In customer service, cultural sensitivity involves a bilingual call center’s ability to effectively relate to consumers from different cultures. Being sensitive to your customers’ culture, beliefs, and practices can help you improve the overall customer experience and increase customer satisfaction.
Considering this, does your bilingual call center know how to interact with Arab customers? Are they culturally aware of these Arab sensibilities?
Business in the Arab culture
Islam is the dominant religion in Arab countries, and thus, their culture is Islam-centric. Every aspect of their culture is influenced by the tenets of Islam, from the way they dress to the way they talk. Even businesses are influenced by religion, as most Muslims believe that business success depends upon the will of Allah, their god.
Speaking of business, it’s worth noting that Arab countries have been business-minded since the ancient times. Doing business is part of their heritage, as Saudi Arabia has long been known as a popular a trading hub. While the country has now adopted Western business practices, the countries’ business traditions persist to this day. Arab entrepreneurs only do business with those they can trust, and so they dedicate time and effort to build lasting business relationships.
In addition to these, here are some things to remember when dealing with Arab customers.
1. Prayer times are closely observed.
Arabs closely observe their prayer times—known as Salat—devotedly, and will interrupt a customer interaction or business transaction if it coincides with them. There are five Muslim prayer times: dawn (Fajr), noon (Zuhr), late afternoon (Asr), after sunset (Maghrib), and between sunset and midnight (Isha).
2. They have a different business week.
A work week in Arabic-speaking countries typically begins Saturdays and ends Wednesdays (although Saudi Arabia has officially moved their work week to Sundays-Thursdays in 2013). And because their culture is Islam-centric, you can see a slowdown among businesses during their holy month of Ramadan. They have two major holidays based on Islam: Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid al-Adha, which marks the end of the Hajj pilgrimage. Both public and private sectors take a holiday off to observe these events.
3. Proper phone etiquette is a must.
This may sound like a no-brainer, but it might cost you a lot if your customer service agents fail to follow proper phone etiquette. In an initial phone call with an Arab customer, start by greeting them. Then, introduce yourself in a formal manner. In an outbound interaction, you should clarify how you got the customer’s name and introduce your company briefly. Exchanging pleasantries is customary as well. Afterwards, you can get down to business. Also remember that you should address customers by their title and first name (e.g., “Dr. Ahmed” or “Mr. Altair”).
4. Arab customers adopt an indirect communication style.
Like some Asian cultures, Arab customers have an indirect communication style. They tend to focus on preserving someone’s dignity by avoiding direct rejections and open criticism. Some interactions tend to be loud, which is the Arab’s way of showing interest. Business discussions, however, are slow and lengthy and are best described as a mix of personal and business interactions, including both small talk and business-related subjects. Generally, modesty is also observed and valued, so it’s important to avoid making exaggerated claims when talking to Arab customers.
5. Gender segregation is deeply ingrained in their culture.
Arabs may have trouble interacting with customer service agents of a different gender, as the country’s culture greatly upholds the separation of men and women. Women–men interactions, especially between those who are not related to one another, are limited. Prolonged interaction between them may lead to criminal charges. Thus, consider these when conducting business transactions with your Arab customers.
Just as service quality is important for every bilingual call center, understanding the complexities of the Arab culture can help you in the long run as well. Developing your agents’ cultural sensitivity will aid in dispelling myths and stereotypes, making sure you aren’t misguided in your customer interaction with Arab customers.