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International Business: Listening worldwide to the intercultural voice of the customer

Published: Friday, April 27 2012 7:00 a.m. MDT

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Wow…love the test, fun and the were spot on (sic),” read one online testimonial by a “happy customer” named Sally. Curiously, the next alleged review from “John” is identical, “wow… love the test, fun and the were spot on.”

Outsourcing reputation management to someone who barely speaks your language and who will auto-post fake testimonials online is not the most intelligent way to run a business. A smarter and increasingly more popular practice is to ask real customers what they think via simple “voice of the customer” surveys —questionnaires that rank service and provide feedback to the vendor.

As with most customer-service techniques, best practices for such a survey will vary from one culture to another. To learn some of these intercultural survey practices, I spoke with Lonnie Mayne, chief experience officer at Mindshare Technologies, who had great ideas for collecting and managing feedback for the company's international clients.

Mindshare clients have locations in more than 125 countries. When these companies use web surveys and automated phone surveys to collect feedback worldwide, Mindshare must consider the potential impact of intercultural differences. This international awareness helps both Mindshare and its customers to expand globally.

Cultural survey adaptation

“Of the customer feedback we process for many clients worldwide, 60 percent is positive, but that percentage varies greatly by region and culture,” explains Mayne. “In Japan, companies find it very difficult to earn a perfect five-out-of-five customer rating, and companies find it easier to do so in Latin America, just as customer feedback in Tennessee tends to be more positive than feedback in New York.”

To gain more detailed information from Japanese customers who rarely award perfect scores, Mindshare might use a broader rating scale of 1 to 10 instead of 1 to 5. In Germany, Mindshare knows clients do not want to receive a 5 out of 5; although the highest ranking on a scale of 1 to 5 might be “excellent” in the United States, the lowest number, 1, is typically associated with the best ranking in German surveys.

The method of collecting responses also differs by culture. Web surveys are very successful in Canada and really dominate in Europe, but the phone is a more effective medium in the Middle East. Surveys taken over SMS are more popular in Europe than in the United States.

Global response reporting

Reporting must also be adapted to the needs of Mindshare customers; 20 percent of companies hiring Mindshare have an international presence. Generated reports are specific to each user by locale and other regional information, so companies receive highly localized feedback. Some global companies need daily report delivery at midnight — requiring Mindshare to time reports for “24 midnights” worldwide — while others need instant alerts.

“Right now, a car rental branch manager in France is going out to clean a vehicle because someone took a survey on their mobile phone and said the car smelled like smoke,” explains Mayne. “Customers do not need to wait for reports. Any manager in the world can have real-time report access and take immediate action, so no other customer complains about the same problem.”

Multilingual text analytics

Anyone who has taken Mindshare surveys will notice they are very simple and concise. For example, the English and Spanish survey for Arby’s restaurants includes only a handful of questions and a place to add comments. Such short questionnaires are easy to translate because they do not include much text, but how does a survey company stay in business or provide valuable feedback with such short, reusable surveys?

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