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Shake hands, bow or Kiss – How to greet your Customer?

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The Caribbean is one of the top five tourism destinations in the world. Everyone seems to have a fascination for the fantasy-like clear blue waters, sandy beaches and warm smiling faces. The appeal is so strong that travelers from all continents make the trip, regardless of the potential difficulties of language communication, cultural differences and currency conversions.

Caribbean businesses must know the social nature of their international customers, and the cultural habits of the country that each represents. Communication is very important to the full business experience. A loaf of bread at a restaurant may be pan, bahn mi, brot, or mianbo, depending on where one travels.{{more}}

Communication techniques take on different forms, spoken and unspoken. The following are some general but diverse methods that people use to get their message understood:

Words

English has become the default language for doing global business, but only because the world currently lacks a better tool. Introducing a new product with a bad brand name to an international audience could spell disaster. For example, global brand Siemens is rarely spelled correctly anywhere but Germany, and few people in East Asia can pronounce Nestlé properly, nor can Westerners pronounce Hyundai.

Gestures

Cultures around the globe have gained the reputation for “speaking with their hands” as well as their tongues. In France, the shoulder shrug expresses a lack of interest in or disgust with the subject matter. That same gesture in the United States means the person doesn’t understand or has no comment. Finger pointing is another gesture common to many cultures. In United States, finger pointing is done to either call somebody over, or to make an accusation. In France, the gesture is used aggressively, and at times pushed into the opposing speaker’s chest. In China, as in most of Asia, finger pointing is extremely rude, since people do not like being singled-out in public areas.

Carriage or Posture

Carriage is considered a physical representation of a person’s self-esteem. A casually dressed, unshaven male slumped in a chair may indicate a Silicon Valley millionaire programmer in the United States or an elite artist in France. In China, the same posture means poverty and spiritual disharmony. In the Caribbean, we might think the person is just having a good “lime”.

Proximity

Each culture has its own rules about “personal space.” Russians are outgoing people who tend to stand very close to business partners, often hugging in greeting. The Japanese are more reserved and formal, so prefer more than arms-length distance. Argentinians are formal and distant at first introduction, then warm up as the business relationship grows. A Russian will be offended if you are standoffish, and the Japanese will go into shock if you hug them.

Eye Contact

One reason why the Marlboro Man is so universally recognized is because many cultures read positive messages in the cowboy’s distant stare. Some see serenity, others ambition, and still others independence. In some cultures, “looking someone in the eye” is a sign of honesty and openness. In others, that look could start a fight, or be a sexual invitation. In several cultures, to have direct eye contact early in the business relationship is considered disrespectful, especially when elders are involved.

Smiling

Business people from the United States are always being frowned upon for their smiling and cheery faces, while Japanese have often been labeled as not being able to take a joke. Americans believe that work should be fun, while the equally successful Japanese see business as a serious matter.

A final note on languages. Every culture appreciates an attempt to learn some of their language. Even when the customer speaks your language well, you should learn a few phrases of the customer’s language to show personal interest in the culture. Don’t worry about making a few mistakes. All the current global commerce “experts” have made bunches of them.

– Roland Nicholas is the Brand Marketing Director of Brand Coral, LLC, a brand management consultancy in Atlanta, Georgia USA. Vincentian-born, Roland has 10 years of education and experience in product development and corporate identity communication. Inquiries are welcomed at rnicholas@brandcoral.comn

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