An article from Bloomberg Businessweek, (http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-03-19/gate-b22-in-the-frankfurt-airport-offers-a-lesson-in-cultural-differences), focuses on the challenge of working in environments ripe with cultural contrasts and varying expectations. In particular, the insightful article details how German employees punitively react to Indian passengers during the pre-boarding process of an India bound Lufthansa aircraft. The author exposes the harsh reality– many western front-line employees approach cross-cultural interactions based solely on their own cultural values and do not have the skill set and training to favorably interact with other cultures and be effective in their jobs.
The message could not be more relevant today as western carriers exchange barbs with rival airlines in the Middle East. Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways—all equipped with a savvy multicultural workforce, high service standards and stellar training programs– have grown exponentially, become innovative service leaders and subsequently, a reviled threat to established western carriers.
How can behemoths like United, British Airways, Delta, Air France, American and Lufthansa catch up and compete?
(By the way, the following tips go well beyond the airline industry. Executives in the hotel, cruise line and restaurant industries should all take heed.)
Service Industries – Meeting the Challenge
To have your employees not understand the differences between cultures equates to being ill prepared for the very client base you hope to attract in the global arena. To capture the high end, sophisticated clientele, your employees have to have a similar presentation.
So, what’s the solution? A number of strategies need to be implemented, two of which I recommend as top takeaways:
- If your management team is not culturally savvy and familiar with sophisticated service levels, how do you expect the rest of the organization to take your lead? Managers should not only acknowledge the cross-cultural challenges front line employees regularly handle, but make the effort to experience them firsthand. Encourage MBWA- Management By Walking Around. Get your leaders out there with the frontline troops – observe interactions or, better yet, directly test your skill set with international customers and see how you fare. If you are culturally savvy, mentor your team. If not, get the required training and coaching.
- Implement training programs (must include the four primary hurdles to cross-cultural communication) and provide your front line team with the cross-cultural tool kit they need to effectively and respectfully interact and communicate. Provide your team with the access and ability to better understand cultural norms different from their own and familiarize themselves with the expectations that drive and motivate international customers.
The solution for customer service personnel is education. Once front line personnel understand varying cultural perspectives, employees can respond to conflicts effectively and with greater compassion.
A culturally intelligent workforce is not optional anymore, it’s mandatory. Investing in employee education garners more industry respect, enhanced reputations and profits for globally minded companies. It’s a win/win/win for leaders, employees and clients alike.