You’ve collected your data and processed it like a pro. Now there’s just one last thing to really knock it out of the park: creating the right context to understand the cultures, people, and attitudes behind the data. To do that, you need to be aware of your cognitive biases toward different people, regions, and attitudes.
My goal for this post is to provide you with tools, resources, and a framework for taming your confirmation bias - as well as for understanding how cultural differences can impact how people process and respond to survey questions.
When you truly understand context, you’ll be positioned to use your VoC data in a meaningful and impactful way.
Understanding context isn’t just a nice idea in theory. In any multinational or multiregional team or brand (all of us!), issues with localizing your message and attitude play out daily.
At Speero, I work with a lot of companies all around the world. For example, we’ve worked with the Romanian market of Carrefour, a major grocery chain based in France. We've worked with an eBay shop based in Turkey. And we’ve worked with the U.S.-based Codecademy - which has a huge market in India.
Each of these companies has multiple markets across the globe that perceive and use the product very differently. The companies in question need to not only be cognizant of those differences, but to dedicate resources to tailor their product messages accordingly.
My mental model for this: Why knowing is not enough
“It is not enough to know.” This should be your mantra as you work with your user data. When I talk about processing data, I talk about taking data information and moving from raw data to a place of knowledge.
But a collection of raw data is just useless knowledge - we also have to know how to act on that knowledge. We have to actively understand who we're speaking to - and how we're speaking to them - if we want to improve our customer conversations. I’m talking about messaging and conversations in a business context, but this actually applies to any communication in your personal or professional life.
As an example, imagine I’m having a conversation with my wife. If she's trying to explain something to me and I respond with a dismissive “Yeah, I know,” that lackluster response may not go over well. Instead, my response needs to show that I understand, and that I'm truly listening. In any context, successful communication isn't about knowing customer pain: it's about showing that you understand it.
My goal for collecting Voice of Customer data is to gain insights that will help me provide the best possible customer experience. In other words, my goal is to allow my team to be the best marketers we can be.
Right person, right time
With our new mantra in mind - “It is not enough to know” - we have to ask another question.
“What does it take to be the best at communication?”
I’ll expand that question for you: what does it take to be the best at anything?
Let’s go into a few examples.
- Comedy - What does it take to be the best comedian? Generally, it's thought that good comedy is all about timing.
- Art - What does it take to create the best art? Generally, it's thought that historical and cultural perspective provides the most poignancy.
- Advertising - What does it take to create an ad that knocks it out of the park? Generally, it's thought that an ad needs to be extremely memorable. And not just creating any memory, but a contextual memory that connects the brand value with the viewer’s personal value.
The common theme running through all the above examples is context. It's not enough to know you have to connect with your audience. You have to connect with the right person at the right time. You have to think about your goal, their goals, and stitch it all together. That’s where the true art of communication lies. This is seen in common practices of matching keywords, intent, and the associated site experience. At Grubhub we tested different landing pages for:
- ‘Restaurant’ delivery near me
- Food delivery ‘deals’ near me
- ‘Hamburger’ delivery near me
You can see the differences in customer intent here, and the proportion of these intent buckets differ regionally.
The key here, and many Jobs-to-be-done (JTBD) approaches, is delineating and acting on different user intents.
It’s a bit dated, but I really like Google’s micro moment’s:
- I want to know
- I want to go
- I want to do
- I want to buy
All website and web queries can be bucketed in the above. Understanding intent is a great starting point for finding differences in the ways users across cultures or regions interact online.
We were optimizing a Japanese furniture brand’s site and messaging and realized that large furniture is not a great product to appeal to a country that has much smaller living spaces compared to US and Western European markets. Product features are measured and evaluated differently with the differences in lifestyles.
Similarly, we’ve done a lot of mattress website optimization (Serta-Simmons, Nectar, Tuft-and-Needle) and this is one of the rare website’s that have all four intent buckets. People want to ‘go’ find a place to try the mattress. Buying patterns are vastly different in urban vs rural markets in the US based on acceptance and familiarity with D2C practices and trust or familiarity with return policies.
These mattress companies stopped focusing on ‘I want to go’ UX on the site during the height of the pandemic, and they also are adopting UX to regional differences in these intents.
Cultural context for communicating in the workplace
Understanding cultural differences in communication isn’t limited to your customers. As global corporate teams become more commonplace, we also need to account for any differences between ourselves and our colleagues. Here is a tweet by a friend of mine, Moiz Ali.
Moiz Ali was the founder and CEO of Native Deodorant, a company that was bought by Procter & Gamble. In a tweet last year, he wrote: "Easiest thing you can do to build trust among your colleagues is to respond quickly. Even if it's to say, ‘thinking about it and will get back with you in X hours.’ Respond quickly.”
When I read the tweet, his advice resonated with me. It made perfect sense. But I’m American. And like many Americans, I'm a bit reactive in the way that I communicate with my colleagues and clients. But if you're doing business in another country, responding quickly might be seen as anything from a waste of someone's time to presenting an aggressive attitude. Despite the value of Ali’s pointer in the context of American offices, you need to understand your clients’ and colleagues’ contexts in order to apply it correctly.
Recommended reading: The Culture Map
This isn’t my usual advice, but I found the best resource for leveling up how I personally understood contextualization was a great book: The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer.
My advice to you? Read it. This quick read does a great job at scoping out what it takes to talk to people from very different backgrounds. Many of us interact with dozens of different cultures every day. Your colleagues, your customers, and your different business markets are just a few common examples. As you work with all those different cultures, you’re gathering feedback, opinions, and perspectives that need to be understood in the context of those cultures. As we meet, work, and solicit Voice of Customer data, it's critical to know how our questions and interactions will be received and returned.
In The Culture Map, Meyer essentially sets out a roadmap for understanding Voice of Customer localization and identifying pitfalls. There’s nothing like reading the book cover to cover, but I’ll summarize some key pointers below.
Meyer’s Skills of Culture
In The Culture Map, Meyer outlines eight “skills of culture.” I'll geek out on the first two of those in order to give you an idea of how powerful these skills are.
Topic 1: Explicit vs. implicit communication
Explicit and implicit attitudes are just one aspect of communication differences between cultures. Meyer puts this cultural difference on a spectrum. Americans are at the extreme “explicit” side of communicating. Americans are really good about telling you what they're about to tell you, they tell you, and then they tell you what they told you. On the other hand, Japanese individuals are very implicit communicators.
If we’re evaluating customer feedback, that difference in approach can skew our Voice of Customer understanding. If we’re asking our colleagues to evaluate our performance, we need to know that different cultures handle this in very different ways.
Skill 2: Direct vs. indirect communication
Direct and indirect preferences also come up often. Americans are actually right in the middle of this spectrum: we’re neither overly direct or indirect. A lot of Asian countries fall on the indirect side. On the direct side, you would place Baltics, Germans, and Israelis, among others.
Speero was actually founded by a Baltic team. Our founder and CEO, Peep Laja, is extremely direct in his feedback style - Americans would consider him blunt. His approach is a direct result of his Baltic culture. In addition to the two skills of culture described above, cultures may also have different spectrums of persuading, leading, deciding, trusting, disagreeing, and scheduling.
These examples from The Culture Map illuminate how Moiz’s tweet can be interpreted and misinterpreted depending on the culture you’re a part of. This same issue applies to understanding or misunderstanding your Voice of Customer feedback.
With these ideas in mind, you can start to think about how you might apply different data processing techniques according to the contexts of your respondents.
The key takeaways:
1. First principle: Showing what you know is half the battle when ‘knowing is not enough’
2. Context is key, and for this it pays to get close to customer intentions, I like Google’s Micromoments for it’s simplicity:
a. I want to know
b. I want to go
c. I want to do
d. I want to buy
3. Culture differences has spectrums. The key ones I come across constantly are scales of feedback, and scales of direct vs indirect communication styles. Please read The Culture Map, by Erin Meyer!