The Internet has made it possible for businesses to sell globally, but that creates the challenge of dealing with customers in different time zones. Here are seven tips to make it easier to communicate with and serve customers in other parts of the country or world.
Working with clients and customers in different time zones is challenging. It’s also a change in how you think. Unless you have experience in national and international business, thinking in terms of time zones, cultures, and non-standard work hours will take time to deal with and get used to. Here are a few tips to help.
1. Use Your Phone
Sometimes the most useful features of your phone are tucked away and easy to forget about. One of those is the world clock. If you have clients in multiple localities around the world, put each of them into the world clock on your phone until the time zone differences become automatic.
When the time changes in the United States, that time zone app will become important again as you figure out who changed and who didn’t.
2. Establish Time Zone Rules
When you start working with a new client, have the time zone talk. When setting deadlines, meetings, and other time sensitive correspondence, will you set dates and times using their local time or yours?
Since you should make things as easy as possible for your client, offer to always use their local time. Set that as the standard for all conversations going forward. It might seem silly to talk about it but any business owner who deals with non-local clients will tell you of the confusion of setting phone or online meetings with some customers.
3. Be Time Considerate
If you’re working with customers in California and you’re in the Eastern time zone, be kind and don’t schedule anything until at least early afternoon unless they prefer early morning meetings. On the other hand, if you have a client in London, schedule things for early morning your time since they’re 5 hours ahead. And be careful of when you text people. It’s easy to fire off text messages without thinking about somebody who is sleeping that has their phone sitting next to them on their nightstand.
4. Keep Constant Communication
You’re rarely going to see your clients outside of your geographic area, most likely. In the age of technology, it’s easy to be effective without being physically on site, but at our core, we’re still more comfortable talking to humans rather than computers and smart phones.
Give your customers a sense of comfort by communicating as constantly as appropriate. Schedule Skype or Facetime calls every once in a while, to keep the human element involved. Don’t be annoyingly present but be easily reachable during normal business hours—and after hours, actually.
5. 24-Hour Work Day
If you’re an online business selling products, for example, your reach is worldwide. You will need people ready to answer customer service calls 24 hours per day. Some companies use call centers for this but if you don’t plan to outsource customer service, either have a team scheduled or go the route of Apple and have work-from-home customer service reps around the world.
6. Outsource to Where Your Customers Are
Companies often solve time zone issues by outsourcing to countries around the world. Call centers, manufacturing, software development, and administrative tasks can happen anywhere in the world now. Especially for small business owners, foreign outsourcing might feel a little scary—how will you know if they’re working and doing a good job? How do you find the right workers?
With a small investment of your time, you can not only help your own business, you can help a person or people around the world by providing a job and steady income.
If you believe in keeping labor in your home country, foreign outsourcing isn’t for you but there are plenty of business and humanitarian advantages to taking work out of the country.
Along with time zone issues can also come cultural considerations. Workers familiar with that culture can improve the customer service experience while also removing the time zone issues from your plate.
7. Have Boundaries
Breakfast in one time zone is dinner in another. Sundays where you work is Monday somewhere else. If you have a business with international reach, you could literally work all day, every day—and some business owners come close to doing that.
You owe it to yourself and your family to put work away at some point. Chic Fil A had revenue of more than $6 billion in 2015 yet they are closed on Sundays. More work isn’t necessarily better work. Take some time to rest and relax.
If you always keep a customer-first mindset, the challenges of different time zones are easy to navigate. Be willing to sacrifice for their comfort and ease of working with you.
Remember, they’re likely anxious about working with somebody so far away. Be intentional about calming the anxiety be staying overly accommodative.