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It is the 15th August 2013. We are slap bang in the middle of holiday (vacation) season! Friends, family, colleagues and associates are travelling by train, planes, boats and buses to destinations near and far. Some will stay within easy reach of home, others  will embark on exotic journeys half way around the world. I myself am desperately looking forward to our family holiday to Northern Spain and the South of France.

There are a number of inevitabilities about going on holiday. We will return poorer – having spent our hard-earned money on eating out, visiting the sights, buying souvenirs we really do not need, and indulging in copious amounts of ice cream (if you are me anyway!). We may return with a tan (obtained healthily and sensibly of course). It is even possible that we may be more relaxed at the end of the holiday than we were at the beginning (although this very much depends on a large number of factors – especially if children are involved!!).

One thing is for absolute certain – everyone enjoying a holiday this summer will be having a large number of experiences – customer experiences with a variety of people, companies and organisations. We will experience things at the very beginning of our holiday, right until the very end. The beginning and end will start in the country we reside in. The taxi ride to the airport. The train journey. The car parking experience. Those of us travelling abroad will fill our holidays with experiences interacting largely with people from a different country – and it is this point that has got me thinking (dangerous, I know!).

When you think about the customer experiences you have had in the past, or those that you are currently having, how different have the experiences been depending on which country you are in? Is the level of service you receive, or expect to receive, different depending on where you are in the world? Are the experiences we have as customers pre-determined by culture?

Last week we had a lovely meal with friends of ours. The friends in question are not native Brits. The husband is a national CEO of an international company. He has spent many years travelling all over the world on business. When I mean all over the world, I mean literally all over the world – he has visited well over 100 countries. When we go out for dinner, customer experience always pops up in the conversation (another one of those inevitabilities – much to Mrs Golding’s irritation). We started to talk about customer service and how it differs from country to country, culture to culture.

I asked where him where he has received the best customer service and the worst customer service on his travels. The Far East – was his immediate response for ‘the best’ – Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Japan – you can always rely on attentive, caring, respectful service. If I think of my own experiences of those countries and cultures, I would have to agree. I will never forget our first trip to the Maldives – the service and experience was second to none (even apart from the fact that the product – the beautiful golden beaches and crystal clear waters – was fist rate.

I will not tell you which part of the world he categorised as ‘the worst’ – that would not be fair. What I can say is that it was a very interesting conversation. Think about the countries you have visited yourself. The USA – famed for its ‘have a nice day’ culture – has always been proud of high levels of customer service and customer experiences. Like anywhere in the world, improvement is needed, but the underlying US culture is driven by good customer service, manners and respect.

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The UK is much more reserved – the British ‘stiff upper lip’ deems that sometimes service in this country can seem a little brusque, with less of a smile. Although customer service is regularly good,  I often feel as though there are too many people who interact with customers in the UK with a level of indifference that is reflected in society.

When you move into mainland Europe, culture differences are even more stark. I have always found customer service in Spain to be a little ‘direct’, sometimes appearing to be quite rude. Doing what I do for a living, I am sure that there is absolutely no intention of being rude, it is just the way things are done in that particular culture. In Germany, customer service is remarkably efficient (as you would expect), but sometimes delivered expertly without any perceived emotion or feeling.

A few years ago I delivered a training course in Singapore. I was treated like a king – wherever I went. It was a wonderful experience. There was an inherent pride in their culture that translated into the way they interacted with everyone. There are many other countries in the world that I have never visited. They will all have their own cultural differences that translate into the way they deliver customer service and customer experiences.

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Customer Experience is important wherever you happen to live on the planet. I have chaired and presented at conferences all over the world. But is the underlying culture of a country significant to the customer experience efforts of companies? Will your ability to deliver great experiences depend on which country your company operates in? In my opinion, the answer to these questions is yes. The culture of a country will determine the expectations and needs of customers within those countries. Customer experience programmes will need to be tailored accordingly.

So as you embark on, or return from your summer break, have a think about the experiences you had, and the customer service you received. Were there cultural differences? Do those differences suggest that customer experience is really a question of culture?

This is my last post before I leave for my own summer vacation. I am therefore taking a two-week break from blogging. I am pretty sure I will have lots of experiences to write about when I get back!