Booming sales and global expansion are every entrepreneur’s dream, but if you want your move into additional markets to be successful, you need to have customer service in place in advance. It takes more than just hiring a few multi-lingual agents or extending your team’s hours to take your support global. As an executive for Desk.com, Salesforce’s all-in-one customer support app for fast-growing companies, I talk to a lot of small businesses about their expansion plans. Here are six things I’ve learned that you need to do to effectively support customers in new markets:
1. Put teams in place for your new markets.
Different time zones means you need to be open during different hours. You may be able to manage with your existing team, but there’s a world of difference between expanding from San Francisco to Mexico and expanding to Spain. You need staff to be awake when your customers are, so just building a team of night owls won’t work. You can either hire a team of local employees or outsource to a business process outsourcer (BPO).
If you hire locally, you’ll have better control over processes and service quality, but local hiring is a major undertaking and may be much more expensive. You'll have less control with a BPO, but more flexibility and fewer headaches. What’s your long-term plan? If you’re adding one new geographic region, local hiring might make sense. But if you're planning for five new countries next year, a BPO is probably the way to go. Be sure to find one that can easily spin-up in multiple regions if you need more coverage.
2. Be sure you are represented by the right people.
Different countries have different customer-service cultures, and whether you hire locally or outsource, you need to be sure that the people on your front lines are the right ones. It’s about more than just speaking the language -- although that’s obviously important. It’s about cultural sensitivity.
Consumers in some countries, like Germany or Brazil, are accustomed to bad service or none at all. In other countries customers have very high expectations for service and are used to a heightened level of politeness. Wise-cracking customer service reps considered friendly in Seattle might be considered offensive in Tokyo. So, if you outsource to a BPO, you need to be confident that those hired will learn your brand and message and represent you in the same way employees would.
3. Get a customer-support solution with global capabilities.
If you’re thinking about going global, you probably already have a customer-support solution. (If you don’t, we need to talk!) Make sure your support tool has all the features you need to take your business global. And I don’t mean just multi-lingual support for agents. If you’re selling a product, chances are you’ll change more than just the packaging when you go global. You’ll have different stock-keeping units (SKUs) and different product bundles. Maybe a different licensing structure. Or different service-level agreements (SLAs).
Related: Online Aid for Global Expansion
Not only do the people that manage support for the new region need to understand the SKUs, campaigns and promotions that they are supporting, but everyone a case might be passed to if it’s escalated needs to understand that information, too. It’s also critical that your customer service tool integrate with the local systems. Not only do different markets have different currencies, but they may also have different inventory control systems, customer relationship management systems (CRMs) and more. And these systems may be governed by different regulatory environments. Before you roll out a customer-service system globally, do your research.
4. Build a process for localizing support center content.
Many companies fall into the trap of treating support-center content like an afterthought. I cannot overstate how important it is to keep this content up to date in every market, every day. Your knowledge base is a living, breathing thing that is constantly being updated to address changes in your product or market. It’s also the single source of truth for your agents (and your customers if you offer self-service).
And, for small-to-medium businesess, it’s the easiest -- and most cost-effective -- way to provide local support while you are still ramping up a new team on the ground. If you treat localization as a batch process that happens monthly, your agents could be giving out the wrong answers. Nothing will piss off a customer more than calling in about an issue -- or reading up on your support site -- and getting the wrong information. You need to have a plan for continuous curation and maintenance so that agents and customers can get up-to-date answers in every language. And the plan needs to account for your media mix. It’s not just text that needs to be localized, but images, and video.
5. Provide support for the local channels and devices.
In Silicon Valley it seems that everyone has the latest Android or iOS device. And it’s easy for people to communicate via email or Facebook. In other parts of the world, however, smartphones are less than 50 percent of the installed base of cell phones. In these geographies, offering customer service via texting -- something that’s virtually unheard of in the United States -- may be an important channel for supporting customers. Paradoxically, some of the least affluent geographies also have a high percentage of smartphones (perhaps because consumers bypassed expensive computers altogether). Where there are smartphones you need to support the channels (email, social) that mobile users prefer. And you should have a mobile-friendly self-service site if mobile is a region’s default way of accessing the web.
Different countries have different social networks, as well. China’s Sina Weibo, a microblogging website, is a sort of a Twitter/Facebook hybrid and is used by at least a third of the country’s Internet users. If you expand to China and want to offer support on social networks, or even just listen to customer sentiment, you’ll need to know it. Going to Russia? Look at Vkontakte.ru and Odnoklassniki.ru.
6. Rethink and "rearchitect" the way you route cases.
To keep cases moving quickly toward resolution, you may need to rethink how you route them. Look at the “follow the sun model” when you route cases, so the agents just starting their day will easily pick up cases from agents who are ending theirs. Make sure you support global ticket transfer, so that tickets can move from one geography to another -- and back if needed. Do they go to a group, or to one person who triages them? What happens when you have a high-severity case? Does everyone have the appropriate information about the SKUs, promotions and SLAs previously mentioned? Is your knowledge base up to date around the globe?
There’s no doubt that connected technologies like social and mobile have opened up a new world for companies to take the global stage. But just being online doesn’t mean you’ll be an international success overnight. Be prepared and take the right steps to get there.
Related: How to Take Your Company Global