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April 04, 2007

Redux: Services, Client Service--and "When Cultures Collide".

1. Services, and relationships--with or without products and goods--are becoming the main event globally.

Whether you work for an international business law boutique, the phone company, or IBM, "products" or "goods" are still with us but increasingly have become part of the overall mix of providing solutions to clients and customers. Things traded you can touch and feel are no longer the main event.

See, for example, IBM's website or anything written about IBM in recent years if you don't believe me; they are no longer just a hardware, equipment or products giant--but a "services company", and perhaps the world's largest. IBM sells solutions. Selling and leasing IBM products are just part of those solutions. So IBM's success or failure will depend on managing relationships and how its customers, clients and partners at all levels experience those services.

Moreover, here are twin big-ass problems (i.e., challenges), a looming crisis and, for the stout-hearted, an opportunity of the first order:

2. Old problem: customer/client service and care will continue to get low, low marks.

Customer and client service and care is difficult, and seldom seen anywhere, folks--both within the US or internationally. Few industries and professions (1) are good at it, (2) know it's difficult, or (3) even know what it is and how to flesh out the details. Hard-won customers and clients can, will and do switch providers in a heartbeat if the "service level" is poor or mediocre--which is almost always. As the services sectors grow globally, already-increasing cross-border trade will mean that there's a new and tough wrinkle in your service (or product, good, widget) and how it's delivered from the standpoint of customer/client service and care: complex, critical differences in peoples internationally which can make or break a deal or ongoing relationship.

So what happens when you pour business people of different national, religious and cultural origins all over the world into this cauldron: an entire services-based planet of already fragile commercial relationships--and one that just can't get a bead on customer/client service and care in nearly all industries at all buying levels?

3. New problem: business relationships increasingly will have international and cross-cultural "languages" we all must learn.

For years my firm has acted for US corporations abroad, especially in western Europe, and increasingly in Latin America. And we have also represented non-US companies in the US seeking to set up manufacturing and sales operations here; believe me, the Germans, English, Welsh, Irish, Spanish, Mexicans, Argentinians, Swiss, Dutch and Italians are not only very different from Americans, they are very different from each other. What happens when the Japanese negotiate or trade with Germans? Or the English with Americans, or the French? Canadians or Australians with the Chinese? With the Saudis or the Turks?

International trade, for decades the province of a handful of elites and specialists in each country, is starting to involve more and more people, firms, professions, and rank-and-file employees. You, and yours, need to know the people, dude. For starters, buy and read R.D. Lewis's 1996 standard When Cultures Collide: Managing Successfully Across Cultures and do it before the price goes back up. WAC? has listed it as a must-read client service book on the lower right of this site since starting in 2005.

Posted by JD Hull at April 4, 2007 09:59 AM

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