In theory, the Internet has no limitations and no boundaries. Amazon.com, although a US-based company, in now just as popular in places like Dubai and the UK as it is in the USA. Product management app Basecamp claims to have customers in “almost every country on earth.” All you need is a website and you can take orders or build a SaaS customer base from anywhere in the world. But when you’re ready to scale your startup into a global market–or just expand into other areas of the Middle East–the task can seem daunting.
With so many digital tools to assist you, international expansion shouldn’t be a daunting task, but it does take work, careful planning, and responsiveness to change. At ClickDesk, we have customers in over 100 countries and many of them adopt our live chat software in order to expand their customer base internationally. What the most successful ones have in common is that they are focused on providing strong customer support to those customers. They are well equipped to deal with customers from different countries, cultures and time zones.
How do they get there? In this post I’ll explain how to use customer service tools and practices to hack your startup’s international growth.
- Connect in Real Time
The number one most important thing to remember is this: Time Zones! This might sound simple, but too many companies ignore the importance of time zones. If you cannot be available in a new customer’s time zone, you will probably lose them. If customers know that you are from another country and responses might take some time, it’s better to leave them some automated reply that shows them you care. At the same time, your reply should emphasize the times when they can reach you in real time. Otherwise they will feel like they’re dealing with robots.
Time zone awareness extends to social presence, too. For example, if you’re active on Twitter, make sure to schedule tweets in all relevant time zones (apps like Buffer help with this). This is especially important if you promote a time-sensitive sale or discount over social media. And if your sales staff is using online appointment scheduling software that lets leads book appointments online for sales demos or support, make sure to choose one that adjusts for time zones.
For many startups, the secret to success with different time zones is to expand your business slowly and intentionally into one new time zone at a time.
- Offer Real Help
In addition to being available during your new international customers’ workdays, to convert international leads into customers you need to provide them with real, useful information. Reach out to them proactively and offer to answer any questions they might have.
Also, if your products or features are customized for different countries, create landing pages for these individual offerings. Once you have customers in the area, you can include testimonials from those “local” customers as well. If customers in a particular location are confused about the same part of your business, then it’s a sign that you need change your offering or explain it more clearly. A lot of SaaS helpdesks offer extensions aimed to address this sort of issue. A popular one is Zendesk’s Knowledge Base feature, which lets you create a searchable help center and interactive community.
“But I only speak two languages!” There was a time when translation was the biggest hurdle to international business, but no longer. Speaking in a customer’s language creates a more personalized experience and helps customers connect with your brand.
Luckily there are a ton of real-time translation tools out there. Most of them are based on Google Translate, which offers a public API (for a fee) and supports over 80 languages, including French and Arabic. At ClickDesk, we used Google Translate API to build a click-to-translate feature into our live chat app and it’s been immensely successful. Every day we receive positive feedback about it, in many different languages.
- Don’t Stop There
If you really want to excel in international business, you need to provide customer service that goes beyond sales and support. You need to build relationships. You don’t need to become an expert in how every culture does business, but you should start real conversations that lead to open communication not just during that first purchase, but continuously.
Then you can even build marketing automation campaigns that adjust automatically to customer expectations in different countries. For example, you can automate holiday newsletters for different regions based on tags in your email or marketing automation database. This type of technology used to be available only to enterprise-level clients (and the enterprise solutions have gotten even better) but now any SMB can find an affordable tool to automate marketing and customer engagement.
Great customer service teams are not only trained to manage these customers but they always go a step beyond and turn those into brand advocates.
I’ve outlined some basic steps here, but these are just the beginning. Building and maintaining an international customer base is an ongoing process. What has been your experience with customers in different parts of the world? Share your thoughts here in the comments section.