Navigating the Complexities of Customer Experience Across European Cultures
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CX maturity models in Europe vary from country to country. Some have barely started or are still in the early stages of development. Others are more advanced in adopting, implementing and optimising customer-centric strategies.
The reasons why some countries are accelerating at a different pace are as rich and varied as the continent. Europe is a multicultural, diverse tapestry of nations and people. Each country has its own distinct culture, traditions, and norms, which can make it difficult to establish a unified customer experience mindset.
Social and economic factors also affect the way countries approach customer experience. Differences in CX understanding, capabilities, style, and approaches do so too.
These are all challenges. However, there is also an opportunity here for companies to develop tailored customer experiences that resonate with domestic and international customers. Experiences rooted in great design and emotional connections, which drive adoption, loyalty and advocacy. But first, we need to explore the scale of the challenges in more detail.
How does CX maturity stack up?
Research in 2021 into the maturity of mid-size and enterprise businesses in Europe by Zendesk tells an illuminating tale. Some countries are at risk of falling behind other European countries – and the rest of the world (more on this later).
Almost two-thirds (64%) of respondents in France and Spain had accelerated CX initiatives in the past year
The figure stood at Germany (48%), the Netherlands (44%) and the UK (49%)
So, let’s pause for a moment and think about the factors, which to a greater or lesser degree, can impact the level of customer experience maturity in a country.
The CX divide – what sets countries apart?
- Business models and culture – business practices and approaches to customer experience can vary across countries. For example, some may prioritise customer satisfaction as a key business objective, while others may focus more on price or product. Cost-cutting and operational efficiency are also drivers.
- CX understanding – organisations in some countries may not see delivering great CX as a critical part of their proposition. Or, they understand the value of CX but are unsure about how to develop a strategy.
- Empathy gaps – being empathetic can be valued differently across countries.
- Communication style – countries may have different communication styles and preferences. Direct communication is common in Germany and Switzerland. Whereas there is a more indirect communication style in France, or Spain and Italy.
- Service speed – some countries may value efficiency and expect fast service, while others may prioritise a more relaxed approach.
- Data and personalisation – there are different levels of data maturity across Europe. The most successful businesses tend to make data-driven decisions about how to meet their customers’ needs in a tailored way. Some companies and countries may also place more value on personalised service and attention.
- Payment methods – different countries may have different preferred payment methods, such as cash vs. credit card. Of course, in B2B digital payment is preferred with IBAN and wire transfers. Clearly, the pandemic helped to accelerate the change for digital payments across Europe.
- Cultural norms – cultural norms and values may influence customer expectations and behaviour, such as the importance of punctuality in Switzerland or the emphasis on hospitality in Italy.
- Regulatory practices – generally speaking, in countries with strong consumer protection laws and regulations, companies may be more incentivised to invest in customer experience to avoid legal repercussions and maintain their reputation.
- Economic conditions – in countries with more developed economies, organisations typically have more resources to invest in customer experience initiatives. While in less developed economies, companies tend to focus more on basic customer service needs. This, alongside cultural factors, can also impact innovation and creativity.
Take four countries as an example …
Germany (where I reside) is a good place to start. Here are some possible factors that I researched that can explain why German CX is arguably immature. Let’s begin with business culture.
When it comes to customer experience, German business culture is often characterised by an emphasis on efficiency, precision, and practicality. Historically, this approach has prioritised the efficient delivery of products or services over creating a personalised, emotional connection with the customer.
Customer experience is still in its infancy but fast improving, thanks to initiatives by large companies such as Software AG, SAP, BMW and a few others. Germany and the entire DACH region also have a vibrant evolving community of CX professionals and global organisations that are starting to design more mature customer experiences.
Despite this, opinions on CX maturity vary. Consensus is difficult to achieve in a country that values consensus building and calls itself “inclusive and diverse”.
What are the big challenges?
- Bureaucracy – Germany has a reputation for being extremely bureaucratic. This can make it difficult for businesses to be agile and responsive to customer needs or to make things straightforward – both in B2B and B2C. This may lead to slower decision-making, and difficulty in implementing customer-centric initiatives. Making things overly complicated kills ideas. You need simplicity in CX.
- Language barriers – although many Germans speak English, language barriers still make it more challenging for businesses to communicate effectively with customers.
- Competition – Germany is a highly competitive market, and businesses may be more focused on price competition / premium services rather than investing in CX. There is also a lot of talk about impractical results in the market. As CX understanding in Germany matures an increasing number of opportunities are emerging, which makes it important to acknowledge.
- Regulatory environment – strict data privacy regulations can make it more difficult for businesses to collect and use customer data to make decisions, and personalise experiences.
France – why the French market may not be as mature in CX. What are the big challenges?
- Cultural factors – the French culture in general historic terms places a higher value on tradition and personal relationships over efficiency and convenience, which can impact CX priorities.
- Regulatory environment – the country also has strict regulations regarding data privacy.
- Language barriers – French is the primary language in France, which can pose a challenge for international businesses looking to expand, but not for large global organisations that adapted. 😊
- Fragmented market – the market is highly competitive and fragmented, with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses. This makes it difficult to establish uniform customer experience standards and best practices across industries.
- Lack of investment – some experts believe that French businesses have been slower to invest in customer experience, technology and training, which can lead to a lack of innovation and progress in this area.
UK – CX maturity is debatable when solutions and best practices are often simply adopted from the US. This arguably creates less space to try to create their own style. However, there also other specific factors, which could contribute to lower maturity.
What are the big challenges?
Focus on price – some businesses and customers have traditionally valued price over experience and quality. Again, this can lead to companies prioritising cost-cutting measures over CX investments. But, this is changing and budgets are increasing as is the focus on CX.
- Saturated markets – competition is fierce with many players vying for market share. This can lead to a focus on short-term gains rather than longer-term CX investments. This is also changing and mindsets are evolving.
- Legacy industries – the UK has a significant proportion of industries steeped in legacy. These include manufacturing and financial services. These industries have unique challenges in being agile in responding to ever-changing customer needs and expectations. This applies to traditional industries on European soil, and worldwide.
- Lack of regulation – compared with other countries, the UK has relatively lighter regulation around its customers.
Now, one very interesting contrast to Europe
United Arab Emirates – I earlier mentioned that some countries risk being left behind. And not just in Europe. A stopover in UAE helps us understand some of the reasons why.
- Linking customer experience to GDP– the government has prioritised developing the tourism industry in the Emirates and recognises that customer experience is a critical component of that. Compared with Europe, this is a great advantage.
- Legacy-free markets – the federation is a relatively new and rapidly developing market. This provides the opportunity to build customer experience practices from the ground up without the European bureaucracies and complexities across the region. This also helps to avoid using an American model that does not match their needs.
- Infrastructure and technology investment – the government has also invested heavily in infrastructure and technology, which can support the development and deployment of advanced, customer experience solutions.
- Service culture – there is a strong service culture, with a high level of emphasis placed on hospitality and customer service in industries such as hotels and airlines. This cultural orientation can provide a strong foundation for CX practices.
Different, but the same. What do customers expect?
Working out how to overcome specific country challenges to improve experiences could mean survival for some organisations. CX is everywhere. And expectations are set by the best experience on offer in B2B and B2C. No atlas required. Customers criss-cross borders when they buy online. Businesses have operations across the globe. People live and work in different countries. No matter what the cultural differences are, customers share similar expectations. They want:
- Personalisation and individual attention
- Fast and responsive service
- Clear and effective communication
- Consistency across all channels and touchpoints
- Empathetic and understanding interactions
- High-quality products or services
- Problem resolution and issue handling
- Design to help generate adoption and generate ROI
- Transparency and honesty
- Respectful and courteous treatment
- Efficient and streamlined processes
- Great intuitive design
- A reason to stay loyal
It’s important to note that of course, this list is not exhaustive. There may be other factors that are important to specific customers.
To wrap up
The question now is how can we elevate and mix all these different aspects, along with the uniqueness of each country, and achieve one level of a maturity model in all our regions?
- What would our 10-year goal look like, where we keep our beautiful differences, yet have a cohesive and elevated plan in place?
- How would it feel to have all our CX and related subjects on the same level of expectation, delivery and performance for your organisation?
- Will the maturity gap continue to widen if we do not address the challenges holding some countries back?
- How will customers respond?
There are many potential benefits in working cohesively with other countries – from increased potential revenue and exposure to new opportunities.
Looking toward the future and creating a united plan that includes the intricacies of each country can be tricky, but doable. At the end of day, we are all looking for the same things across the globe. Just with different perspectives.
The European Customer Experience Organization (ECXO) understands these global intricacies and is here to help. ECXO is a fast-growing CX professional business network, created to bridge the gaps between different cultures across Europe, the Middle East and Africa to develop a new set of standards. We aim to educate practitioners and companies while generating a unified customer experience model with a European regional focus. Would you like to become part of the open-access CX Professional Business Network? Find out more here and become a member here.
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