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Best Ways to Communicate with Clients Abroad

By Townes Haas   |    December 9, 2015   |    12:59 PM

Tips for Maintaining Great Relationships with International Clients

Avoiding gaffes in cross-cultural communication is tricky enough in person, but communicating with business clients in another part of the world using technology adds another layer of difficulty. The challenges are numerous — you have to contend with wildly different time zones, differences in technology, and everything in between.

When doing business with clients abroad, what do you need to know to communicate effectively? If you’ve ever asked yourself this question, keep reading.

Educate yourself about your client’s home country

Doing business with international clients will be easier if you understand a few basics about their home country. Learn about cultural snafus and remember that business norms vary from one part of the world to the next. Everything from normal email response times to acceptable levels of tardiness for meetings varies throughout the world, and some cultures place huge importance on titles.

On a far less nuanced level, you’ll also want to research public holidays and festivals. Workers in some countries get far more days off than the average U.S. employee, so try to plan around bank holidays and other important events that will keep your client out of the office. As an example, businesses in China essentially shut down for five to six days around Chinese New Year.

Pay attention to the way you speak

Native English speakers from the U.S. are often labeled as fast talkers, and our colloquialisms can be incredibly confusing to non-native English speakers. Things become even more confusing when speaking over the phone or computer. Avoid using regional slang and make an effort to slow down if you’re a naturally fast talker.

You’ll also want to be aware of your tone and volume level, because your client may interpret your tone differently than you intend. If you’re an energetic person who speaks excitedly, consider toning it down. Conversely, if you’re more reserved and quiet, you may need to up your energy levels.

Schedule based on time zones

Before you schedule meetings or presentations make sure that the time is reasonable for your international client. No one wants to take a meeting with a client in Australia during their evening downtime, but sometimes it’s necessary, and your client will appreciate the gesture.

Get the right technology to help you communicate with people abroad

Email is a lifesaver when it comes to communicating with people around the globe, but it has it’s limitations. There will almost certainly be times when you need to make or receive an international call. You’ll also need to hold meetings, and those require voice (and often video).

The technology options available to your business are seemingly endless, but here are three tried-and-true favorites:

  • Skype (including very affordable prices for calling phone numbers)
  • Google Hangouts
  • GoToMeeting

If you don’t have a technology preference it’s best to ask your client what they prefer. If you keep communication open, clarify any misunderstandings as they occur, and pay careful attention to cultural differences you’ll enjoy a long and pleasant business relationship with all of your clients, regardless of their country code.