How to Keep Your German Customers Happy
Is expanding to Germany even worth it?
German customers. The business world equivalent to your in-laws. They always expect perfection, are hard to impress, often grumpy and make your life a living hell. At least that's the picture my friends drew when I asked them about their experience with German customers.
I can't blame them. Thinking back on my least favorite customer interactions, several of my fellow Weisswurst advocates come to mind.
But, are German customers really such a pain in the neck? And if so, how can you prepare and react to keep the Huns happy?
Why Germans need extra care
How many Germans does it take to change a light bulb? One. We are efficient and don't have humor. Ha. Ha. OK, that was enough laughter for one week.
At first glance, efficiency might sound like a positive trait. However, that efficiency sometimes manifests in unwelcome ways like directness bordering on rudeness. Germans won't bother with pleasantries, they'll get straight to the point and tell you what is wrong with your product, your marketing and you.
On the plus side, you can use this goal-orientation to your advantage. When you need feedback or are doing customer development, hit up a few German customers. In my experience, they often not only tell you what's wrong but also make great suggestions on how to improve.
Germans also hate risk and are anxious as hell. For example, Amy Hoy, who runs StackingTheBricks, decided to block a German on Twitter after he insisted she explain the content of a link she tweeted because clicking a link was just too risky.
Furthermore, it helps to understand that Germans are extremely long-term oriented. Franz Sauerstein, who runs a boutique consulting agency for wooComerce, tells me that working with freelancers from the U.S. taught him about cultural differences. When he hires overseas freelancers for their first project together, he tends to think about future projects immediately, whereas the freelancers often see it as a one-off project that won't necessarily lead to follow-up work.
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So, how can you make sure your German customers are happy and benefit from their valuable feedback and loyalty without losing your mind?
How do I provide that extra care to German customers?
The first thing you can do to do your German customers a big favor is providing proper invoices. This is easier said than done. The German tax code demands no less than 11 pieces of data on each invoice:
- Supplier's name and full address
- Customer's name and full address
- Delivery date or the date when the service was rendered
- Type and quantity of goods sold or type and extent of services rendered
- Unit price for each line time exclusive of tax, discounts, rebates, etc.
- VAT rate applied
- Breakdown of the VAT amount payable by tax rate and exemptions
- Date of issue
- A unique invoice number
- Supplier's tax ID or VAT ID
- Customer's tax ID or VAT ID and the words "reverse charge," if the customer is liable for the tax
While this takes some time to set up initially, it won't just make your life easier with Germans, you'll also notice other customers around the globe will commend you for your thoroughness when it comes to invoicing.
Another tip for working with Germans: Be punctual; never be late for anything. In German culture, letting someone else wait for you signals that you are superior to them and that, obviously, your time is more precious than theirs. Not a statement you'd want to make.
Lastly, and only if your pain tolerance borders on masochism, you can create your own niche in the market by catering specifically to German customers. There are a ton of obscure regulations in Germany. For example, the Bettensteuer, a tax on tourism levied by about two dozen cities throughout Germany. The Bettensteuer has a different name and amount in every city. If the community around such a peculiarity is big enough, providing a targeted service for it pays huge dividends.
In any case, if you address these German quirks in your product, you can get a loyal following in Europe's biggest economy.
Are Germans worth it?
You might be wondering whether all that blood, toil, tears and sweat to satisfy German customers is worth it.
It is. Germans might not be the most lovable customer group out there, but they commit long-term to business relationships, pay on time and make for excellent sounding boards to bounce ideas off of in order to improve your own business.
Don't sleep on us Germans. We might take time to build relationships with, but as the saying goes, often, slow and steady wins the race.