Thanks to the Internet, smart phones and Skype, the world is shrinking, and allowing quicker communication with people half the world away.
With that, I’ve put together a few tips I’ve learned working with clients all over the world:
1. Ask where they are. Ask what time it is there, and write it down.
Try to remember how far ahead (or behind) your own time zone each client is. Generally speaking, most of Europe is about six hours ahead of the Eastern time zone. There is a 12 hour difference with Asia and Australia and the Middle East is approximately nine hours ahead. Just as we are starting our day, they are finishing theirs, so it’s important to be respectful of their deadlines and pay special attention to any communication from them right away, since you may only have a few hours of ‘real-time’ communication.
2. Check with the client about a convenient time for them to talk
Not everything can be communicated via e-mail, and there won’t be many opportunities for you to meet with clients from other countries face-to-face, so regularly scheduled calls can take the place of face-to-face communication. Many companies are using Skype. Just make sure you have a time that is convenient for both parties, and in cases where the time change is extreme, it may mean taking turns coming in early or staying late.
3. Not all English is the same
Many times materials will arrive in your inbox translated from your client’s native language into English. And these may leave you saying, huh?! No matter how well a non-native speaker speaks English, it is very difficult to write in a different language. So, when you are ‘Americanizing,’ not only do you need to remember to check the spelling and grammar –double check to make sure the it makes sense to your audience – whether they are Americans or English-speakers in other parts of the world.
When translating documents for use outside of the U.S. (like Canada) – remember British English is the norm (you can find spelling translations here).
4. Know your international holidays
There are a lot of different holidays out there. Most manufacturing in Europe shuts down for the entire Month of August, Chinese New Year doesn’t correlate with the January 1 holiday. There are also numerous European bank holidays (about one per month). It might be a good idea to keep a calendar of holidays from the country your client is located.
5. Formatting and figures
Formatting and figures can also cause some confusion. One in particular that confused me when I first came across it was the use of commas instead of decimal places. For example, to 33,50 translates to 33.50. It is important to double check the figures in writing (for example thirty-three dollars and fifty cents) when translating copy. Also, when the date is written numerically, the order is generally reversed: dd/mm/yyyy, so today’s date would be 18/04/2012 (April 18, 2012).
Do you have any tips for working with international businesses? Any “Lost in Translation” stories to share?
Ann Marie Fortunate is an account executive at Franco Public Relations Group. You can reach her at (313) 567-5050 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @AMFortunate