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What role do regional differences play in creating strong customer experiences?

Published January 24, 2022

Sufficient and appropriate customer support is crucial to a positive customer experience. Indeed, 68 percent of consumers report that they would be willing to pay more for a product or service if customer service exceeds their expectations.

Due to a variety of factors, there are vast differences in the ways customers across different countries and regions worldwide prefer to receive support. If you want your global expansion to be a success, it is critical to take these regional nuances and differences in customer support preferences into consideration and adapt your customer experience accordingly to meet these needs. 

North Americans prefer to receive customer support over the phone

According to research conducted by the Qualtrics XM Institute, the preferred method of receiving customer support in the U.S., Canada and Mexico is over the phone. The least popular method throughout North America was chatting with a person on the computer, with only 10 percent of American, Mexican and Canadian consumers preferring this method.

Source: Qualtrics XM Institute

The pandemic accelerated a paradigm shift in the world of commerce, with vastly more consumers shopping online than ever before. As in-person consumer interactions with brands and customer support decline, over-the-phone support has taken on new importance. In many situations, the only way in which customers can interact with brands is over the phone. 

A survey by Computer Generated Solutions, Inc.  found the ability to have direct communication with a service agent is a key factor in driving positive customer service interactions. The study also reported that 28.1 percent of U.S. consumers were disappointed in their experiences with brands when unable to speak directly with a human customer service representative.

Engage American consumers through purposeful initiatives and digital transformation

According to insights from Accenture, the pandemic has dramatically changed American consumerism and people’s buying habits, giving rise to a new kind of consumer – the “Reimagined.” These reimagined consumers have reevaluated their life values and priorities, influencing what they find important in their experiences with brands.

For American consumers, the customer experience now transcends direct interaction with brands. American consumers are seeking purpose-driven brands that are positively impacting the world through various initiatives, such as assisting in COVID-19 relief efforts, improving sustainability and social justice and enhancing corporate responsibility. A study by the Zeno group reveals that more than 80 percent of American consumers value brands that lead with purpose in their operations to create a beneficial influence on the world.

For example, coconut water brand Vita Coco led a philanthropic initiative during the pandemic to support COVID-19 relief efforts by donating $1 million to charities, such as Feeding America and No Kid Hungry. Lyft, a rideshare company, founded Essential Deliveries, a program intended to help government agencies, non-profits and healthcare organizations deliver essentials to their customers.

Research from GroundTruth reveals that the ability to adapt to a new normal through digital transformation will also be a key to the success of high-performing brands in the U.S.  Insights from Gartner point to a need for a proactive service model to consistently deliver value to consumers and the world at large.

South Americans value authenticity in their brand interactions

A survey conducted by Ipsos identified several key forces that are integral to cultivating strong customer experiences in South America. According to the survey, the value of belonging reigns supreme as the primary concern among South American consumers. Consumers in various South American countries appreciate brands that make an effort to align with their values and create a sense of inclusivity in their customer experience. Having a meaningful customer experience that exudes authenticity is also a top concern. 

Acknowledging status is also a priority for satisfying customer-experience expectations in South America. For example, Peru has experienced great economic growth recently but is still feeling the effects of social inequalities among its various income sectors. Peruvian consumers are looking to the customer experience to fill these gaps, seeking out brand interactions that make them feel appreciated and valued for their loyalty.

Create an exceptional customer experience in South America with a customer-first approach

Forbes identified critical factors in high-performing South American companies’ customer experiences in a still-relevant article from 2018. An inspired approach that puts customers' needs at the center and is driven by forward-thinking will be key to creating a strong customer experience in South America.

Santander, a Spanish multinational with a massive banking presence in South America, creates positive customer interactions by attending to customers’ needs and responding with creativity and innovation. The company’s so-called Work Cafes bring a cafe environment to the bank setting, making customers feel comfortable and welcome while bringing more enjoyment to their banking experience.

Avianca, a South American airline, also employs a customer-first approach to drive positive customer interactions in the region. The airline makes its customers feel special by offering personalized recommendations on flights and other products that may interest the customer, as well as offering rewards to loyal customers. 

Europeans value the efficiency of customer support

If you are planning a global expansion to include European nations, efficiency should be among your top priorities in delivering your customer experience. According to Ecommerce News, the speed of customer support is paramount in Europe. Eighty-three percent of European consumers expect to be able to speak to a customer support agent about their query right away. Seventy-six percent want to be able to make the choice of which channel they use to receive customer support. 

For example, 47 percent of French consumers do not appreciate being diverted to a different agent and having to repeat questions, and more than 50 percent of consumers in England wish to have a customer support agent answer their phone query within five minutes. 

If the speed of your service does not align with customer expectations, it can dramatically affect your success in the region, which was true for Walmart’s failed expansion into Germany. When Walmart attempted to expand into Germany, it overlooked consumers’ need for efficiency in the customer experience. Walmart also disregarded other key regional nuances. German consumers found Walmart’s service to be disappointingly slow. Smiling at customers is also a characteristic of Walmart’s general customer experience, but in Germany, it is considered a form of flirting and was looked down upon by German consumers.

Create a positive and seamless omnichannel customer experience in Europe with agility and prioritization

Forrester pinpointed the key drivers for building a successful customer experience in Europe. As the commercial and economic effects of the pandemic evolve, companies must be able to react quickly and make decisions immediately with agility and efficiency. Focusing your customer experience through effective prioritization will be crucial to meeting customers’ needs and expectations. 

With consumers still wary of in-person interactions, companies must create seamless omnichannel interactions to connect online and offline experiences. For example, according to ScienceDirect, consumer preferences in the UK, Greece, France and Denmark point to a desire for innovation, such as digitalized menus in public food service environments to maintain more hygienic conditions.

The Middle East emphasizes live customer support

In the Middle East, consumers are seeking human relations in their brand interactions. According to Euromonitor’s Digital Consumer survey, 62 percent of Middle Eastern consumers favor live, face-to-face customer support. In food and beverage, for example, interacting with an in-person customer service agent was the most popular method of receiving customer support, with 55 percent of consumers in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) preferring this channel.

Pre-COVID-19, Middle Eastern consumers typically shopped and interacted in person as part of their daily lives. During the lockdown, digital adoption accelerated in the Middle East, changing the ways consumers shopped, with many shifting to online retail services for the first time, according to a PwC survey.

Middle Eastern consumers desire the ease and convenience they had grown accustomed to, pre-pandemic. Security is a top concern among Arabs and a key factor in driving confidence in brand interactions. For example, having the ability to touch products before buying would help Arabs feel more empowered in their buying decisions.

Expand real-time interactions to drive a positive experience in Middle East and North Africa (MENA)

To create a more satisfactory experience in MENA, real-time customer support is critical. When in-person support is not available, having a live online agent ready to respond to queries can help customers feel more self-assured in their buying decisions.

According to insights from Verloop, a key element of a strong customer experience in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) will include frequent interactions with brands on customers’ favorite communication channels. With the typical Middle East and African consumers active on 8.4 social media channels a month, companies should look to enhance their digitization capabilities by scaling their customer support across popular social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Using these social channels effectively will be key to responding to customer queries efficiently, while gaining a deeper understanding of customers to create a wider and more valuable array of customer experiences. 

South Africans seek compassionate customer experiences

In the uncertainty of the pandemic, South African consumers are looking for compassionate customer experiences that are led by understanding. Seventy-one percent of consumers claim loyalty to brands that have shown them empathy during the pandemic, according to findings from Salesforce’s “State of Service” Report. South African consumers value brands that align with their personal values and make an effort to build and maintain trust, while building a customer experience that is attentive to their concerns and focused on helping them find solutions. 

Lead with empathy and flexibility to create a fulfilling customer experience in South Africa

According to Salesforce, an organization’s level of customer-centricity can be defined by the flexibility and empathy it demonstrates towards its customers. Salesforce identified three major strategies high-performing companies in South Africa should use to create a satisfactory customer experience in the region. 

  • Companies should strive to maintain a customer-centric approach led by sensitivity and compassion.
  •  Train and incentivize customer service agents to increase investment in their own performance.
  •  Enhance customer-effort scores with the aim of offering a valuable yet efficient customer experience.

According to insights from Salesforce, finding a balance between resistance and adaptability is vital to creating a customer experience that satisfies customer expectations and helps maintain trust and higher customer retention. An excess of rigidity will upset customers and mar their experience with your brand, while too much flexibility can turn to incoherence and disorganization.

Consumers in APAC prefer customer support on the phone and online 

The Asia-Pacific region (APAC) is home to the world’s largest consumer base, offering countries looking to expand into this area a wealth of opportunity if they are successful in their global expansion strategy. According to a survey conducted by Qualtric XM Institute, APAC consumers prioritize convenience in their brand interactions. The report revealed that receiving customer support through self-service on the phone was among the most popular channels in countries including Indonesia and Thailand. Consumers in India and Thailand both prefer receiving customer support online, with 64 percent from each country choosing one of the three online channels as their top method of customer support.

Drive a positive customer experience in APAC with convenient and personalized interactions

Infobip identified key trends and strategies companies should be aware of as they seek to include APAC in their global expansion strategy. In a survey, Infobip found that 91 percent of consumers report that convenience as of such importance that they would be willing to spend more on brands that met their needs in this way. With increasing adoption of digital interaction, chatbots and AI, companies will need to incorporate self-service features and automation into their customer experiences to offer the convenience consumers are seeking. McKinsey & Company report that 71 percent of today’s consumers will continue to use digital channels after the pandemic.

According to insights from Infobip, interactions with brands don’t necessarily need to include live customer support, but they need to have an element of personalized engagement. Expanding hyper-personalization will be key to creating meaningful experiences with customers, building loyalty and deepening engagement.  

Humanize customer support in your global expansion strategy

Although there are regional differences in the ways consumers prefer to receive customer support throughout the world, a clear trend is emerging with regards to a need for humanized brand interactions. In the post-pandemic world, whether consumers prefer digitalized or in-person customer support interactions, a human element that creates a customer-centric and attentive experience is key to maintaining trust with consumers and succeeding in your global expansion strategy.

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