Businesses spend millions trying to find a footing in foreign markets. When they finally do, all efforts must be made to ensure that the business continues on a steady path of growth. One way of doing this is by making foreign visitors feel welcome whenever they visit the business, either in person or online. Note that these visitors can build or tarnish the reputation of your business in their countries depending on how you make them feel during the visit. With that in mind, the following tips will help you be more welcoming to foreign visitors.
10 Ways to Make Foreign Office Guests Feel Welcome
- Start by picking them from the airport
If you are aware of the visitor coming to your office, you can start the welcoming process as soon as they land. Offer to cater for their transportation from the airport to their hotel. You can send a car or a senior representative to pick them up, or go to the airport in person if you have the time. A sure score on this is to arrive early so that your visitor doesn’t get stranded at the airport. Be sure to help out with their bags or, if you send someone, instruct them to be helpful with the luggage. Ensure the visitor is settled well in their hotel and assure them that, whenever they are ready, transportation to and from your office is arranged for. You can even pay for their hotel accommodation and take them on a tour around your city if your budget allows.
- Make a good first impression
The cliché that “the first impression lasts forever” has never been more relevant. Make a good first impression when the visitor arrives at your office by dressing appropriately, offering them the best possible reception, and ensuring that your office is habitable. Fix your HVAC system if it’s broken, repaint the walls, attend to your office plants, and bring in quality office furniture. Work on the three critical non-verbal communication skills: Smile, firm handshake, and professional eye contact. Such simple gestures cut across language barriers to portray your professionalism, friendly nature, and confidence. Even if it is one of those days when you don’t feel like smiling, just force it. A fake smile will trigger the production of endorphins that will magically take away your bad mood and replace it with relaxation and boosted moods.
- Train your employees to make a positive impression
This adds to the need for making a good first impression. It would be frustrating for a visitor to find everyone in your office busy in their work, all eyes on their computers, with no one bothering to attend to them. Even if your office doesn’t have a receptionist like many businesses nowadays, train your staff on how to welcome visitors. Immediately the visitor gets in, someone should be with them, welcome them with a smile and eye contact, offer help with their coat or bag, offer a beverage of choice, and direct them to the waiting room. You should inform the staff in advance that you are expecting a foreign visitor so that someone who understands the visitor’s native language can prepare to welcome them.
- Show genuine care
It is important that you know a few details about your visitor in advance in order to build a conversation with them. Know them by name and a little about their families. That will make them feel valued as you warm up to the core business of the visit. To ensure that both parties are getting the most out of the conversation, particularly when hosting multilingual visitors simultaneously, it is wise to hire a translation company to translate important details to and from all relevant languages.
The best thing about hiring a Chinese translation company is that they can translate any language- including the not-so-popular ones- accurately, fast, and professionally.
- Let the bosses meet them
Foreign visitors are mostly prospective customers, suppliers, or investors. These are key business associates that should be highly regarded. Show them that they are an important part of your business by inviting top executives to meet them. You will make a good impression for yourself and the business by doing this.
- Pay attention to time zone and currency differences
Refrain from calling or setting up virtual meetings with foreign business associates when it is convenient for you without minding their time zones. You could be having lunch in LA but, at that exact time, your business associate in Beijing could be in his third or fourth hour of sleep. They are going to hate working with you if you form a habit of waking them up in the middle of their good night’s sleep. You better wait until midnight (their lunchtime) to call them.
On the other hand, when discussing business with a foreign visitor, it is important to always quote prices in their local currency. It is okay to quote prices in the US dollar (it is a globally-recognized currency, after all), but your visitors will feel valued when you speak in terms of their home currency; the business language they know best. Besides, who has the time to do conversion math in a foreign country? Probably not your visitor!
- Be culturally sensitive
It is obvious that we are all different from each other, which makes it mandatory for businesspeople to be sensitive towards differences in cultures. Respect your foreign visitors by first accepting that as different as they could be, they are not inferior to you. Don’t be condescending just because you feel like your country’s economy is bigger than theirs, or because you have a better political system. Don’t entertain the thought that because you are a native English speaker, your accent is superior. Always know that if you are finding the visitor’s accent weird, they too aren’t very comfortable with yours. Humble yourself because you are all sailing in the same boat.
While you are at it, learn the cultural appropriate response to greetings and other formalities, especially if the visitor is of a different gender or if they are older than you. It is, for example, okay for a male executive to hug female business representatives in some cultures, but it is outrageous in other cultures. In the west, it is ungentlemanly to not stand up when receiving a female visitor in your office, or to hold the door for them, but it is not always the case in some Far East countries. It is sociopathic not to share about your personal life during business meetings with Japanese or Malaysian visitors, but it would be weird if you did the same when meeting European investors.
Bottom line: Not everything you take for granted in your home country is inconsequential in another, and not everything you value in your culture is valued in a different culture. If you are unsure of what to do when welcoming foreign visitors, go ahead and ask for their guidance. You should never assume anything.
- Maintain high business ethics and values
Ethics and values are important in business, of course, but they are particularly critical when dealing with foreign visitors. Punctuality, for example, may seem like an inconsequential value in your domestic business setting but can make or break a business deal with foreign investors. Business ethics such as transparency, accountability, and credibility are also vital when dealing with foreign clients.
This is the point: As much as you could have a strong reputation in your local market, not many foreigners know about your existence, leave alone your reputation. How you present yourself to them between the time they step into your office until the time they leave will greatly impact their perception of you.
- Learn to speak English at a non-native level
English is the unofficial business language in the global market. That is, of course, unless there is a translator or the involved parties share a common language other than English. There are slightly over 1 billion English speakers in the world, and 70% of those are non-native. So, as much as your foreign visitors might comprehend basic conversational English, you can bet that your accent and slang will always be an obstacle.
When in a meeting with foreign visitors, always pay extra attention to your word choice. Avoid acronyms, abbreviations, and overly complex lingo. Use simple, conversational English and ask follow up questions once in a while to ensure that your visitor is following the conversation, but be careful not to piss them off with condescending questions. Also note that speaking loudly or in one-word sentences isn’t cool either. The visitor isn’t hard of hearing (well, unless he/she is), so you should speak in a normal tone.
- Diversify your team
Visitors feel more welcome if they find someone who looks like them far from home. In that regard, try as much as possible to diversify your team, especially in terms of race and religion. A visitor from Africa will feel more at home when interacting with an African-American executive, and so will a Chinese investor when interacting with an Asian-American executive. A Muslim faithful from Saudi Arabia will feel more understood if you have their fellow Muslims on your panel. This is not to mean that you should hire incompetent executives just because of their race or religion, and neither does it mean that visitors will reject your business purely on a race or religious basis. What you need to understand is that humans are social beings who crave for a sense of belonging.
5 Ways to Make Foreign Online Guests Feel Welcome
- Go digital
This is obvious, but we have to emphasize on its importance. Create an app that is easy to download and use. List your business on Google My Business and other online listings. Invest in positive online reviews. Make it easy for people visiting your city to locate your offices. Build a navigable website. Launch an e-commerce platform. Leverage social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter in reaching out to and communicating with foreign prospects.
In summary: The more accessible your business is from the digital sphere, the more attached foreign visitors will be towards the business, and the easier it will be for you to create new foreign business leads.
- Internationalize your website content
Localize your web content for different international markets, preferably in liaison with a reputable translation company. Translate your web text and caption visual content, both on your website and social accounts, into multiple languages. You can even consider voiceover translations for some videos if you have the budget. It also helps to post social media images and videos that foreign visitors can relate with.
In everything you do, remember to take into account cultural and geopolitical differences.
- Be favorable in your payment requirements and models
If you are based in the US, you should know that not all international clients or shareholders have, or are willing to open, US bank accounts. That means they may have to incur huge processing fees whenever they do business with you. Nobody wants that. That is why you should device standard policies for receiving foreign payments, most notably wire transfers and PayPal. Adjust your pricing accordingly to accommodate the currency conversion and processing fees incurred.
- Streamline your shipping processes
Your online visitors need to be satisfied with the delivery service your business provides before they agree to do any business with you. They want a shipping model that is fast, which saves money, and that allows them to track their goods throughout the shipping process.
- Work on your online and telecommunication skills
You may need to work with a translation company when writing emails to foreign clients and business associates in order to ensure that your message is clearly understood. While you are at it, avoid short forms and jargon, capital-letter (shouting) paragraphs, and inappropriate forms of salutation. Proper e-mail etiquette will give your to-be business visitors a positive perception of you, so you will hit it off easily when they eventually come to your office.
Telecommunication etiquette extends to conference calls over the telephone. Talk reasonably slowly especially if you have a thick accent. Do not put on a fake accent hoping to impress the other party- that rarely works. Never assume that the other party is familiar with your voice; always introduce yourself and lay out your agenda clearly. You will easily pass as a professional when you do that, and foreigners will want to work with you.
In the coronavirus and post-corona era, most international business deals are/will be transacted via video conferencing. That means the pleasantries that you have been using to welcome foreigners to your office might not work for you going forward. As such, learn to convince foreign business associates through your body language, attire, and alertness during videoconferences. Always sit upright and avoid eating/drinking in the middle of video meetings. Train your juniors to do the same.
Creating a good impression with foreign visitors is critical for your business growth. Have this in mind any time they visit. To top it up, have a sendoff gift wrapped up for them and include a thank you card telling them that you appreciate their visit in their native language. Most importantly, make your website welcoming to international online visitors by having the content translated to other languages.
Finally, after giving your visitor a proper welcome, be sure to reply to their emails and social media messages in a timely manner. Send them newsletters and important announcements regularly, and encourage them to share feedback with you across all communication channels. Who knows; you might need them to visit you again in future.
Amanda Kruse is a Management and Business Advisor for Europe and Asia. She also provides Press Release Translation and PR consulting. Kruse is passionate about driving better customer experiences and stronger business results. Amanda is interested in augmentative communication, community capacity building.