Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Customer Journey Mapping

Tourism Operators

In this presentation learn about integrating cultural intelligence with your customer journey mapping exercise.

Key learning outcomes:

  • Understanding different customer service expectations with different cultures
  • Understanding assumptions on culturally diverse customers
  • Risk indicators of service excellence
  • Desired outcomes of service excellence

Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Customer Journey Mapping

Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Customer Journey Mapping

I'm Craig Shim from Alpha Crane Intercultural Specialists. In this presentation, we're going to talk about how you can integrate cultural intelligence with your customer journey mapping exercise.

Customer journey mapping scenario

Let's imagine you're the owner of a successful private health care practice, and you have the intent to expand your customer base to include people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in your district. No you successfully embark on an active social media campaign, and you do get this new client base that you were hoping for. After a while, however, you start to hear from your receptionist and your practitioners that they are finding that many of these culturally diverse new customers tends to be rude, disrespectful, and quite often impatient.

So you're quite concerned about this and you set out to do a customer journey mapping exercise to find out exactly what is going on. To your shock, the results come back and you find out that your customers, or your clients, have the same impression about your staff, your practitioners, and your receptionist. That's where you really are left wondering what's going on.

Well, this particular scenario is a true one and it is certainly relevant to today's episode, which is all about how do you apply cultural intelligence when you are going through that exercise of mapping out what the customer journey is for your customers.

3-part series

This presentation one of a 3-part series that I have prepared for Business Moreton Bay Region and Innovate Moreton Bay. This series is all about being a culturally inclusive business. I hope you find this helpful, and if you do enjoy it, you can always check out the other episodes.

Different cultures expect different customer service

Let’s talk specifically about customer journey mapping. If you have done customer journey mapping before, you'll know it is a fantastic way to understand your customer's experience through their lens. But the problem is when you apply it to people from culturally different backgrounds, it's not always as intuitive as it may seem. That's because people from different cultural backgrounds (to put it simply) have very different expectations about what constitutes good customer service. The whole notion of customer service is highly influenced by culture.

For example, how do we greet each other? How do we communicate, not just from a language perspective, but also from the perspective of being very direct, or perhaps being very indirect?

So these are all really culturally influenced factors that collectively, make up how someone perceives customer service.

So why is this particularly important? Well, I'll come back to the first part of the scenario, which was the business owner. In this case, an owner of a healthcare practice wanting to expand their target market to include people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

This is particularly helpful at this point in time when, due to COVID, we have all had to reassess our customer service, our segmentation approach, and ideally who are the best customers for us. So expanding into that market of culturally and linguistically diverse customers can actually be a very positive thing, particularly at times like now.

Assumptions on culturally diverse customers

Many businesses, however, often overlook the culturally diverse customers when it comes to reassessing your customer base. That's because of two things:

  1. Some people assume that it's a small niche segment, and they can be pretty difficult to deal with, so we'll just put them to the side and focus on our other customers and hope that we can carve out our market share from mainstream Australians (in this case).
  2. The majority of business owners who have decided not to specifically target culturally diverse customers for on the assumption that we (Australians) all have the same attitudes towards customer service, and therefore will naturally pick up these customers or these potential customers as part of our business as usual activity.

Now this is actually a misguided approach because it does assume that everyone does have the same attitudes and perceptions around what constitutes customer service.

In order to really attract these culturally diverse visitors, it is important take into account their underlying motivations, or their underlying needs and wants that may potentially be very different from your Australian customers. Understanding that is all about cultural awareness and cultural intelligence.

Cultural intelligence framework

But how do you do that? Well, I have developed a framework that specifically relates to applying cultural intelligence to customer service and service excellence. I'm going to refer you to a diagram that I have prepared as part of this. The framework refers to two triangles or pyramids.

Risk indicators of service excellence

The first pyramid refers to (what I call) the risk indicators of service excellence for when you are dealing with people from culturally different backgrounds.

1. Absence of understanding

This is really about cultural miscommunication and cultural misunderstanding. And that's specifically what is going on in this scenario that we mentioned where your staff assume that your customers are being rude and disrespectful and impatient, and your customers think exactly the same thing of your staff.

Clearly your staff are well-trained. They've got great customer service skills and it does surprise you to learn that anyone could have this impression of them and likewise for your culturally diverse customers. They do not walk into your practice with the intent of being rude or disrespectful, but it does come down to a number of different cultural expectations about how to behave in certain situations. An absence of cultural understanding is really going to create problems for you if you don't get that sorted out in the early stages.

2. Customers are uninformed

Now, if you don't sort that out, then we move up to the next level of this triangle, which is about customers being uninformed. For example, let's say you have very stringent rules about turning up on time for appointments, because you're a very busy clinic or practice. And you have people from culturally diverse backgrounds who just don't seem to have the same high regard that you do when it comes to being on time for appointments. A whole lot of problems can fall out of that, and, in this case, customers really start to feel that they're not in control because they've turned up a little late, but that's probably not necessarily such a big deal from their perspective. And instead your staff have really turned on them, and started to shame them, perhaps make them even ‘lose face’. So at this point in time, your customer really starts to feel frustrated, uninformed and misunderstood.

3. Frequent Frustration

Now, when that happens, we moved to the third tier of this pyramid, which really is about frustration, not just for your customer, but also for you and for your staff. And again, it is all about frustration that arises from different cultural expectations about what constitutes good customer service and good service delivery.

4. Customer dissatisfaction

When this happens, we then move up to the fourth level of the triangle, which is customer dissatisfaction. Now this is where (at best) customers feel that you have simply met their expectations, not exceeded them, but just met their expectations. But at worst, they really start to feel dissatisfied.

5. Customer as critic

If this happens, then we move up to the top of the pyramid, which is the scenario of your customer as a critic.

So they're dissatisfied, and they become a critic of yours. Now (at best) your customer may actually leave you. That's not necessarily the worst thing to happen in the world. What is worse than that is if they choose to stay with you, but they become a very vocal critic of yours because you just don't treat them the way that they expect that they should be treated.

This is obviously a problem that we want to avoid, and that brings me to the second pyramid.

Service excellence – desired outcomes

This pyramid talks about what are the desired outcomes of applying cultural intelligence to your service excellence. These are things that you can really take into account in your customer journey mapping exercise.

1. Understanding

This is where you really aim to create understanding between you and your customers from that cultural perspective that you have cultural awareness; that you understand what their underlying needs and wants are; and they understand how they're supposed to or what your expectations of them are.

2. Informed

Once you reach that level, then you go to the next level, which is about creating an informed customer. With good cultural understanding, you can have those conversations to inform them of what is going on, perhaps from a medical perspective, even from a procedural perspective.

3. Highly responsive

When that happens, you move up to the third tier, which is about being responsive. This is specifically about being intuitively responsive to the expressed, and unexpressed, wishes and needs of your culturally diverse customers.

4. Delight

If you tick that box, then you move up to the next level, which is about delighting your customers, and moving them up the scale of satisfaction.

5. Advocate

At the top of the pyramid is where your customers become your greatest advocates. This is where you really want to be now.

How do you do that? Well, let me share with you three tips that relate roughly to this scenario, which is about running the healthcare practice.

Tip 1 – Consider all your customer touch points

The first tip is that when you're doing a customer journey mapping exercise, you always have a look at each of the customer touch points. For example, the minute that they pick up the phone, or walk through the door, or meet with the receptionist, or speak with the practitioner. Take into consideration what their underlying needs and wants are, or their expectations are from a cultural perspective.

A quick example would be how we introduce ourselves.

I might just pause here for a moment and explain a recent scenario that happened to me when I had to go to hospital and I had an appointment with a specialist and he was a Chinese Malaysian doctor. Now that experience that I had with him was really quite uncomfortable. When I walked into his office, he didn't open the door for me. He didn't introduce himself. He just signaled for me to come in. So it was quite impersonal.

Then through the course of the discussion or the consultation there was no small talk at all. He was very factual, which I don't mind from a medical practitioner, but really it was very impersonal and I started to feel quite uncomfortable about that. Finally, he was also quite authoritative. In other words, I felt that he was talking down to me.

Coming back to this tip about taking into account all those different touch points with your with your customer. Think about in Australia, we have a cultural backgrounds where we have a very strong emphasis on equality. In other words, we treat everybody the same. It doesn't matter if you are the CEO of a company, or if you're someone at the lower levels of a company. We treat everybody the same. We offer the same level of customer service.

Now that works in cultures like Australia, but you've got plenty of other cultures where there is a much higher regard and respect for hierarchy and for status. For example, the last country that I was living in, which was Myanmar, there was a very high regard for monks and for teachers and for certain professions. But, monks are right at the top of that social hierarchy. The expectation is that you treat those monks or those people of high status with a certain level of respect that you wouldn't necessarily afford to everybody else.

How does this relate back to our scenario? Let's imagine you've got a family that's walked into your practice and perhaps they're a Muslim family. It appears that they have recently have migrated to Australia. They're trying to explain to you that it is the child that is here to see a doctor, and you start to address the child. In many cultures, where there is a high respect for hierarchy, it is very respectful to introduce yourself to the most senior person in that party. And in this case of a family, more often than not, it might be the father.

Now this is something that is quite uncomfortable for many Australians to take into account. Because from our cultural perspective we do expect to treat everybody the same. But stretching your comfort zone to do things that make sense from someone else's cultural perspective is a really important consideration to take into account when you are doing that customer journey mapping exercise.

So really that's one thing to take into account. another thing to take into account is how do you create an informed customer?

Tip 2 – Creating an informed customer

So in the context again of health care, think about your customers. What are their attitudes? What are their understandings of things like mental health? Because if they are not the same as what the rest of the Australian population have, and you refer them to a counselor or suggest they seek professional help for mental health, that person may be absolutely freaked out that you are accusing them- from their perspective- of being a crazy person. So creating an informed customer is about how do you broach these topics and let them understand what it is that you think they need to know, but broaching those topics in a way that is culturally sensitive.

Tip 3 – Consider different communication styles

Now the third tip that I'd like to briefly touch on is related to creating an informed customer, but it's specifically about communication. Take into account that different cultures have different styles of communicating. I'm not necessarily talking about language. I'm talking about whether we're very direct with our communication or whether we're very diplomatic with our communication.

In Australia, we tend to be fairly direct compared with many other cultures. For example, we have sayings like “tell it like it is” or “call a spade, a spade”. In the context of healthcare, you might have the expectation that as a healthcare practitioner have an open and honest conversation with your clients and that they are being open and honest with you.

Now it can be a big assumption to try to get someone from a cultural background who does not have that style of communication. They could instead be very diplomatic, meaning that you could totally misunderstand what it is that they are saying.

That's because when you've got people from those cultural backgrounds that are a lot more diplomatic or indirect in their conversation styles, they have an expectation that you will read between the lines. It's not necessarily what they say to you. It's what they're not saying to you. That is an important part of the overall message that they are trying to convey to you.

For example, you're talking about mental health or sexual health. There can be certain parts that they may leave out of the discussion with you, but they infer that certain things have happened based on some of the broader context that they have explained to you. That's why, in those cultures, there's a lot more storytelling involved because it's all about providing the context. The emphasis is then on you trying to fill in the blanks and understand exactly what is going on. So that's something really to take into account communication styles from a cultural perspective.

Be aware of cultural misunderstandings and miscommunication

Now these three tips that I've just said with you are specific to healthcare, but, regardless of what industry you're in, there is one piece of advice that, that I would love to share with you.

When you are dealing with people from different cultural backgrounds and you’re providing them a service, the biggest pitfall in providing service to people from culturally diverse backgrounds is to not overcome or be aware of cultural misunderstandings and cultural miscommunication. This is something that you really should take into account when you are doing your customer journey mapping when you are trying to expand your market.

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