Let’s say your business is mostly local, but you have a product or a service that could benefit people in other places around the globe. How do you start to expand your business internationally? Especially if your business is smaller, with a limited number of employees, international expansion can seem like a difficult task and one that many smaller business just give up on.
But today there are a host of international customer service tools your business can use to reach out to foreign markets and to make even the most local business seem like a worldwide company.
Virtual Phone Numbers
The first thing that a small business can do (and even large businesses looking to expand internationally should look into), is getting a few virtual phone numbers.
You know that feeling of comfort when you call a business with your area code, or where the phone number just tells you that the business you’re calling is local? That’s what a virtual phone number can do. With them, anyone who calls you is calling a phone number that is local — and often toll free for them.
Virtual numbers can be routed anywhere in the world and even changed on the fly if your business moves, or if the person handling your calls is out of town. Because virtual phone numbers are housed online and not with traditional phone companies, you don’t have to worry about dealing with a phone company from every country you’re looking to do business in.
The ease of getting and using these numbers also makes it easy for a business to “test the waters” in a certain region. Experimenting to see if your business or product sells or is attractive to a certain market is now a much easier and cheaper endeavor than it once was.
Too much business is done on smartphones and tablets for your business to not have a mobile app. Although you may think of a mobile app as an amenity or even just a networking platform, they are actually vital international customer service tools.
Smartphone apps can allow your customers to contact you directly through an app. The app can house message boards, announcements, important phone numbers, and other community resources. Apps can give customers statuses on their orders and delivery.
These kinds of things aren’t just a convenience for you, but they also help to cut down on the time that you need to spend on the phone with customers. Apps also give your business a cutting edge feel; phone apps are not new, but businesses that don’t have them can seem outdated and behind the times.
Discussion Forums and Online Communities
Message boards and discussion forums give customers the chance to not only talk about your business, product or service, but often allow them to help each other answer questions. Forums can be tailored to languages and divided into categories. Many companies will have 1-2 narrators monitoring the boards and offering some help, but you can get as involved with message boards as you want.
The popularity of message boards as international customer service tools depends on how much buzz you generate about your product, and some products or services naturally generate more buzz than others. For example, more people are likely to talk about how to fix, fly, and use a drone, than will talk about T-shirts.
Still, when a message board gets buzzing with messages and people, your brand will have a vibrant worldwide community that reaches across country borders.
Get a Translator
Getting paid translation services for every email or text message you receive may seem a bit expensive and it can be. But with the decreasing cost of translation by freelance translators, there is no reason why the most important parts of your business can’t be translated professionally. Additionally, there is a comfort level that people who speak other languages have when they read a page that is written fluently in their native language.
Any page on your website or app that is static, or which provides vital information about your product, or any policy or procedure, should be translated into whatever native language your customers speak. Companies like upwork.com or gengo.com offer vital international customer service tools, including freelancers who are ready to handle your translations in almost any language.
Using Google Services
Google has services that can help you do business with international customers. Many of the services are free, and can certainly help out with emails or one time conversations with clients.
Google Translate can help, but it isn’t perfect so make sure whoever you’re talking to knows that you aren’t a native speaker, to excuse any imperfections in your grammar.
While you’re using Google, remember that Google Analytics can tell you where your website visitors are coming from, which can help you decide which languages you may want to translate your pages into. Analytics can give you other important information, such as which of your pages visitors spend the most time on it, how visitors find your pages, and how long they spend on your site.
How long visitors spend on your site can be increased by using the discussion forums and message boards we suggested earlier. Interesting or informative discussions can keep clients engaged on your page for longer than they would have been otherwise. Google Analytics can tell you how long visitors are spending at which parts of your website.
It should come as no surprise that a vital international customer service tool today is social media. Businesses use Instagram, Facebook, and other social media pages to communicate with customers easily. These sites don’t just put up ads or demonstrate products, but they also talk about current events related to the product, or include videos of interest for the business’s target market.
Social media done right is advertising your business without letting people know you’re blatantly advertising. The goal is to create pages that engage; they are so interesting that people want to be a part of them; not just exist in the public eye.
Virtual phone numbers are only one part of a larger strategy to transform your business into an international powerhouse. Most of the international customer service tools that offer international appeal are available to anyone, from the comfort of your computer or smartphone. Don’t miss out by convincing yourself that you can’t sell or market your product or service anywhere in the world. The tools are right at your fingertips!
Jason Weaver is an author and freelance writer who is also a lawyer that helps and advises small businesses. Jason writes about issues that are topical and practical for small businesses to grow and protect themselves.