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Hire Bilingual Staff for Bicultural Shoppers

Posted by: Today's Tip Contributor on September 7, 2010

Business owners often assume that if a prospective customer is able to speak two languages, the prospect is equally comfortable carrying out transactions in either language. But the truth is that the personality of the shopper can change between languages.

For instance, researchers at Baruch College and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee studied what happened to bilingual Hispanic women as they switched between speaking English and speaking Spanish in American settings. The researchers found that on average, the women felt more assertive when speaking Spanish than when speaking English. And when these women were exposed to Spanish text instead of English text, as might be used in ads, store signage, or e-commerce pages, the women were more likely to think of acting independently and taking educated risks. An assertive willingness to take educated risks is the sort of thing that can lead to larger purchases and so more profitability for the business.

Now that almost any business enterprise can go global via the Internet, it is important to be prepared for the fact that your target market may include people who speak more than one language. Consider the following tips:

1. Look for job candidates who have, in addition to all the other sales skills, the ability to speak and write fluently the favorite languages used by your customers or clients.

2. Schedule staff so you have at least one sales staff member at any time who is able to understand and speak fluently the favorite language of almost anyone who shops with you. Then have the monolingual staff tag team whenever it’s needed.

3. Train and coach staff to understand the shopping and purchasing expectations of people from different cultures who give you business. This is important not only for closing sales, but also for teaming up with the shopper to head off misunderstandings, resolve complaints, arrange for custom products and services, and such matters as handling what might appear to be shoplifting or requests for bribes. The Baruch/Wisconsin research suggests that the language the businessperson chooses to use will significantly influence the expectations of the customer.

Bruce D. Sanders, PhD
Consulting psychologist
Vacaville, Calif.

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