Doing Business with foreign customers

Doing Business with Foreign Customers

As discussed in another article specifically about International Chargebacks , the Internet has given even small businesses a global marketplace. In that article, we looked at the higher risk of fraudulent chargebacks and ways to prevent or minimize them. Many business owners wonder, how do chargebacks work with foreign customers?

However, just as most chargebacks initiated from inside the United States are non-fraudulent, those originating from outside the United States are more often than not initiated without malicious intent or the intent to deceive. Because even legitimate chargebacks cost your business time and money and threaten your relationship with your bank or payment processor, we want to reduce them as much as possible as well.

Fortunately, there are a variety of things that you can do when doing business with foreign customers.

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When (Your Business is) in Rome...

The quality of your customer service is one of the keys to determining whether your business will succeed or fail while doing business with foreign customers. This is generally true regardless of the industry and regardless of whether the business is high risk or low risk, or somewhere in between. Assuming that the quality and performance of your products and services are consistently at or above the promised level, your customer service is also the real difference-maker when dealing with non-fraudulent refund requests/chargebacks. Happy customers mean fewer chargebacks .

International transactions have various aspects that can make it more difficult to provide effective customer service. Each country and region is different, and different circumstances and cultures naturally result in diverse expectations, languages, levels of technology, laws, and regulations, and other societal norms. This is true even between two countries with a similar level of modernization/industrialization, and even between regions of the same country.

Writing in All Uppercase Probably Won’t Help

There is a classic comic scene in which a tourist who does not speak the local language is trying to talk to someone who does not speak the tourist’s native language. Instead of trying to find a dictionary or other means of communicating in the local language, the clueless tourist simply repeats the same words, but at a significantly higher volume. At best, that will only result in failure with more gusto.

In the case of online international transactions, communication is usually via e-mail or other written means. Writing the same thing that the customer did not understand but doing so in all uppercase is the text version of repeating what you said, but more loudly.

Don’t be the clueless tourist when doing business with foreign customers.

Internationalizing Your Business Without Leaving the Country

As the merchant, it is your responsibility to adapt to the circumstances of the customer. You can’t do that unless you understand what those circumstances are. The act of understanding a culture is fundamentally the act of identifying what people in that society generally value. The better you understand the culture(s) in the customer’s country, the better you will understand the customer’s expectations and what will make the customer happy.

Today, there are many ways to learn about other countries and cultures. Books, websites, videos, and conversations with people in other countries can help you to internationalize your business without leaving the country, or your office, for that matter. There are also consultants who specialize in international business that can give you helpful insight and suggestions as well.

There are three points of caution for when you are finding information.

Don’t assume that you have to become an expert

You don’t need to become an expert in the customer’s culture to be able to provide good customer support. Typically, there will be a few key points that you should keep in mind, such as whether it is common in a certain country to avoid making a direct complaint because of the desire to avoid conflict, or whether customers expect a formal apology even for relatively minor problems.

Focus on the countries that are most likely to be relevant

It’s best to avoid spreading yourself too thin when learning about your customers’ countries and cultures. You may only have customers in one or two other countries, which makes it easy to focus. If you have customers in more than just a few other countries, pick the two or three that you expect to deal with the most. If you have enough people on your customer service team, you could also divide the countries between multiple people.

Beware of inaccurate stereotypes and outdated information

One misconception about stereotypes is that they are always inaccurate. The truth is that stereotypes fall somewhere along the spectrum from highly accurate to highly inaccurate. Another thing to keep in mind about stereotypes is that they do not magically sprout from nothing. Ordinarily, a stereotype originates in something that was true at a certain time in a certain area with a certain part of the population.

The problem is that people change. That means that cultures and societies change. What was once common may now be rare. What was once widespread may now be limited to a certain place. In the 18th century, it would have been a daily occurrence to see samurai walking down the street in Edo, but today, there are no samurai walking anywhere in Edo—now known as Tokyo.

Be sure that the information you get is as current and accurate as possible.

Note: Your aunt who once spent a day visiting tourist sites in what she calls “To-key-oh” is probably not a good source.

Local Laws and Regulations

Although violation of the laws and regulations in the customer’s country might not affect your business directly, it could be a serious problem when doing business with foreign customers. As you are gathering basic information about the country, you should also find out if there are any laws that regulate or restrict the possession of the types of products you sell.

You should probably avoid selling those products to customers in that country, to begin with, but at the very least you can inform the customer that there might be an issue. The worst-case scenario for your company is probably losing the ability to do business in that country. The customer, on the other hand, could end up paying fines or even going to jail. Getting customers arrested isn’t really the kind of “customer service” we want to provide.

Patience and Careful Attention

Ultimately, your efforts to prevent or minimize chargebacks of all kinds should be a combination of measures against fraud, good customer service that takes the customer’s culture, etc., into consideration, and easy-to-use and worry-free payment processing. Being patient in consideration of language barriers and cultural differences and paying attention to the customer’s efforts to communicate can help you establish a reputation as a merchant that foreign customers can trust and rely on.

Table of Contents

  • - When (Your Business is) in Rome...
  • - Writing in All Uppercase Probably Won’t Help
  • - Internationalizing Your Business Without Leaving the Country
  • Don’t assume that you have to become an expert
  • Focus on the countries that are most likely to be relevant
  • Beware of inaccurate stereotypes and outdated information
  • - Local Laws and Regulations
  • - Patience and Careful Attention
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