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Working With Foreign Language Customers

By Alana Hippensteele
May 08, 2018


There may come a time professionally when it is important or necessary to work with foreign language customers looking to buy a product. Numerous professionals may experience a sense of uncertainty when considering how to proceed in this interaction, but there are a few key elements that will be helpful and important to remember in order to support a successful business transaction with foreign language customers.


First of all, it is important to remember that emotions are universal throughout the world, and the ability to read people’s emotions on their face is possible without understanding exactly what they are saying. However, there are certain cultures where facial expressivity is more restrained than others, especially during a business transaction. In order to not make any social blunders when interacting with foreign language customers, it is important to watch their facial cues first before proceeding. It can be helpful to pay close attention to how expressive they are, or how restrained they are, so that one is able to then match their expressivity and not make any social faux-pas.


Secondly, it can be helpful to slow down one’s speech when speaking with foreign language customers if they are in fact struggling to understand the conversation. However, if customers are not struggling but simply have an accent or a difficulty with English grammar, it is important to not speak so slowly that customers feel that their ability to speak English is being insulted. This can be seen as rude, and will hinder any chance of building a rapport that will be conducive to conducting a business transaction of any kind. Also, speaking loudly to individuals who are struggling to understand English is very rarely a helpful way to communicate more clearly to them, for it is not the case that they cannot hear, but rather that they may not understand every word that is being said.


Thirdly, it is often possible to use an image to communicate certain ideas that might otherwise be hard to communicate verbally. With a smartphone at the ready, one can search for certain images that may explicitly communicate a particularly difficult idea to verbally articulate in your conversation with foreign language customers. For this reason, it may also be helpful to set-up certain helpful images beforehand so that they are ready for this interaction. With these images already set-up, it is easy to then show customers information about the product with less of a need for verbal communication. This may allow for a faster transaction time due to less time spent attempting to understand one another or searching for images.


Fourthly, it is helpful to remember that customers often prefer to experience a product for themselves. It can be an important sales tactic to let the product do the talking and allow the customers to explore the product on their own. Also, if there are images available to help explain some of the product’s particular selling points, it might also be beneficial to place those images at a convenient visual location for the customers to see while they are exploring the product on their own.


Lastly, remember to relax and be patient. A customer may be having difficulty with English, but it can be helpful to imagine how difficult it would be if one was in that customer’s country trying to speak his or her language. It is important to recognize how difficult the process of language acquisition can be, which may help one remain patient, calm, and kind while working with a foreign language customer. Patience in particular can help to ensure that a foreign language customer feels comfortable and thus will also feel more receptive to the products one may wish to sell.