Ramping Up Global Online Sales with Customer Service

By Hugh Goldstein

When selling or providing a service online, business opportunities can quickly multiply, but so can the customer service considerations. In our interconnected world, Internet and cloud services have created a flatter global playing field for competition. Customers can access alternative vendors’ websites for commerce and customer care worldwide. If they don’t like one service, there are plenty of alternatives they can pick from that are just a mouse click away.

Going Global: How can companies keep personalized customer service in step with global growth via the Internet? Customer service is something many companies try to avoid as they view it as expensive and labor intensive. Furthermore, in the global context language localization of websites and experiences varies. Sophisticated e-commerce sites may present different websites based on the location as indicated by the IP address of the Web browser. Other websites ask the user to select based on their location and then direct them to a localized version, and some exist only in one language. In parallel, the level of integrated live customer support varies widely.

Good customer care in a global online marketplace is a language-sensitive and culture-sensitive mix of technology, self-service, and human intervention escalation points when the online experience goes awry. While some companies view personalized customer service as an expense to be avoided, others see it as a powerful differentiator.

Offshore Frustrations: Early attempts to save money by routing call center phone numbers to offshore locations backfired for many large brands. Most US-based consumers remember the frustrations experienced when major computer companies and airlines moved their customer service to offshore locations where English was widely spoken but local agents had no proper training in the product of the companies or the customer service culture of the consumers.

Later, offshore companies adapted by giving agents intensive cultural and accent training. Some even went so far as to encourage them to adapt alternative persona in an attempt to provide the illusion that the contact center agent was in the same country as the caller. Offshore call center readiness, as well as consumer acceptance, is much higher today, and this poses less of a problem – although the trend toward near shoring or repatriating call center jobs back to domestic call centers is still strong.

SIP and IVR Solutions: Today, with SIP-trunking services, call centers and enterprises can establish telephone numbers in dozens of countries and forward them anywhere in the world to contact center agents at a low cost and with instant provisioning. However, if a company presents a local Japanese number to a customer online, the company should be prepared to provide a culturally specific experience to the caller in Japanese.

With SIP-trunking contact centers, agents can be found in multiple centers or in remote home offices. In-house, outsourced, or home-based, today’s best contact centers make use of advanced quality control and performance assessment tools. Another advantage of SIP trunking is that calls can be routed and re-routed as needed to manage congestion and staffing requirements.

Language and cultural skills are especially important because the customer has the impression they are reaching a local number. The local number, therefore, must be accompanied by a localized customer experience. A multilingual IVR can help to filter and route calls to the ideal agent for each caller. Using home-based or remote agents can also ease the challenge of finding the right multilingual agents.

Finding Balance: It has never been easier to take a business international than it is today by using the Internet. Global customers will pick products and vendors based on social media influences such as consumer reviews and price as much as any other factor. Online sales – be it an appliance, bike, or book – may depend on many factors, but there is no doubt they can be bolstered by blending live customer service with a healthy understanding of the global target customer’s culture and language.

Hugh Goldstein is the VP of Strategic Alliances at Voxbone.

[From Connection Magazine Mar/Apr 2015]