Emerging Markets Research: Cultural Differences in Supporting Customers in India and China

A lot of you come to this blog to hear me pontificate on some topic or another, but today I am asking you to be the expert and help me out!  I am kicking off a research project way outside my area of expertise, and I know many of you have first hand experience with this issue and could provide some insight for me.

When we surveyed our executive and advisory board members for top issues, the cultural differences in supporting customers in India and China bubbled to the top.  Many of us lived through the big foray into Japan in the mid-to-late 90s and are still scarred by the experience.  Aspects of our products were very North American centric, but with our usual American hubris, we didn’t realize it.  So was our approach to servicing customers.  While the US was starting to push self-service and deflecting live interactions, Japan in the 90s expected onsite support–not phone support, and don’t even think about suggesting self-service.

The economies in India and China are booming, and our member companies are either already selling there or are considering entering the market.  Not wishing to repeat our cultural ignorance of Japan, SSPA members are looking to us to help.  I’ve identified the following issues related to supporting customers in India and China to explore:

  • What is/are the local language(s) in the region, and what percentage of the population speaks each language? How common, if at all, is English within most corporate environments?
  • What local legislation may conflict with traditional NA support practices? Focus areas include privacy legislation, labor and employment laws, and piracy/patent law.
  • What do companies typically pay for maintenance, and what is typically included in the base level?
  • What are the typical renewal rates?
  • What premiere service level options do local companies offer, and what is the adoption rate of these higher levels?
  • What are service level expectations for response and resolution time, and how do those compare with NA benchmarks?
  • What are attitudes toward support—is self-service acceptable? Is onsite assistance required or is assisted/phone support adequate?
  • What are expectations for support personnel—must they be local, or is support outside of the region acceptable?
  • What are the primary drivers of support volumes (technical issues, education, etc)?
  • What level of localization (of support tools, knowledge-bases, etc) is required by the market?
  • What support interaction channels are preferred in the geography? Phone vs. email vs. Web chat vs. SMS Text.
  • Have Web 2.0 and online communities reached critical mass in the region? Are there existing communities of experts for key technology areas within the region?
  • What is the attitude of the region toward proactive support? (Paranoia about monitoring is possible when technology is new.)
  • What are the usual reporting/political structures within accounts? Who do you typically interact with a customer site? Is there an account owner you must go through, or do you work directly with sys admins as needed?
  • What is the attitude toward renewals? Is this a forged relationship that easily renews, or must you re-sell the account each year?

If you have input on any or all of these issues, please add a comment or shoot me an email.  I’d be happy to schedule a call to collect your feedback as well.  If you provide input I will definitely share the final published research with you.

Thanks for your help, and as always, thanks for reading!

Explore posts in the same categories: Best Practices, Consumer Support, Enterprise Support, Technology

8 Comments on “Emerging Markets Research: Cultural Differences in Supporting Customers in India and China”

  1. Daniel Says:

    Those are very hard questions and I fear that anybody who has all that information would be your direct competitor. Regarding the growth of Web 2.0 in India and China, at least on a general non-technical level, you might want to check http://asia.cnet.com/blogs/technologywalla/post.htm?id=63000179 and similar posts. My only experience in India was working with software engineers, and they did use foreign English-speaking websites for “expert” knowledge even back then. I think that that tendency has actually shifted. Check out http://www.microsoft.com/india/communities/atom.aspx to get an idea of just how big the local expert communities are. At least in India, anything on the national level is probably going to be in English, since most people speak a local dialect and English only.

    Sorry I can’t help more, but this is a big topic.

    Dan
    http://www.dvds4thesat.com
    SAT Prep You Can Rewind

  2. jragsdale Says:

    Thanks Dan! I will check out those resources. I am interviewing a number of SSPA members who have doing business in these regions, as well as some outsourcers. Hopefully I will answer at least some of my questions!


  3. John,

    I did some research on this in the old days… if you want to talk, cannot promise to answer all or any questions, but just refer to some experience.

    I also think you should consider adding LatAm to your list of destinations, as it is becoming the “hot” place to go these days and there is lots more to talk about there (in addition to the above).

    Let me know…


  4. John, here’s some basic info. More than happy to discuss further over the phone.

    1) What is/are the local language(s) in the region, and what percentage of the population speaks each language? How common, if at all, is English within most corporate environments?
    A: In China there are two versions of written Chinese; simplified Chinese is used on the mainland and in Singapore and traditional Chinese is used in Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao. Any website addressing the Chinese market should support both languages. With current software tools it’s relatively easy to support both. Many large non-Chinese multinational corporations use English internally for business, but domestic companies only use Chinese. As for the spoken language, Mandarin is spoken across all of the Chinese market including Taiwan and Singapore. Cantonese, a local dialect, is still dominant in Hong Kong. There are many local dialects across China, and though these sound different from each they are written the same way in Chinese. The Chinese government has been very aggressive in reducing the use of local dialects in favor of Mandarin. Northeast China (Dalian, Shenyang) includes many people who also speak Korean and Japanese, and there are many contact centers there supporting end users in Japan and Korea—similar to how call centers in India support the US market.

    2) What local legislation may conflict with traditional NA support practices? Focus areas include privacy legislation, labor and employment laws, and piracy/patent law.
    A. None that I know of in the area of support activities

    3) What do companies typically pay for maintenance, and what is typically included in the base level?
    A. When companies buy hardware, usually one year of suport is included in the contract. Increasingly, companies are willing to buy extented support beyond the one year limit and software support, such as Oracle support, is being recognized as valuable and purchased by large companies.

    4) What are the typical renewal rates?
    A. very high as long as the service levels meet expectations

    5) What premiere service level options do local companies offer, and what is the adoption rate of these higher levels?
    A. Specific days for onsite support are increasingly requested by companies and offered by vendors.

    6) What are service level expectations for response and resolution time, and how do those compare with NA benchmarks?
    A. It varies by product. For ERP applications in manufacturing where production is impacted, response times similar to the US are required. For others, response may be within days.

    7) What are attitudes toward support—is self-service acceptable? Is onsite assistance required or is assisted/phone support adequate?
    A. For desktop support, self service is adequate. For other applications such as ERP, often onsite support is requested. If the service can be done remotely, it’s acceptable as long as the problem is solved.

    8) What are expectations for support personnel—must they be local, or is support outside of the region acceptable?
    A. Oracle often flies their engineer from Beijing to Guangzhou to provide on-site support services. Local support often means faster response time, which is often preferred, but not required by everyone. It’s a large country, and local software and services vendors have many offices across the country like we have in the US.

    9) What are the primary drivers of support volumes (technical issues, education, etc)?
    A. It’s usually technical issues.

    10) What level of localization (of support tools, knowledge-bases, etc) is required by the market?
    A. For general office workers localization is a must, but for engineers English is acceptable.

    11) What support interaction channels are preferred in the geography? Phone vs. email vs. Web chat vs. SMS Text.
    A. Phone is still the primary channel, SMS is frequently used.

    12) Have Web 2.0 and online communities reached critical mass in the region? Are there existing communities of experts for key technology areas within the region?
    A. There are some web 2.0 communities in china, such as video sharing sites. In the technology area, Beijing and Shanghai is by far the most developed metro area.

    13) What is the attitude of the region toward proactive support? (Paranoia about monitoring is possible when technology is new.)
    A. This is a delicate issue. Most people will find it annoying but it could be accepted if it is well targeted.

    14) What are the usual reporting/political structures within accounts? Who do you typically interact with a customer site? Is there an account owner you must go through, or do you work directly with sys admins as needed?
    A. Support usually goes through sys admin if there is one.

    15) What is the attitude toward renewals? Is this a forged relationship that easily renews, or must you re-sell the account each year?
    A. Renewals can be done relatively easily if the service proved useful the previous year.

    Anthony Nemelka
    CEO
    Helpstream

  5. Phil Verghis Says:

    Hi John,

    I’ve written a booklet on cultural implications on service, and done a number of talks/keynotes around the world on this.

    http://www.verghisgroup.com/publications – click on the Special Reports link.

    I’ve also got a new blog going…

    Peace,

    Phil Verghis
    http://www.verghisgroup.com

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