Dealing with global customers is not always easy. Add to this, cultural differences, language barriers, and cultural nuances, and you have yourself a messy situation. However, you can prepare better so that you navigate these differences professionally and develop valuable relationships. Follow the appropriate international phone etiquette when conducting business interactions with international customers and clients.
What is Proper International Phone Etiquette?
When working with global customers and clients, you will have to have in-person, phone, and video conversations to move forward or close deals. Oftentimes, people are so used to doing business within their country or locally that they may be unaware of international business conventions.
International phone etiquette is the awareness of the differences and subtleties between various countries and regions and how to navigate these differences in order to communicate effectively.
How to Communicate Well with International Customers
So, what factors of international communication do you need to keep in mind when connecting with global customers? Here are some key elements to pay attention to:
1. Respect their Titles
When conducting business interactions, make sure you are aware of local conventions for addressing your attendees. Different countries have different cultural conventions for addressing one another. For example, in the US, using words such as “guys” may be common during business meetings. However, in countries like Japan and Germany, conventions are different: In Japan, it is polite to address someone by their first name, followed by “san.” On the other hand, in Germany, first names are not preferred. Instead, people are addressed by Herr/Frau followed by their last name. Being aware of these nuances can help you develop demonstrate respect and stronger relationships.
2. Listen Carefully and Actively
When dealing with international clients and business partners, a common challenge is understanding and interpreting accents. A second challenge is misunderstanding cultural references. To counter this issue, listen actively and carefully and when needed, ask for clarification. This is an important part of international phone etiquette. Furthermore, be clear in your own pronunciation and diction; speak slowly and clearly. If required, rephrase your sentence for better clarity and to avoid misunderstandings.
3. Don’t Use Slang
Avoid local and cultural slang, colloquialisms, or references as this may not work in an international setting. You will end up leaving your business partners or clients confused and they may see this as a sign of informality. In some cases, you may even offend some one. Awareness is required to identify and steer away from slang terms, phrases, and buzzwords.
4. Avoid Frustrations and Talking Down
Lastly, be careful when toeing the line of speaking clearly and dumbing down your words and sentences. You may run the risk of offending someone and sounding rude and patronizing. Be patient and focus on the common goal of communicating effectively.
Why is it Important to Practice Phone Etiquette?
Being aware of and practicing international phone etiquette can go a long way in securing essential deals and developing significant relationships. For many companies and clients, conducting business via phone and video conversations is a new shift.
In fact, some may still be apprehensive of closing deals without face-to-face interaction. If you do not show respect during phone conversations or are unaware of international business conventions, you may lose a valuable business relationship. And so, practicing phone etiquette can help you ease any discomfort and hesitancy.
The Do’s and Don’t of International Phone Etiquette
Below, we will look at the Do’s and Don’ts of international business phone etiquette for the following countries:
- South Africa
Do: Be bold. The business culture is accepting and respectful of new perspectives, even if they contradict others’ point of view. Expect business calls to be conducted in a relaxed affair, often casual and not purely focused on business. You may even be invited to informal gatherings outside of work.
Don’t: Avoid being too formal and procedural; business in Australia is often casual. Don’t schedule calls during the afternoons; Australian value and respect a work/life balance.
Do: People on the phone often confirm the identity of who they are speaking to, even if the phone call was arranged. So, expect to reiterate who you are.
Don’t Don’t be taken back by interruptions during important conversations. Enthusiastic and lively conversations are part of the Brazilian culture and interruptions and informal chatting are common.
Do: Answer phone calls no matter where you are or what you are doing. Personal relationships are essential to the Chinese business culture, so strive to maintain relationships.
Don’t Don’t ignore calls, even if you are unprepared. Avoid rushing into decision-making or deal-closing processes; take time to nurture and create relationships.
Do: The French have a conversational style of communication. Expect interruptions and enthusiastic tones.
Don’t: Avoid making small talk; it is often considered unnecessary and can make the recipient uncomfortable. Don’t schedule calls for small matters that could easily be discussed in an email. Lastly, don’t speak in French unless you speak the language fluently.
Do: Germany follows a formal code of conduct when it comes to business meetings and calls. They value efficiency and directness. It is normal to introduce yourself by stating your name, last name (surname), and the company you represent. Additionally, when addressing someone, use Herr/Frau (Mr/Mrs) and the person’s last name (surname) instead of their first name. Respect authorities and hierarchies.
Don’t: Avoid making business calls in the evening; specifically, after 5pm (M-T) and 4pm (F).
Do: Begin by building a relationship or rapport through friendly and polite conversation.
Don’t: Avoid rushing right into business talk. Say “We’ll try” instead of “No” as a polite way of refusing. Avoid answering other calls when speaking with a client; the client should be your main priority.
Do: Get to the point quickly during business calls; Italian businesspeople are known to stay focused and will remind you when you begin to ramble. Focus on short-term goals and plans.
Don’t: Avoid small talk and casual conversation not related to work. Long-term goals and plans may not be discussed in every conversation.
Do: Schedule business calls during office hours. Be aware of the meaning of the word “Yes” — unlike in the West, “yes” may mean maybe or perhaps instead of acceptance. Usually, “yes” is used as a polite alternative to “no.” Respect hierarchies and authorities.
Don’t: Avoid answering phone calls in public (business meetings, restaurants, public transport). Don’t slam the phone at the end of the call; place it down gently instead.
Do: Persistent calling is acceptable; don’t give up too easily.
Don’t: Most Mexican business is done during in-person meetings and so don’t try to close a deal over the phone.
Do: Be patient. Scheduling meetings and progressing through business processes and transactions can take a while.
Don’t: Avoid trying to close a deal through phone conversations as most business transactions and deals are made via in-person meetings.
Do: Business in South Africa relies on physical appearances and so in-person meetings are preferred over phone conversations.
Don’t: Business in South Africa occurs in a slow and orderly fashion and so avoid asking for specific deadlines or fast negotiations. Don’t use translators; English is the language business is conducted in.
Do: Be prepared for a lengthy business call filled with small talk and arguments relating to work.
Don’t: Greeting with “Hola” is considered disrespectful.
United Arab Emirates
Do: Silence is common when deliberating over key decisions. Be wary of key nuances in the English language; for example, “yes” may mean perhaps or maybe instead agreement as it does in the West.
Don’t: Avoid asking how female relatives (wives and daughters) are doing—this is considered highly inappropriate.
Do: Expect plenty of niceties and small talk before a meeting begins. Time is valuable; be punctual and apologize when late.
Don’t: Avoid time-wasting processes. Don’t eat when talking (in-person or on the phone).
United States of America
Do: The American business culture is accepting and encouraging of conducting business over the phone or video conferencing; in-person meetings are not always required. Expect business decisions to be made quickly.
Don’t: Even though American business meetings are informal and casual in tone, punctuality and deadlines are important. So, don’t be late to meetings or in delivering projects and tasks.
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