Lost in translation
High context and low context communication styles in a multi-cultural environment.
By Helen Beaumont Manahan, BPA Quality, sponsors of the Best Multi-Lingual Contact Centre Award
Native speakers are attuned to cultural differences at levels that even fluent non-native speakers could never be.
To fully illustrate that point, we recently took a look at a key cultural differentiator: ‘high-context’ and ‘low-context’ communication styles – and the unintended influence these differences can exert if not properly understood.
There’s an old play on cultural stereotypes which probably predates the Internet:
“In Heaven, the police are British, the cooks are French, and the engineers are German. In Hell, those roles are switched around.”
Most people accept the danger of generalisation at the expense of considering individual behaviour and performance, yet somehow there’s still enough truth in the above statement to raise a smile. Anyone who works in an international business environment will soon notice differences – some subtle, some more pronounced – in the communication styles favoured by personnel, depending on their location.
These discrepancies can be brought into sharp focus wherever a global campaign or quality programme (e.g. a standardised quality scorecard used in multiple regions) is in place, and can translate into dramatically different outcomes. These differing outputs may then be used by Operations to lead different regional teams in varying directions.
At BPA Quality, we have observed this effect when first conducting contact centre monitoring for international clients. Consequently, we recognise the potential for problems to arise where companies impose a ‘one size fits all’ approach without full consideration of possible issues.
In Culture, Tone and Language Considerations in Quality Monitoring, we discussed the general importance of cultural influence in customer service QA. We’re now delving a little deeper, taking a closer look at some of the communication differences we see between ‘Eastern’ and ‘Western’ business practices – and specifically, their effects on Customer Experience when ‘Western’ (e.g. U.S. / U.K.) customers contact offshore, ‘Eastern’ (e.g. Asia-Pacific region) customer service agents.
The piece provides vital food for thought for anyone managing teams across differing regional communication styles, for a more in-depth look at high context vs. low-context cultures follow the below links.