Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Service Delivery

Tourism Operators

In this presentation learn about cultural differences in business, particularly how to apply cultural intelligence to your service delivery.

Key learning outcomes:

  • Why is cultural intelligence important in your service delivery?
  • Service Excellence - Risk indicators
  • Service Excellence - Desired outcomes
  • Building trust
  • Task vs Relationship
  • Building rapport with customers/clients
  • The importance of good service delivery

Presentation: Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Service Delivery

Integrating Cultural Intelligence with Service Delivery

I'm Craig Shim from Alpha Crane Intercultural Specialists. In this presentation we're going to discuss how you can apply cultural intelligence to your service delivery.

Let's imagine you're at a networking event and you've just been introduced to a Chinese Australian migrant who is the owner of a multinational company that you'd love to do business with. Now you try to make small talk, but he just seems a little reserved, perhaps even cagey. So you request, or you express, an interest to make an appointment to discuss business at another time. You offer him your business card or you ask him for his business card, but he doesn't actually give one to you instead, he asks for your business card, so you give it to him, and then he says, I'll call you back. Now, of course he doesn't call you back and he doesn't become your client, and eventually you're left wondering what's going on.

Well, this particular scenario is highly relevant to today's topic, which is how do you apply culturally intelligence to your service delivery, particularly when you're dealing in a business to business type of scenario.

Now, this episode is actually part of a three episode series that I have prepared for Business Moreton Bay Region’s and Innovate Moreton Bay’s learning and podcast series. If you're interested in this particular episode, be sure to check out the other ones.

Why is cultural intelligence in your service delivery important?

So why is this topic about applying cultural intelligence to your service delivery important? Well, let me share with you a common problem that a lot of businesses entrepreneurs and startups have at the moment.

So during this period of economic turmoil of COVID-19, many of you (and us) are reassessing your customer base. In other words, your segmentation mix. Who is really going to give you the best bang for your buck over the next 12 months and beyond?

Quite often during this process, a potentially lucrative market that does get overlooked are customers or clients from culturally diverse backgrounds, including Australians who are from culturally diverse backgrounds. And quite often, this is simply as a result of business owners making the assumption that it's a niche market, and perhaps too difficult. Sometimes that's the case, but more often than not, it's a case of people simply assuming that culturally diverse Australians - who are potentially going to be clients - will have the same needs and wants as, as the rest of our mainstream customers. Therefore they will naturally be picked up as part of our business-as-usual activity.

Now this really is a misconception and I would say that it's a misguided assumption to assume that the needs and wants of your culturally diverse customers or clients are really going to be the same as your Australians. Because there are plenty of examples, from a business perspective, of how people from different cultural backgrounds have very different expectations about how we communicate, how we negotiate, how we build rapport with each other, how we build trust and so forth.

I'll give you a quick example. If you've ever done business or perhaps even just been a visitor, to Asia or to Bali, for example, you might have found that you're a great negotiator, but you really do feel uncomfortable where people are constantly trying to bargain with you or trying to negotiate with you. That's just not a cultural norm in Australia. So that's an example of where you are outside of your comfort zone. It's not that you can't do it. It's not that you can't bargain or you can't haggle if you're at the market. But it's just really not within your comfort zone. And that's something to keep in mind.

When you have potential clients who are from different cultural backgrounds, how comfortable are they with you compared with how comfortable they might be with another competitor of yours? That's where cultural intelligence can really play a very big part. If you don't get it right, then unfortunately it means that there is a missed opportunity of capturing a potentially very lucrative market, which are those culturally diverse clients.

Service Excellence – Risk Indicators

Now, how do you do this? The solution is really integrating cultural intelligence with your business practices, in particular your service delivery. That's about understanding the underlying mindset. Of your culturally diverse client.

How do you do this? Well, I've developed a framework, which is all about service excellence that I'd like to share with you.

You'll be able to see that I have developed this framework in the form of a triangle and it's got two parts. The first part is what you can see on your screen at the moment and this contains or outlines all of the risk indicators of when you think that your service excellence or your service delivery may actually not be on track when it comes to dealing with culturally diverse people.

1. Absence of Understanding

Let's take a look at the very bottom of this triangle. That first line is all about understanding, or more to the point, an absence of understanding. If you really don't understand where your clients are coming from in relation to how they build trust, or how quickly you should ask for a business meeting, then there is likely to be some cultural misunderstanding happening. And the same happens in reverse. Your customers or your clients may actually have a misunderstanding about your intentions, and you may have a misunderstanding about theirs.

2. Customers are uniformed

Now, if this happens, then we have a look at the next base in this triangle, which is that you do end up with customers who are uninformed. In other words, they're not really saw where you're coming from, and then eventually they start feeling that they don't understand what's going on, why you're behaving in a certain way or not in line with their expectations, and they do get that feeling of being uninformed, or ,even worse, misinformed.

3. Frequent frustration

Now, when that happens, we move to the next level of this triangle, which is the level of frequent frustration. And this unfortunately is not just frustration for you. It's also frustration for the clients. They're basically frustrated that you are not responding or behaving in a way that meets their expectations. And remember their expectations about how to do business are more than likely going to be different from yours, when there are certain cultural elements that come into play.

4. Customer dissatisfaction

Now, then we move up to the next level of this triangle, which is customer dissatisfaction.

So, of course, this is not good. This is where (at best) customers feel that you have merely met the expectations and that you haven't exceeded those expectations, but at worst this is where your customers feel dissatisfied. If that happens, then we move to the top of this triangle, which is about your customer as a critic.

5. Customer as critic

So in this scenario, you've got a dissatisfied customer and at best your customer, or your client, leaves you. That can sometimes be the best outcome. At worst, they leave you and they become your biggest critic, or perhaps (even worse) they stay with you, and they become your biggest critic and a very vocal critic.

Service Excellence – Desired Outcomes

Now, of course, this is a scenario none of us want to be in. And that's why I will now refer you to the other side of that triangle, which is this framework in terms of providing cultural intelligence to your service delivery. Let me explain this triangle to you now.

1. Understanding

At the bottom of the triangle again is creating a desired outcome of understanding. Mutual understanding. So, from a cultural perspective, are you aware of what their needs and wants are? And are they the understanding of what your needs and wants are? And we'll talk more about that shortly.

2. Informed

If that happens, that's where we move up to the next level of this pyramid, which is where you create an informed customer. This is really important to read the third tier or the third level of this triangle.

3. Highly responsive

This is where you are highly responsive, or as I refer to it, intuitively responsive, to their needs and wants from a cultural perspective. But not just the needs and wants that they tell you about, but also the ones that they don't tell you about, because you have that cultural intelligence to understand that, in this particular situation, here are some ways that I can adjust my behavior that will make more sense, or be more appealing, to my culturally diverse clients.

4. Delight

Now, when that happens, you move up to the fourth level of this pyramid, which is about delight or delighting your clients, which moves them up the scale of customer satisfaction or client satisfaction.

5. Advocate

When that happens, you move to the top of the pyramid, which is where your customer is not only delighted and loyal, they become a fantastic advocate for you.

I'd just like to point out here when we're talking about culturally diverse members of the community, members of the business community, or any community in Australia, one thing to keep in mind is that they will more than likely have a lot of influence in terms of word of mouth, influence within their own communities. And without their advocation for you and your business it could actually be quite difficult to tap into that market.

So if you do apply cultural intelligence, you go through all the levels of this triangle, and you do end up with some very loyal advocates that can actually be a very positive thing in terms of being able to access a much larger section of the market than what you may currently have.

Applying the framework

Now that's the framework, but let me explain what this means in relation to this particular scenario. Let's consider the culturally influenced expectations of the customer.

In this case, we're talking about the Chinese business owner that you've just met at this networking event. Now you've asked him for an appointment, so that you can discuss business separately. Obviously you don't want to talk too much about business in a networking event, but he will actually perceive your request in a potentially very different way from what your intent was, and that's because there is a big difference between cultures in terms of how we build trust.

How to build trust

From an intercultural perspective - I'm an intercultural consultant - we often refer to a number of different cultural dimensions to explain these underlying attitudes and motivations. The particular cultural dimension that I'd like to refer to in this case is how we build trust.

Task vs Relationship

I'd like you to imagine that there's a line across your screen. At one end of this line are those cultures that have a very high, a very strong emphasis on task. This emphasis is on getting things done in a systematic order and getting things done efficiently. Now on the other end of the spectrum, you've got cultures that place a much higher emphasis on relationships.

So we call this task versus relationship. In these particular cultures that are down this end of the spectrum, they will very much want or desire a relationship to be formed first, before they talk about business, or before they really start opening up about some of those other things that would typically be more important in the early stages, for people from cultures that are down this end of the spectrum.

Now just for your quick reference, if you imagine this line again, and you imagine the middle mark. Australia is slightly to the left of that line. So not all the way down the end of the spectrum, but slightly to the left (towards Task-oriented). Now for Asian cultures, they are very much down the right end of the spectrum, where they will have a much stronger emphasis on relationships.

Coming back to this scenario, what's probably happened is that when you have tried to make small talk, but you perhaps were not saying the right kind of things, or perhaps you were covering topics that the person that you were speaking with wasn't comfortable to discuss with you as a stranger. Then you moved quickly on to asking for a business appointment.

Now in this case, if this gentleman was very much focused on making sure that he has a relationship with people before he even discusses doing business with them, then he might see you as being quite impersonal. And he may not (at this point in time) feel very comfortable in sharing information with you, and, in this particular scenario, he didn't even share his business card with you.

So that's really something to take into account. Be mindful of what those culturally influenced expectations are of your clients.

Building rapport with customers

The second tip that I'd like to share with you is in relation to that golden rule of customer or client servicing, which is building rapport with your clients, or building a relationship with your customer.

I'd like you to consider this tip. When you are dealing with a client from a culturally different background, consider what their expectations are in terms of how much time you need to build their trust or to build a relationship. Because that, as we just discussed, can be very different in different cultural scenarios.

So for example, in Australia, in this networking events scenario, it is quite common that your job is to introduce yourself, perhaps exchange business cards, or at least exchange contact details and set up a follow-up appointment. So in that second appointment, let's say we call it a coffee appointments, the expectation is that you will start talking about business at that point in time, or potential business opportunities. You will ask the other person to explain more about their business and you would expect that they would do the same with you. If they don't ask you the same questions, it could leave you a little worried.

But if you are from a cultural background where you really want to have that relationship built first, that process doesn't happen between a networking event and then a coffee catch-up. That process can take weeks, months, perhaps even years. So that is really something to take into account before you start talking business or getting down to business with your clients who may be from one of those cultures that have a much higher emphasis on relationships, rather than on getting the task done, or getting things done efficiently at that early stage.

These were few tips that I thought might be helpful in relation to this particular scenario, but regardless of what your business is an overall piece of advice that I'd like to share with you.

The importance of good service delivery

When you are doing business with people from different cultural backgrounds, always remember that the biggest failure quite often is the failure to take into account their culturally influenced expectations around what constitutes good service delivery. This really is something that is easier said than done, but I'll give you a few questions that you might want to ask yourself. Consider some of these expectations.

The first question is to ask yourself how important is it to the other person that you spend time getting to know each other?

Now in the scenario that we just mentioned, it is important to this Asian gentlemen. But if you're dealing with another person, perhaps another Asian person who has a very different cultural outlook, they are not interested in spending a lot of time making small talk. They would rather just quickly get down to business.

This is particularly common, when we're dealing with people from cultural backgrounds, such as some European cultures. In Germany, for example, there is a much stronger emphasis in the task. In other words, tell me what you're here for, what your intent is? Let's go through, talk about business and we'll be as timely and efficient as possible.

It's not always the case, but compared with your Asian clients, that is more likely to be the case. So it really pays to pay attention to this.

Now, the second question that you might ask yourself are what are some of the unwritten rules about your culture that your clients may not understand?

A quick example of this might be when you are at that stage that you can sign a contract. In Australia, and being task-focused, having that milestone in a business relationship of signing a contract can be very important, and it is an expectation that our clients will sign a contract or perhaps an intent to do business or a nondisclosure agreement or something of a contractual nature.

Now, if you are someone from a cultural background that is heavily relationship focused, then your desire to keep going back to contracts and getting that contract signed could actually be seen in a very negative way, because I could see that you are being very impersonal and very inflexible. And although they may or may not be willing to do that. They are probably going to be comparing how easy it is for them to do business with you compared to how easy it is for them to do with someone who gets them, who understands their cultural expectations, particularly their cultural business expectations.

The third question, is what are the unexpressed wishes of your customer?

For example, in China or in many Asian cultures, there is an unwritten rule that in no circumstances, do you ever allow anyone to lose face. Also, that you give face at every opportunity.

In this particular scenario, or when you're generally doing business, this can really influence how you deliver bad news or unfavorable news to a client. There's a cultural dimension, I won't go into it in detail, but it is all about communication.

We again refer to a line and you've got cultures, such as Australian cultures, that are fairly direct in their communications style. Then you've got cultures at the other end of the spectrum that are fairly diplomatic in their communication style. What this means is that when you're delivering some unfavorable news to someone in Australia, we have a preference and unwritten rule, a cultural preference for calling a spade a spade, or saying it like it is. So if we think that there's a problem, we'll just say it like it is. Now that is a sure fire way to break trust if you are dealing with someone from a cultural background that is at the other end of the spectrum. And that really is a way of losing face.

So these are some of the things that I would advise that you take into consideration when you are applying cultural intelligence to your service delivery.

Just to close out, just to summarize again one of the biggest pitfalls that you should keep in mind is assuming that all your customers, or all your clients, have the same attitudes that you do when it comes to service delivery. As we've just described there are some very significant differences.

Now you might be wondering why am I qualified to talk about these topics? Well to my knowledge, I am the only qualified or certified intercultural specialist or intercultural consultant in Queensland that does provide specialist, cross-cultural advice when it comes to customer journey mapping, and customer service. And just to provide you with a little bit more context, I've spent 14 years in Asia, where I have been applying these skills to provide services to hotels, to airlines so that they can apply cultural intelligence to their customer journey mapping and ultimately deliver a much more enhanced service to their international clients.

If you are interested in this topic in general about being a culturally inclusive business, of course, there are two other episodes that I've prepared for series. And if you are interested in cultural intelligence, specifically in relation to your business, then feel free to have a browse through my website, which is Well, that brings us to the end of this episode. Thank you for watching.

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