Cross-Cultural Customer Service

January, 2013

Great customer engagement is a product of a thorough understanding not only of the customer’s values and needs, but also of their culture.

“Hello, is that Mr. ?”


“Hello. My name is George, and…”

It is obvious from his accent that his name is not George but something far more ‘ethnically diverse’. A difficult conversation ensues.

There has been a backlash in recent years against outsourcing call center services to far-away lands, particularly because of conversations like this. The trouble here is that UK consumers don’t appreciate being lied to in the first sentence. But why does this happen? Because there has been a misreading of appropriate cultural emphasis; call center management has valued rapport (having a culturally similar name) over honesty (‘This is my real name and this is why I’m calling’).

Result: poor customer engagement.

Great customer service

Great customer engagement is a product of a thorough understanding not only of the customer’s values and needs, but also of their culture. To communicate effectively, speaking the language is not enough. You also need to ‘speak’ the culture. If cultural preferences are misunderstood or even disregarded, call centers risk offending or alienating the very customers they are trying to serve.

Research1 indicates that the roots of such misunderstandings fall into 4 main areas of cultural variance. Let’s look at each in turn, taking Japan as a particular example, where customer service is a highly developed artform.

  1. Power distance – the degree of social hierarchy a country considers normal.
    If a customer service representative (CSR) serving Japanese customers took the approach of one serving the Netherlands – that he is a colleague working alongside the customer to achieve a positive outcome – great offense may be taken. In Japan, the customer is king, and expects to be treated with great respect. CSRs must accept differences in status, even if it goes against their own cultural conditioning. Formalities like the greeting, saying ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’ are important and communicate respect. At the same time, the customer expects a sincere care for a positive outcome.
  2. Loyalty to the individual vs. loyalty to the group.
    In the UK, customers are likely to use phrases such as “What can you do for me?” or “I have a right to…”. In Japan, the emphasis is less on “I”, more on “we”. Customers want to do business with suppliers they can stick with for the long term. Demonstrating commitment to the long-term relationship is therefore key and the relationship begins with the sale. After-sales care is important to ensure the customer is happy with the product or service. CSRs should also demonstrate a commitment to the long-term health and reputation of the company they represent.
  3. Task-orientation (competition, achievement, assertiveness) vs. people-orientation (consensus, cooperation, quality of life).
    A CSR in the Netherlands may be inclined to treat customers equally, not giving preferential treatment to one customer over another. In Japan, the CSR is expected to bend over backwards to make things happen for the customer. Sincere apologies are expected for any problems or inconveniences, even if they were not the company’s fault. The customer expects a commitment to continuous improvement – uncovering the root cause of any failure and ensuring that it does not happen again.
  4. Uncertainty avoidance – the degree to which people need predictability and the extent to which they are willing to take risks.
    Trust is paramount to Japanese customers, and can be earned by CSRs having, or having immediate access to, extensive professional knowledge. Everything presented to the customer should have a perfect appearance, including any advice or personal interaction. CSRs must check and double check to avoid mistakes or quality problems. Every effort should be made to ensure a defect-free service delivery process with maximum consistency throughout. The same contact person should be maintained whenever possible to foster a sense of stability over time. Speed of reply is greatly valued no matter what the medium of contact. Deadlines and delivery dates are taken literally, so a CSR must take pains to be accurate and honest.

Cultural sensitivity can be the making or breaking of a customer service operation. Training in cultural awareness – ‘speaking’ the culture – is the key to getting it right.

1Research: Professor Geert Hofstede – see this wiki page.

What We Offer

Sytel Limited develops and supplies Softdial Contact Center® (SCC) – multimedia, multichannel, fully blended cloud contact center solutions.

Available by subscription as CCaaS, fully managed and supported by Sytel, or for quick and easy deployment by partners and enterprise users.

All Sytel cloud components are secure, resilient and scale seamlessly from 10 agents to 10,000+, whether local, mobile or remote.

Flexible Contact Center Software

Softdial Contact Center™ – rich functionality, all-in-one, designed to deliver at scale

  • Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS)

    CCaaS for subscribers – global service​, with no upfront costs

  • Contact Center Platform – CCaaS Partners

    Build your own CCaaS business using the power and flexibility of Sytel software

  • Contact Center Platform – Enterprise

    High performance platform to drive contact center productivity – cloud, on-premise or hybrid

Blended Media Desktop

Fully customisable, multi-channel, multi-session workspace

Work Anywhere

Browser-based tools, no software installation required

Customise, Localise, White Label

Design all user interfaces to individual requirements

Integration via APIs

‘Swap out’ components and integrate with 3rd party apps

World Class Development

Continuous evolution pushing technical boundaries


Softdial Contact Center™ (SCC) is designed to be flexible, extensible and scalable, integrating with any legacy equipment, and meeting the most complex of requirements.

All Media Channels

Voice, chat, email, social, etc – fully integrated and blended

Agent Multi-Tasking

Work with multiple live contact sessions of any media channel

Dynamic Workforce Management

Optimise agent usage and balance workloads in real-time without human intervention, across all media channels

Predictive Dialing

Best-of-breed performance under compliance

Optimised Inbound Routing

Smart rules and ‘best-available’ decisions to drive great customer service

Agent Scripts

Help agents achieve and maintain excellence

Voice and Screen Recording

See and hear exactly how agents are interacting

Analytics and Data Feeds

Measure and evaluate performance at every level

IVR, Bots & Conversational AI

Design effective automated flows or integrate with 3rd party providers

Customer Journey Tracking

Stored customer contact history, to aid routing and add context to conversations


Drive operational efficiency, increase customer satisfaction & improve agent performance

Softdial One™

Highly flexible unified web UI for agents, supervisors and administrators

Softdial Scripter™

Create complex process flow scripts for agents, IVR, chatbots and other applications

Sytel AI Dialer™

Maximum predictive dialing performance, under any compliance rules

Softdial Pathfinder™

Precise routing rules for ‘best available’ connection

Softdial Media Server™

Core telephony functions to manage all inbound/outbound SIP calls

Softdial Reporter™ 5

Fully customisable performance stats, charts and reports, across all channels

Softdial Publisher™

Comprehensive data output to build your own reports

Softdial Recording Monitor™

Audio and screen recording of agent activity to ensure the highest standards

Softdial Campaign Manager™

Automation to optimise any outreach strategy

Softdial Repository™

Central storage and configuration of common resources

Sytel Global Compliance™

Flexible ‘no contact’ rules to protect contact center and consumer


Performance and efficiency for a wide range of business applications

By Business Type


A full featured contact center software solution, designed for optimum performance at scale

Small/ Medium Business

Options for SMBs to subscribe to our full-featured cloud service managed and hosted by either one of our partners or by Sytel themselves

By Industry

Customer Service

Connect quickly to well equipped agents

Market Research

Best-of-breed predictive dialing with CATI integration

Debt Collection

Automated inbound/ outbound blending integrated with any debt management app

Sales & Telemarketing

Maximise agent productivity with best-of-breed predictive dialing


Secure, highly-configurable multichannel communications for excellence in patient care