One of the most exciting parts of any company’s journey is expanding into new markets. Whether that means going to the next town over, across state lines or into a new country, the feeling of growth and accomplishment never gets old.
There will be, however, many new associated complications to manage. Supply chains will get more complex, regulations will become more confusing, and understanding your customers will require you to take on additional work. And when it comes to providing world-class customer service, operations will need to evolve.
But with proper planning, you can make sure these tasks and obligations feel more like opportunities and not headaches. Here are four factors to keep in mind when you take your customer service operations global.
1. Be Available Locally
Every company should strive to offer support that’s accessible and in line with customer expectations. When operating in just one market, maintaining 24/7/365 availability isn’t necessary for all companies.
Yes, banks, insurance carriers, healthcare companies and other critical services that customers use around the clock — day or night — should be accessible via phone, email and live chat support, even at 2 a.m. But this often does not apply for a company that, for example, sells warranties for toasters or provides local computer repair services. Nobody would expect such firms to be reachable at midnight, so spending resources on that are wasteful.
But as your global reach widens, you should be providing support to customers in their respective time zone. Again, depending upon the type of business, that doesn’t have to mean offering 24/7 support in both London and Los Angeles. But customers do require — and expect — to receive live support during regular business hours in their own market, and that often means widening your scope.
2. Be Easy to Find
Large global firms typically have a detailed “Contact Us” page on their website that features a wide array of contact points and instructions on how to access various services from anywhere on the planet. This is key and something that every expanding company should have on their website.
Following the lead of global companies that do it best is a good idea for any business that’s looking to expand. Generally, leaders, such as AT&T and many others list their 800 numbers, local contact information, hours of operation, social media handles, and dialing instructions for international callers. Housing this all in one centralized place can make a customer’s life much easier when they need to get in touch with you — and that can all translate into more goodwill.
3. Multi-Language Support
Companies in the United States or United Kingdom that cater to English-speaking customers have a lot of room to expand. Australia, South Africa, and Jamaica are just a few of the many places to go next — not to mention the ability to generally sell products throughout Europe in English.
But, eventually, to go fully global, a company needs to start operating in Spanish, Mandarin, French or any of the other top dozen languages spoken worldwide. Of course, this means customer service needs to support other tongues as well, a skill that should be easy to find in local markets.
4. Local Teams
Many places — especially locations like India and South America — have a robust, mature market of highly qualified customer support providers. With a large number of contact centers serving the U.S. and European markets, they can even be better than those you find at home. Moreover, companies with on-the-ground experience and expertise can be invaluable and make great partners that often can get you up and running in a matter of days.
Alternatively, such resources can be relied on for assistance alone, especially at the beginning and particularly in terms of understanding local cultural norms for local teams on the ground. While it’s best to always have some in-market personnel on hand, the decision on how much to rely on building local teams vs. bringing in company pros from the home office is not always cut and dry.
But a good rule of thumb is to always have some customer service personnel on hand wherever you have significant operations. If you’re supplying services regionally across Latin America from Mexico, for example, it makes sense to have someone in-house there overseeing things. But it may not be necessary to have any employees physically present in Central America even if you sell there as well.
Deploying the Right Customer Support
As you scale up operations, you will also have to scale up customer support; after all, this is just a natural part of growth. But the right approach should make things run much more smoothly — and it’s important to start with the key aspects and build out from there.
Start by understanding the availability needs and ensuring that customers in all your markets will know how to reach you. Then worry about local language differences and figure out the correct strategy for building out teams vs. relying on locals already in the field.
The balance of all these aspects will become clearer in time. Just remember there will always be growing pains — and that without them there can be no gains.