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Calling All Cultures: Multicultural Marketing And The Contact Center

By Thomas MacDonald, TeleTech


What is the key to operating a state-of-the-art, fully equipped contact center? Is it employing the best and most educated agents? Finding the most appropriate sites for your operations? What about using the latest and greatest technology?

Of course, the answer falls within all of the above, but there is more to the equation. Your contact center may have the best employees and all of the latest technology to efficiently serve customers, but are you equipped to serve the rapidly growing and increasingly influential multicultural market? To thrive in today's global business environment, companies in all industries ' from financial services and insurance to retail and healthcare ' must both acknowledge this significant market segment and create a contact center environment that caters to those within each segment.

In the United States alone, the multicultural population is nearing 100 million people, and the combined buying power of African-American, Hispanic and Asian-American markets is valued at more than $1.3 trillion. This means that the ability to reach diverse markets in culturally relevant ways will become the differentiating factor for businesses worldwide, providing new business opportunities, untapped market segments and the potential for increased profitability to companies that answer the call. Further, as multicultural outreach becomes a more standard part of marketing strategy, contact centers must be prepared to both ensure continuity and fulfill their end of the customer experience.

Why is multicultural marketing so critical in today's contact center industry? Think about your contact center and your customer service representatives: Are they prepared to serve customers who don't speak English? Studies have shown that customers are much more comfortable doing business in their native languages and that customer satisfaction and retention levels benefit when customers can use their primary language to communicate. Taking advantage of this knowledge can help in building goodwill and loyalty with customers, which can go a long way toward boosting your company's bottom line.

Yet many contact centers still lack the skills, resources and technology to effectively reach diverse markets. So how do you develop the strategy and incorporate the necessary tools to take advantage of the growing multicultural segment?

Beyond Talking The Talk
Traditional multicultural marketing means providing telephone support to non-English-speaking customers through over-the-phone interpretation. However, the marketplace has changed drastically and the need for culturally relevant customer service is so strong, it has driven today's technology well beyond the "press one for English and two for Spanish" standard. To truly excel in the global marketplace, however, your contact center requires more than basic translation capabilities ' you must be able to take your company's multicultural marketing strategy a step further.

Knowing the language is only the first step to effective global communication. Truly understanding other cultures, including their business practices and ways of life, is the key to a successful contact center strategy. For example, you may be confident that your target audience includes a significant population of Asian-American consumers, but do you know what percentage of that market is made up of consumers from Chinese, Korean or Japanese descent? Further, do you know the cultural distinctions between relevant subgroups and the implications for how you communicate?

Cesar Melgoza, president of market research firm Geospace International, notes: "Many companies are aware of broad customer demographics but don't take the time to dig deeper into the cultural nuances that define the unique needs of a given audience."

According to Melgoza, vast cultural variations make understanding and capturing a culture a complex process; and they occur due to a variety of factors, one of which is generational acculturation. Acculturation is the process of adopting the behavior patterns of surrounding cultures. For example, cultural differences that exist between first- and fourth-generation Asian-Americans might call for a completely different marketing approach. Therefore, companies that want to successfully develop relationships and build business with multicultural populations must develop a complete knowledge base. This includes everything from significant cultural differences and how they should be addressed, to all of the 'little things' that can't be uncovered from basic research.

The key to effective research is going beyond mere census information to ask key questions, such as the following: What do consumers within a given culture really care about when they pick up the phone or send an e-mail? How do they prefer to communicate with you? Answering these questions will help you develop a complete multicultural marketing and service strategy for your contact center, and will ensure that your value proposition and your brand promise don't get lost in translation.

Often, the best approach to understanding a diverse customer base is to work with a multicultural marketing expert who can provide insight and counsel. His or her expertise can help you to find demographic information for even the most highly targeted consumer groups and to develop a comprehensive campaign plan that best suits your contact center activities. Partnerships can make it easier to succeed by providing a one-stop shop for multicultural marketing intelligence and solutions.

Contact center experts can also help you use technology such as VoIP to prepare your contact center for multicultural marketing. VoIP offers more than the ability to save money through optimizing contact center labor, but a means to superior customer service, lead generation and increased sales. By implementing VoIP and establishing one central automatic call distributor (ACD), companies can easily and seamlessly meet the needs of any contact by quickly placing that contact into the hands of the most appropriate agent, in consideration of language, location and other factors.

So, now that you know what it takes to communicate with multicultural customers and be competitive in today's diverse marketplace, how do you get started integrating the necessary resources into your contact center?

Gaining The Competitive Edge
Today's multicultural consumers are technology savvy and conduct business on their own terms. If you're planning to actively market to diverse cultures, now is the time to prepare your contact center to handle customer communication on an individual and customized basis. To be successful, contact centers must be able to handle the following:

' In-language telemarketing, including inbound and outbound custom teleservices. Companies that employ in-language telemarketing can cross-sell or upsell products and services to limited English-speaking customers in their native languages.

' Over the Phone Interpretation (OPI), or real-time interpretation via a three-way conference call, enabling companies to communicate with customers in any language via telephone. Despite e-commerce's growing numbers, many consumers still rely on the telephone to place orders, report problems, make inquiries or submit payments. Companies must be prepared to conduct any of these tasks regardless of language.

' Localization of in-language customer education and support, through contact center-related tools like Web sites. According to the latest research from the U.S. Department of Commerce, National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), e-commerce amounts to more than $140 billion in the U.S. alone. The same study reports that searching for product or service information online is the second most popular online activity after e-mail or instant messaging. Companies that don't have their Web sites accessible in a variety of languages are sure to be eclipsed by their more globally aware competitors.

' Translation of written materials, including any piece that provides customer support telephone numbers. Direct translation without considering slang terms and context is one of the most common multicultural marketing mistakes that companies make. A classic example is when Ford introduced its Pinto model in Brazil, then saw sales drastically decrease. As it turns out, very few Brazilians wanted to be seen in a car of which its slang translation meant 'tiny male genitals.' Please, partner with a multicultural marketing expert to ensure this doesn't happen to you.

...And Customer Satisfaction For All
As contact centers identify their multicultural needs and develop their communication strategies, they may choose to employ these strategies individually, on an ' la carte basis, or as a comprehensive, multifaceted business unit. The choice depends largely upon how the center communicates with its customers. However, today's consumers conduct business in a variety of ways. They seek convenience as well as efficiency. When companies can communicate across a range of channels, the likelihood of customer acquisition and retention is much greater.

To reach multicultural consumers is one thing ' to do it well is quite another. When contact centers integrate a full suite of multicultural marketing services into their operations, they provide companies with a continuum of new business opportunities and previously untapped consumer markets. A well-equipped, versatile contact center can become a direct line to customers around the globe, and the client/contact center relationship becomes that much more valuable.

As the buying power of multicultural customers continues to increase, companies can't afford not to communicate across languages and cultures. For contact centers to go global, it takes more than only cutting-edge technology ' it requires cutting-edge communication. Even the most technologically advanced contact centers need help equipping themselves to tackle the multicultural market. After all, this is a new approach. But one of the best ways to minimize problems and further your chances of success is to enlist the help of a multicultural marketing expert who can manage your program from start to finish. Your satisfied multicultural customers will thank you for it. CIS

Thomas MacDonald is executive director of marketing for TeleTech In Culture, a business unit focused on providing multicultural marketing solutions that enable clients to provide relevant in-language customer communications along all customer touch points. He can be reached at 303-397-8288 or

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