When I was doing some client work in Osaka, Japan, years ago, I was well cared for by my hosts and expat Americans who spoke Japanese during our stay. But one night, my colleague, who spoke fluent Mandarin Chinese and English, and I were left on our own to get dinner. We ventured into a neighborhood cafe, hoping to find someone who could translate for us.
We were not successful. When we couldn’t communicate in English or Chinese, we resorted to pointing to pictures on a menu. We ate what we got, without knowing what it was. It was delicious!
We had been spoiled by our hosts and hadn’t made an effort to learn any basics of Japanese for ourselves.
It’s like that in business. How well do you speak your customer’s language?
To serve external customers, you may have hired people who are fluent in your customer’s native languages.
To serve internal customers (employees, vendors) it is wise to communicate in business language familiar to them, and in terms they can relate to.
Each customer, whether internal or external, has their own language, and not just the words they speak. They have unique needs and perspectives, and to be successful, you must listen well and be able to talk to them in those terms.
For example, consider the scenario that you need to get approval from the CFO of your organization for a project expenditure. Approach it in their terms. What are the interests most likely to be on his or her mind? The conversation will likely be more productive if you present the expected return on investment (ROI) over time. You know what is motivating you (completion of the project) but they may be dealing with a CEO who has told them to cut every expense they can. Learn to present solutions that will integrate your needs with what will serve their needs.
One of my clients facing this scenario presented a business case for investing in a high-efficiency HVAC system that would not only pay for itself in less than eight years (due to electricity savings) but, over twenty years, would actually reduce expenses by over 8% annually.
That approach – with supporting documentation – not only got the CFO’s interest but got the CFO’s commitment to the project. Funding was granted by the board within a month.
Learn to listen well and then speak in the language of your customers. When you understand their concerns, you’ll be able to show how you and your team can meet them.