Cultural Training Advice: Align Your Team

When it comes to customer service and customer experience, Nearshore teams have already shown their strength, but while cultural training and alignment with US customers is strong in the region, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

US end-users expect a certain level of excellence when it comes to customer service, so a true understanding of the country’s culture and the culture of US customers can make-or-break campaign success for service providers.

To get to this level, there are three key principles that should be applied to your cultural training programs when aiming to deliver an unparalleled customer experience from nearshore service hubs:

  1. Create a genuine empathetic bond between customers and service providers.
    Customer emotions must be managed with at least as much care and emphasis as the technical needs they bring to the call. Doing this can be challenging for many technically-trained service professionals, and this challenge is compounded by cultural and linguistic differences. One key to success is to develop voice tone and body language to build empathetic connections across cultures.
  2. How people speak is often more important than what they say.
    Scripted responses, such as “I understand how you feel”, can easily sound disingenuous if regurgitated with flat emotion or if said with a rising tone at the end of the statement, as is common in much of Mexico and Latin America. To create a genuine sense of empathy, it is imperative to practice a modulating voice tone to match native English speakers’ inflection patterns for conveying a sense of connected urgency.
  3. Effective training must work at the level of the limbic system, simulating the emotional intensity of real crises or conflict situations. To avoid falling back into training that is limited to creating scripts, training facilitators should focus on creating transformative learning experiences that develop emotional intelligence, and that allow participants to have successful experiences in the intensity of real service challenges. 

Thankfully, all of these principles can be easily applied within training coursed for agents and technical engineers, so with the right approach you can radically improve the cultural alignment of your Nearshore teams.

How to Approach Customized Cultural Training

If your team is receiving service calls from customers in abroad, it is critical to sensitize the team members to cultural differences, allowing them to form genuine empathetic bonds and leaving customers feeling more satisfied with the quality of their service.

There are four main stages to consider when adopting cultural training in your business and striving for the next level of customer experience.

Stage 1: Live the Experience First

An engaging way to start this kind of training is with a cross-cultural simulation, in which participants are divided into two groups and initiated into the rules and code of conduct of new, imaginary cultures. Members of each group should then take turns visiting the other groups and reporting what they observed or experienced.

Interestingly, participants will typically express their exasperation, impatience, and failure to comprehend the behaviors of the other group, with members beginning to identify themselves with the norms of a cultural group and often reacting adversely to the other.

This experience reinforces the key message that culture is complex, largely subconscious, and can never be completely reduced to a set of canned phrases.

Stage 2: Apply a Framework to Understand Cultural Differences

One tried-and-tested framework, Erin Meyer’s model, The Culture Map, breaks down some key techniques for improving cultural relationships into eight cultural dimensions. By applying these dimensions to the cultures experienced in the first exercise, participants will start to compare them to real-world experiences, allowing them to match them up with any cultures they most frequently interact with.

At this stage, they can begin to compare their own impressions on the imaginary cultures in stage 1 with dimension research compiled by Meyer, and then reflect on the results to grow their understanding.

Stage 3. Role-Play Real Cases with Native Facilitators from the Target Culture

A good follow-up activity is to describe real cases which had caused cultural confusion and misunderstanding with customers, identifying the cultural dimensions that have contributed to this conflict, and explaining the specific contexts of the case for a role play activity – by using cases that participants have created themselves, this type of training is compelling and immediately applicable.

Workshop participants should then role-play service engineers in the real cases they have developed. Either the training facilitators or the team leaders and supervisors should start by role playing customers, mimicking voice tones, reaction patterns, emotional intensity, and the cultural idiosyncrasies of the target cultures. Facilitators and other participants can then give specific, behavior-focused feedback on how to improve responses.

Stage 4. Develop Tools to Avoid Stereotyping

Cultural training can be a double-edged sword. After learning about cultural differences between countries, there is a risk that participants over-stereotype their customers – a trap that is similar to using a rigid customer service script. To address this, finish things off with an exercise and some practical questions that service agents can use to emphasize cultural diversity, to make sure that every customer is receiving sincere, individual attention.

In an increasingly competitive world, leading organizations cannot afford to offer subpar service. Nearshoring service hubs therefore require that service providers give constant, dedicated attention to creating genuine human bonds with their customers and to effectively bridging cultural divides. To do this effectively, service training must go beyond theory courses and generic activities to creating transformative immersion experiences that mirror the real challenges of taking calls from around the world. To win in the global marketplace, service development must make us practice how we play.

This article first appeared in Nearshore Americas in March 2018

We believe that organizations can build their future now by focusing on customer experience, harnessing relationships at all levels, and creating cultures of innovation. Around these three pillars, we work with organizations and teams to help them align their strategy, leadership model and communication style.

We design tailor-made consulting and training programs to help create congruent cultures and high-impact teams, demonstrating ROI in productivity, image and effectiveness.

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