

Your Turn:

What was your best or worst customer service experience abroad ?

8 thoughts on “Cultural Intelligence In Customer Satisfaction

  1. […] with people from different cultures both inside and outside their countries. I don…See on zestnzen.wordpress.com Share this:TwitterFacebookPinterestStumbleUponDiggRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like […]

  2. Judy September 1, 2012 at 8:28 pm Reply

    I’m glad you experienced good customer service from a local Russian, but it’s interesting because customer service is such a recent concept for them, relatively speaking. Ten years ago, when I visited, and certainly 20 years ago when my husband spent a lot of time there, it was unheard of. Under a centrally planned economy there was no need for it to exist. They are a smart people … and quick learners!

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach September 1, 2012 at 9:07 pm Reply

      You are right Judy, although Moscow is not representative of Russia, like New York is not typical America. What I have learned and experienced in the last 10 days in Moscow has nothing to do with what most westerners think about life in Russia. For example they have adopted the 24/7 shopping. In France the unions still resist to open stores on Sundays. European and American brands are everywhere in Moscow. In term of service, employees of small supermarkets tried hard to help me find products like corn starch for example, I know it sounds trivia but believe me, this won’t happen in Paris !

  3. Robyn Vogels September 2, 2012 at 8:59 pm Reply

    Great article once again Anne, thank you.
    My worst customer experience was in France, on my very first day of arriving, I stood in the wrong queue in Carrefour, it was only meant for those who held a loyalty card!
    Best service was in Singapore, where the relocation lady arrived with a welcome gifts for the children!

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach September 2, 2012 at 9:40 pm Reply

      Thanks Robyn for sharing your experience.

      Such small things are so important to forge your first impression. What a lovely gesture to get a gift for the children.

      Auchan the biggest competitor to Carrefour is very popular in Moscow and they exported the French culture there: you have to weight your fruits and vegetables yourself and of course I forgot so had to leave without my bananas:-( In American Supermarkets the cashiers do it.

  4. Marilene Garceau September 3, 2012 at 8:21 am Reply

    Thanks for your article Anne, it is always a pleasure to read your blog.
    As a Canadian living in France, I bring strong values to customer service.
    In the process of moving abroad, the important thing is to bring support at all stages: accompanying each step at the appropriate timing is much more beneficial than getting all the information prior to your installation, when you are looking for a place to stay or even on your first week in the new country.
    As for customer service experience, I have many customers that have problems with telecommunication companies in France.
    I also have a story about a car rental company: the customer forgot sun glasses with personal prescription ($$$) and when he claimed them back to the car rental, they answered they were not giving back the glasses but putting them to waste!
    Have a nice rentrée !
    Marilène Garceau, Kennedy Garceau

    • Anne Egros, Global Executive Coach September 3, 2012 at 11:18 am Reply

      Thanks Marilene. The human factor and trust is essential in relocation services. We, the expats, are very vulnerable during transition periods and we share so much about our private life.

  5. Mina Norberg December 6, 2012 at 10:53 am Reply

    I am agree there are many of business now are doing their best about it.In Helsinki many call center companies doing their best about this issue however it is quite difficult for them because they are still enhancing more of their customer service and for me that is really a good thing that they need to do first.

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