With our cities becoming more international and multicultural, and people travelling extensively for leisure or business, Customer Experience is no longer immune to cultural differences and issues that characterise our societies.

If we consider a cosmopolitan city like London ,with more than 270 nationalities and 300 languages spoken, it is easy to anticipate what this could mean in terms of CX challenges for both brands and customers.

Not an easy task for brands

The first key issue to address is the definition of reasonable and acceptable CX standard levels for those products and services targeted at individuals from different backgrounds.

This is not a secondary element, because the answer could go in different directions: embracing the idea of a ‘compromise’; trying to align the CX to the best practices of leaders across different industries; or linking the CX to variables like price and psychographic market segmentation. In this instance, customers are likely to pay for a surcharge and shop in places aiming at upmarket segments, which would not be the case in their country of origin.

A second challenge is represented by the international workforce. The retail sector, for example, employs staff from all over the world, from places where the CX culture is very developed as well as from countries where CX is a relatively – if not completely – new concept; countries where not smiling at, acknowledging, or greeting customers is the rule and doing business is mainly a transactional interaction.

Harmonising recruits so diverse to a common denominator and enthusing them over a brand to deliver positive CX is a tough task that should be anchored to a clear training strategy.

It is even more complex for those companies that rely heavily on young people who want to live the ‘London experience’ for a limited period of time or are simply using that job as a stopgap. How do you ensure there is the right engagement?

Customers can be poles apart

Customers, who are so disparate because of their origins, approach CX with expectations that could be poles apart. Being an Italian living in London, I have very high expectations when I go to a coffee shop for a cappuccino.

It is not only the quality of the coffee itself that matters but the service and overall experience. It has come as no surprise to see that an increasing number of specialist shops have opened in the last few years to satisfy the needs of specific ethnic communities which could not get their expectations met by more generalist or large businesses wanting to serve a broad range of customers.

Why bother about mystery shopping?

A growing number of organisations have been using mystery shopping to measure Customer Experience against KPIs. However, when such programmes are carried out in cosmopolitan cities, the risk of using inconsistent scale points beyond what is commonly accepted is very high.

Even if the Market Research Society says that mystery shoppers are “reporting back on their experiences in a detailed and objective way,” I doubt such objectivity is possible. CX is a mix of objective facts and personal perceptions, and these perceptions – based on feelings, emotions, expectations – expand even more when we add other factors such as nationalities, language, values, culture, and society of origin.

Let me give you a specific example, critical to effective communication: intonation.

“Intonation is about how we say things, rather than what we say. There are two basic patterns of intonation in English: falling intonation and rising intonation… the voice tends to rise, fall, or remain flat depending on the meaning or feeling we want to convey.” (Learn English Today)

Every language has its own tone range and using the right pitch version is essential to a phrase meaning. Consequently, the risk of misunderstanding is very likely; a mystery shopper not familiar with international environments may misjudge their experience when assessing their interaction with foreign members of staff who use the incorrect English intonation. Labelling someone as unprofessional, rude, or too direct could be a trap into which it is easy to fall.

Training is paramount but also ensuring that mystery shoppers with the right profile are assigned to each assignment.

Cross-cultural CX?

Globalisation is posing new questions. To what extent is cross-cultural CX that makes customers happy possible? How can we measure it correctly? Does it work only for certain categories of items? Is the CX we are looking for strictly connected to where we are from?

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