Customer Service staff ‘getting their own back’

Have you travelled to America recently, or India? Ever wondered at the difference in the customer service offered in the host country to what you offer at home? There are undoubtedly marked differences in customer service levels and practices across countries; Paul Russell of Luxury Academy London looks at why.

Walk into a luxury car showroom in India and the profusion of staff available to assist you can be surprising if you are used to more streamlined European ratios, or perhaps compare the effusiveness of a welcome in the Florida theme park of service behemoth Disney compared to a similar attraction in the UK or China. Customer service varies significantly between countries because the culture of the country dictates that it must. Indeed, even Disney experienced issues when trying to transplant their Floridian customer service to France because the predominately European audience had differing needs, wants and expectations for the service that they received.

‘getting their own back’

Customer service is a two way process. When we think about customer service, we need to consider not just the delivery of service from the staff member to the customer but feedback from customer to staff member, and importantly, the staff member’s reaction to this. In 2014 academics Shao and Skarlicki warned that customer mistreatment by service staff was on the up, which in essence is service staff ‘getting their own back’ when a customer has been rude or otherwise annoyed them. Interestingly, they also found significant differences between cultures in what form this payback would take with North Americans favouring direct sabotage (like ending calls) compared to Asians who were more likely to retreat from citizenship of the company they work for as a whole.

Our culture determines how we react to situations, our display of emotions and the style of service that we offer overall. In France for example, a waiter would be more likely to offer an opinion on your food selection, utilising their expertise and this is something that French customers would expect. A useful framework for understanding customer service across the world can come through Hofstede’s dimensions which look at aspects such as individualism vs. collectivism and uncertainty avoidance in different countries.

staff are more focused on their own personal goals

North America and the UK are both high on individualism meaning that staff are more focused on their own personal goals as opposed to group goals, those offering customer service in these countries might be more likely to want to make decisions (on the service offered) themselves compared to their counterparts in collectivist cultures such as China. They are also more likely to deal with workplace stress in a direct or active way, perhaps through sabotage behaviours. In collectivist cultures, where emotions are more restrained and motivation is towards group goals, a staff member’s overall withdrawal towards customers and the customer service that they offer can be more difficult to detect than outright sabotage, but can be equally damaging.

Cultural propensity to uncertainty avoidance is also interesting. In countries with low uncertainty avoidance such as the USA and the UK, customer service staff are more likely to feel within their rights to break company rules when they feel it is in the company’s or customer’s best interest, something that their opposite numbers in India or Austria would shy away from, needing the comfort of rules alongside a need to be busy.

Hofstede’s dimensions also include masculinity vs. femininity, power distance, long term orientation and indulgence, all of which could impact greatly upon the customer service offered by employees around the world and within this article we have merely dipped our toe into the vast ocean of information pertaining to culture. So if customer service is important to your business, and especially if you are considering expanding into other countries, research how best you can utilise and appreciate the prevailing culture to improve the service you offer to your customers.



About the author

Paul Russell is co-founder and director of Luxury Academy London,, a multi-national private training company with offices in London, Delhi and Vishakhapatnam. Luxury Academy London specialise in leadership, communication and business etiquette training for companies and private clients across a wide range of sectors. Prior to founding Luxury Academy London, Paul worked in senior leadership roles across Europe, United States, Middle East and Asia. A dynamic trainer and seminar leader, Paul has designed and taught courses, workshops and seminars worldwide on a wide variety of soft skills.