International Customer Success - 5 Considerations

By Kristen Hayer

I was born in the United States, but spent a good portion of my childhood in Papua New Guinea, a country in the South Pacific. One of the first memories I have of living there is a time I reached for something on my desk and a gigantic, hairy spider that had been hiding there crawled up my arm and jumped off onto the floor. I screamed so loud that people from the village where we lived came running and saw me backed up against the wall, face-to-face with my furry enemy. They laughed at me and one of the kids grabbed the spider, tied a string around its middle and spent the afternoon playing with it like a puppy. What to me was a dangerous predator, was to the people in that village a harmless pet.

Many of the clients we work with at The Success League are looking for ways to streamline their customer success efforts in order to scale efficiently. However, when you have an international presence, customer success can’t be one-size-fits-all. It’s important to take global customs, perspectives and cultures into account when you’re designing an international approach to customer success. Here are some things to consider:

Voice and Tone

Some cultures take a very formal approach to business, and expect to engage with their CSMs in that way. Success managers working in these countries should adopt formal greetings, a highly professional tone of voice, and polished presentations. Other countries are quite relaxed, and in these cultures a “Hey Bill” greeting will convey the warmth and familiarity the customer is expecting. Voice and tone should always be consistent with your brand, but tailored to local communication styles.

Response Times

In the US, and especially here in Silicon Valley, the expectation is that a CSM’s response time will be almost immediate. Anything outside of 24 hours is frowned upon, and when a customer doesn’t respond within a few days they have “gone dark”. Many other cultures take an elastic view of time, and the expectation that a customer would respond that quickly is considered abrupt or even rude. This can have a big impact on health scores, if they aren’t tailored to the countries where you are doing business.

Communication Patterns

There is a wide spectrum of communication patterns across cultures, from extremely direct to incredibly indirect. When you’re from a country where “No means no.” it can be confusing when you are working in a region where “Yes means no.” or vice versa. Most of countries where communication patterns are indirect also have a culture of group decision-making. If you’re doing business where indirect communication is the primary pattern, you’ll need to incorporate more collaboration into your customer journey.

Meeting Styles

In many countries, a meeting that doesn’t involve breaking bread is less of a relationship-building exercise and more like a product demo. In these cultures, a CSM will only be truly successful if they have meetings in person over a meal or at least a drink. In other countries the focus is on efficiency, and online meetings or phone calls are preferred to the time it takes to meet in person. The types of meetings your customers expect should drive your decisions about remote or local CSMs.

Language Barriers

English is considered the international language of business, but for most of the world it isn’t their first language and that makes it tough to tackle the nuances of relationship building. If you’re working in a region where the primary language isn’t English, you have a few options: have your CSMs learn the local language, hire an interpreter or hire local CSMs. Consider the complexity of your solution when making this decision. The more challenging your product is to understand and implement, the more valuable a native speaker is to your team.

To incorporate international customer success into your customer journey, first map your primary market, and then consider modifications for other regional markets. If your company is starting to sell in a new country, get ahead of the change by learning about the culture and creating your customer success plan before you get new customers. While streamlining customer success to a single journey makes scaling your team more efficient, don’t sacrifice relationships with international clients in pursuit of simplicity.

P.S. The photo for this article is of a bird-of-paradise, the national bird of Papua New Guinea. I still don’t like spiders.

Are you building a customer success approach for international clients? The Success League is a customer success consulting firm that works with executives who are ready to build and develop a top performing team. We can help you optimize customer success for markets around the world. For more information about our services visit