Dean Judge of Faceo Facilities Management explains how you can succeed in a diverse multicultural market across international borders.
- What are the two marketing strategy options when delivering service across borders?
- It what ways can a culture of staff empowerment impact on perception of service delivery?
Culture. It's a concept we all understand, but try putting into words what it means and most of us will find it difficult to articulate.
It doesn't mean we have lost the skill to communicate effectively; it is precisely because culture is so diverse that we have so many ways of explaining what it is.
We encounter it in every aspect of our lives, our home, our retail interactions and, most critically, our work.
My favourite explanation of what culture is comes from management guru Charles Handy. He says that culture is "the way we do things around here".
Note the "around here" bit - that tidies it up nicely as it allows for flexibility and acknowledges the different customs and traditions that we encounter.
Look around your workplace; let's assume for a moment that you operate in an open office environment where different departments function together.
Take a closer look and you will see that where common policies and procedures shape the overall company, you are actually working in an environment where many subcultures exist.
Different people from different backgrounds with different experiences all conform to a common denominator - the way we do things around here.
For those that have been in the company for some time, the culture is natural.
A sense of belonging to something bigger permeates around the more successful cultures and if HR has identified people who can fit into "our way" successfully then integration should be a relatively straightforward process.
Dealing with client expectations
As a marketer in a business-to-business environment, I am fascinated how cultures evolve. In FM we sell people and hours; our clients get a range of services and assess our performance.
Some services are factual ("Did you maintain the air conditioning as agreed?") where it doesn't take long to get to a yes or no and tick the box.
Most of our services are intangible, however; the client is assessing performance on perceptions ("Were all my visitors greeted appropriately in reception?").
They are assessing the delivery of services through people - the same people who operate in those micro-cultures and who have innumerable client-facing interactions every day, each bringing a positive or negative perception to the end-user.
In an industry where larger organisations can have literally millions of client interactions every year, culture is critical to ensuring that perceptions remain positive.
If you operate one site then you can reasonably control your culture; multi-site operations in a local geographical area can bring some subtle changes but should be easily managed too.
Many of us, however, will be responsible for multiple sites and most possibly operate nationally.
That's not too bad, the language is the same and our policies and procedures are the framework to which we operate.
A strong team of executive leaders carry the message from the top and the culture gets to become how we do things around here.
Delivering the service - should we adapt?
When operating across borders, cultural issues need to be identified and appropriate allowances made if we are to create and maintain a strong partnership with our clients.
Marketers have two strategies to follow when looking at services across borders: do we standardise or adapt our offering? We can offer the same services but deliver them differently (adaptation) or we can offer the same services and deliver them the same way (standardisation).
Both come with costing issues attached e.g. using the same suppliers across borders can bring purchasing economies but will they understand the cultural nuances and will it affect the perception of service delivery quality and therefore revenue?
These are not easy questions to answer - if they get asked at all.
Business-to-consumer (B2C) brands put the culture question high on their agenda. Not only do they understand the importance of recruiting the right staff but their products and services are delivered according to the environment they are operating in.
For example, consumers claim that Coca-Cola is sweeter in Spain than in the UK (adaptation) although Coke refuse to divulge their operating activity; McDonald's has a 'think global, act local' strategy, meaning it has essentially the same marketing offer ('golden arches') but adapts its products to suit the environment; and global airline Virgin promotes itself as an innovative and trustworthy brand - consumers get the same experience (standardisation) wherever they board in the world.
Understand the environment
But how do we get to understand what is acceptable when we are in a business environment?
There are many sources that will explain how to act in different cultures and they can be useful, but when it comes to delivering multi-site operations in different countries then local knowledge, relationships and experiences are the key to ensuring that services are delivered to the client's requirements.
There are a number of initiatives a good FM company will deploy to ensure that cross-border operations run smoothly.
Relationships must be developed not just at the corporate and strategic level but should run through the entire organisation.
This is not always easy to do when the day-to-day operations are a priority, but if we don't invest the time in our front line colleagues then we are inviting the creation of those subcultures: people will begin to switch off from corporate communications and clients will pick up and assess how this affects service delivery.
Creating performance criteria for the client is standard practice in the service industry - measurement and feedback is how we prove ourselves in an intangible environment and allow for the progress of continuous improvement and innovation initiatives.
It is an excellent benchmark but how many of us translate the findings into staff behavioural frameworks?
Resolve the issues
One major bank estimates that 87 per cent of their interactions are resolved first time.
How do the areas you are responsible for compare? Every interaction is a chance for your company to impress; every interaction that gets resolved first time has benefits for the client, colleagues and ultimately the company.
The DVLA has a vision statement that encapsulates this concept into their culture; they state they will "develop a culture that encourages every individual to take personal responsibility for delivering business excellence to all our customers".
By creating and sustaining a culture that allows staff to be empowered, you will see a significant improvement in the perception of how you are performing.
Empowerment is understood across the borders - you really can standardise your attitude to culture and have the flexibility to adapt it locally.
Empowered employees can make a real difference; autonomy and clear lines of responsibility communicated with the client and operations directors all have a chance to shape the delivery with a partnership approach as the driver.
Small areas that are operated with a flexible attitude (culture) make a significant difference to delivery perception.
Create an empowered advocate
In business, marketing sets out to convert clients to advocates; this external focus is excellent for retaining contracts, but internally we can create a surplus of advocates over detractors through a positive empowered culture, which means that our chances of converting clients increase dramatically.
An associate tells a story of when he visited a blue-chip company HQ in central London.
"The premises looked fantastic on the outside, the staff were dressed and branded perfectly, I was dealt with professionally and politely, and was really impressed with the whole set-up. While waiting I noticed a piece of paper on the floor, as did the reception staff. They asked the security guard to pick it up, which he refused, saying it was the cleaners' job. Nobody from the reception staff offered to pick it up. The paper stayed on the floor."
Business growth is driven by delivering on the front line; empowered colleagues take ownership and responsibility when they understand the power of positive delivery.
For example, an organisation can take the 'plan, do, review' concept and transform it into a behavioural framework; 360° feedback, regular formal one-to-one meetings, employee forums and client-facing communications can all help to transform front line delivery and client perceptions.
Couple this with an in-depth understanding of local cultures and an organisation can create an empowered and positive attitude that can be delivered across the borders.
In other words, it can become part of the culture and "the way we do things around here".
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