How Contact Centers Can Best Serve Customers in the Asia Pacific Region

If you or your clients are planning to expand into China or other growth markets in the Asia Pacific region, there are a number of issues to consider when offering contact center services.

The first of these is that of language. If you would like to cover all of China, agents should be able to communicate in both Mandarin and Cantonese. If you plan to reach out to the region as a whole, you should include Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese and both Malaysian and Indonesian Bahasa too.

Second, it is important that customers can call in by means of a domestic regional telephone number. Making an international phone call remains a psychological and economical barrier not only in emerging markets, but in established ones like the United States too.

Next, consider the communications channels available to you.

Like us in the West, the Chinese are voracious consumers of social media. But Twitter and Facebook are irrelevant in China, whereas Sina /Tencent Weibo, Renren, Qzone and WeChat are not.

Of these, WeChat is fast becoming defacto the standard way to communicate in China, and already boasts a user base of 600m and growing. Furthermore, Its number of international users is also growing exponentially, so a WeChat Channel should be integrated into any contact center activity.

Whilst the concept of the virtual office is nothing new, for western companies looking to expand into China the benefits of a virtual office versus the costs and risks associated with establishing a real one are particularly attractive, and they instantly help bridge the cultural and linguistic challenges associated with overseas expansion.

Those involved in the contact center industry probably already have clients that are using their services as part of their globalization efforts. Rarely do such companies wish to focus on just one market. By offering multi-lingual voice and data solutions, or by teaming up with a company that does, you will be able to add value and help clients grow and prosper internationally.

Doing so will help customers grow domestically too. After all, there are over one million Chinese speakers in the UK and more than two million in the USA.

Mindful of the fact that the vast majority of the Chinese population worldwide cannot read or speak English, those companies that interact with them in their own native language stand a much better chance of benefiting from the enormous opportunities afforded by the Chinese market than those that do not.

Finally, when working with your clients with regards to promoting any new engagement channel, it is best to engage in the services of a native speaker for translating purposes, since automated translation tools can sometimes do more harm than good.

According to the IMF, China is now the World’s largest economy, with the US relegated to second place. Therefore North American, Australasian and European contact centers that look eastwards will be able to add value for their customers both now and in years to come.

In his bestselling book ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas Friedman describes it as a level playing field in terms of commerce, where all competitors have an equal opportunity.

That metaphor is particular apt for those involved in the contact center space.

Asian TV Channels Available In The USA

Asian TV channels now available in the United States can enhance the viewing pleasure of many Asian Americans. Keeping up with events in their homeland is as easy as turning on the tv. There are a lot of channels available now from Directv and Dish Network. So for those who are not aware of them, we have Korean and Vietnamese channels. They are listed below.

DirecTV Korean

CTS is a premium network which brings to you 24 hours of Korean Christian programming, including sermons, testimonies, praise and worship, documentaries and news.

MBC One of the most watched channels, MBC is a 24 hour Korean broadcast network. Catch some of the most popular children’s programs, latest news and drama everyday.

SBS Stay in touch with what’s happening in Korea through this 24 hour channel with latest information, variety shows, and hit dramas.

SBS Plus Catch the best of Korean “Halliyu” with popular drama, movie programs, and other original programs – 24 hours a day.

YTN Korea’s first round-the-clock news network.

Directv Vietnamese

SBTN Saigon Broadcasting Television Network is the first 24-hour Vietnamese programming network in America which broadcasts a great mix of news, sports, variety, movies, talk shows, children’s programming and more – all in Vietnamese.

TVB Vietnam Catch up on the best TVB dramas and telemovies from past and present dubbed in Vietnamese including themes such as martial arts, costumes, episodic, modern action and situation comedy.

VHN–TV A visual treat for those of you who want to get acquainted with the Vietnamese customs and traditions, this channel believes in creating awareness and education. Features news, drama, education, public service, comedy (traditional and contemporary), entertainment and variety programs.

Dish Network Korean

ARIRANG TV broadcast live from Korea 24-hours-a-day, Arirang TV showcases entertaining and informative programs for viewers of every age and background. Programming includes Korea’s latest box office releases, news, sitcoms, dramas, quiz shows, financial updates, music, documentaries and current affairs programs.

BTN is a 24-hour Korean-language Buddhist channel. BTN’s programming includes Buddhist news, ceremony, priesthood, worship, mass, world temple tour, vegetarian cooking, meditation, yoga, missions and much more from Korea.

JSTV is the #1 rated 24-hour-a-day Korean-language Christian channel in North America. JSTV’s programming includes Christian related news, business, music, bible studies, gospels, worship services and much more. JSTV will also broadcast locally produced programs and programming from the Korean broadcasting channel commonly referred to as CBS.

KBS WORLD, a Korean-language channel with English subtitles, is a general entertainment channel which is the oldest and most popular broadcasting station in Korea. Programming includes the most watched news, sitcoms, dramas, documentaries and current affair programs.

ONGAMENET is a top-rated 24-hour Korean-language gaming channel. Ongamenet’s programming includes gaming industry news, video games, pro-gamer league, competitions and other game-oriented programming straight from Korea.

WOW-TV is a 24-hour-a-day Korean-language business news channel broadcast from Korea. WOW-TV’s programming includes economic updates, the latest stock market information, real estate, e-business, news and much more.

So there you have it, 14 different channels. Entertainment for the whole family, young and old alike. Instead of seeing a five minute clip of news from the Asia, watch indepth coverage of the same event. It’s like bringing your homeland in to your livingroom.

Expanding Internationally – What Makes a Good International Channel Partner?

It’s easy to look for channel partners overseas and there are many countries where they will all be clamoring over you but how do you know which ones are any good? They will all tell you who they know and how they are connected to very senior dignitaries of high ranking, high profile people – I have even had guys show me photographs of them standing side by side some high flyer and claiming to be his old school pal. Don’t get fooled so easily, these are the front men many of the less than professional companies send out to get us foreigners on the hook. Another ploy I encountered one time was getting a phone call in my hotel room about 3 hours before my departure flight from a guy who told me he had an imminent order to place for  similar goods and needed to see me immediately. It turned out he was the cousin of a guy I had been talking to a few days earlier from another company and he was trying to steer me to his company away from his cousin – it didn’t take me long to realize I was been toyed with and I dropped both of their companies from my list but things like this do happen.

So how do you avoid being fooled by the sharks? Well to start with make sure you conduct lots of good market research or have professionals do this for you. Contact your local trade mission in the country you are interested in and get their advise and recommendations, use valuable networking contacts from people that have years of experience in these markets, attend trade shows specific to your industry in their country to see which companies are prominent and professional.

To get really good partners you have to think like they do, put yourself in their shoes. If you are thousands of miles away and 6 to 18 hours time difference what would you be looking for from your principle. What motivation would you need to choose your supplier over that of the competitors? Having worked for a very successful overseas high tech distribution company I can tell you – in short they are looking at products or services that they can introduce to their market as if they were launching their own market leading brand. The detail behind this and what I have encountered personally will hopefully provide you with a better understanding of what makes a good International channel partner can be categorized as follows:

Channel Partner Expectations

o    A good channel partner will want his supplier to be a leader in their respected home and/or international market place. The company I worked with would not even touch any supplier that was ranked below number 3 in terms of their home market share.

o    The product or service has to be competitive when put out to the local market. This also filters back down to the transfer price or distributor discount they will expect. The margin a channel partner will expect to make depends on the volume and value of sales, i.e. if they are selling many thousands of pc’s then a very low margin, often less than 10% but if it is lower volume higher priced goods then it will be much higher. At my company we were selling the latter and we always looked to make a gross margin of between 33% and 40% after landed and cleared costs.

o    Quality has to be in line with market expectations – if you are supplying to a Japanese company who is going to OEM your product they will probably want to send their QA people over to your manufacturing plant to conduct their own audit and recommend changes.

o    Local warranty obligations must be met – some countries demand 2 years and so if you only give 30 days in the USA you will need to factor this. Some suppliers agree to ship an excess of products to cover this e.g. ship 102 for every 100 ordered.

o    They will expect to receive excellent back-up and support services and be treated as if they are an extension of your ‘family’, which in a sense they are as they are representing your interest in their country. This applies across the board to all aspects of contact with them from sales management, tech support through to warranty back-up and service support and sometimes even access to your in-house maintenance and fault logging and tracking systems.

o    They will expect first class references of other users of your products/services and to be able to put these forward to their client base. Occasionally this might even mean one of their clients requesting a visit to one of your customers somewhere in the world.

o    They will expect to ride on your marketing campaigns and have access to your marketing materials and literature copy. They should be taking full advantage of this in their local advertising, promos and trade shows.

o    Today many channel partners expect their international suppliers to have a well documented ‘Partner Plan or Program’ which clearly sets out the expectations and obligations of both parties.

o    They expect to be successful and will not be interested if it is uphill work to get there.

o    They don’t want obvious channel conflict. If you are appointing multiple channel partners in one country then try and differentiate between them e.g. one selling to government only another to automotive industry only or by geographical coverage.

o    They want access to your senior management, this may be for escalation purposes but very often in Asia it is a cultural issue and they will not get sign off until peer level executives have met, looked in to each other’s eyes and feel comfortable.

o    Day to day channel management will be anticipated to be done by one of your mature professionals and not passed on to an office junior the moment the contracts are signed.

o    They expect to succeed! They are not doing this for you, they are doing it for themselves and to make money out of your resources.

o    They do NOT expect to be usurped. No channel partner will commit to a venture if they were to even think that if they made it a success that you would then enter the local market directly and cut them out.

Channel Partner Profile

o    They should have a good track record of successfully introducing other ‘like’ products or services into their local market. Hopefully you will not be their first overseas supplier and they will have done this before and know how to trade with other international companies.

o    They will be major players in your industry sector in their country.

o    They should NOT be representing any of your competitors, feel free to ask them this direct. The last thing you need is to sign a lengthy contract only to find out they are gate-keeping your product out of the market.

o    They should be an established and solid company – get your financial guys to check them out and run appropriate financial checks. Of course this should be a prime function of appointing any third party channel partner.

o    They should be respected by the end user client base – do some research by getting in touch with customers direct and asking their opinion of the ‘XYZ company’, would they be happy to buy from them if you appoint them?

o    They should have a good public profile and be recognized as an ethical company.

o    They must have great networking and contacts with the right level of people.

Channel Partner Commitment

o    They must be prepared to commit resources – where I worked the management put in a new team of 6 recruits to focus on the new product we signed up for.

o    They must be financially committed – this doesn’t mean giving you a good initial stocking order (although this is nice) but committing through their management hierarchy to support this whole venture. It means funding training, which could be overseas, possible product localization and translation of manuals and literature, marketing, product launches, road shows, trade shows, advertising, sales initiatives and campaigns etc.

o    They must commit to an after sales support function for servicing clients and providing warranty obligations. Ideally they should integrate your products into their existing service management structure.

o    They should be results driven and want a quick return on their investment, the keener they are the sooner you will see results.

I have worked on both sides of the fence and been responsible for global expansion by appointing channel partners throughout Southern Africa, Western Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. I have always taken on the task with a project based approach and because I understood their motives and drivers and what makes them tick was a tremendous asset to me. The most successful channels have all been dedicated and committed to long term success and not just in it for a quick buck. I’m not saying you will find exactly the right match as we all need to compromise at times but if you set out your stall up front then you will be much closer to selecting the best available partner(s). Good Luck!

If after reading this you find it might be too much of a daunting task don’t panic – there’s lots of companies looking to expand internationally and there’s lots of help out there for them, this is exactly why I created Expand Internationally. Feel free to drop me a line!