Over one-third of all Americans today are minorities. The numbers of people from diverse cultures are growing so rapidly that the U.S. Census Bureau expects this group to be nearly half of the population by 2038. This is a huge market for retailers and service providers all across the country - if you know how to meet the unique needs of customers and clients from other cultures.

MYTH #1: "PEOPLE FROM OTHER CULTURES ONLY WANT TO WORK WITH SOMEONE FROM THEIR OWN CULTURE."

Nothing could be further from the truth unless there is a language issue. Most of the people who complain about having trouble with multicultural customers are European American salespeople. They just need to understand how to meet the wants and needs of people from other cultures.

In fact, many cultural groups would prefer to work with a salesperson from outside their own culture. Asians, for example, are very private about their financial affairs and many are afraid that if they work with an Asian salesperson they might disclose their income, debts, and purchases, to others in their community.

MYTH #2: "MULTICULTURAL PEOPLE HAVE SUPERSTITIONS AND BELIEFS THAT ARE TOTALLY INCOMPREHENSIBLE TO AMERICANS."

Remember that people in the United States have beliefs that often baffle outsiders such as the fact that black cats, walking under ladders, and the number thirteen are unlucky. Most other cultures have their own beliefs that are just different.

Many cultural beliefs happen to directly affect the purchase of goods and services such as how items are packaged, colors that goods are wrapped in and how items are priced. For instance, many Asians believe that the number four is unlucky because when pronounced in Japanese or Chinese it sounds very similar to those cultures' word for "death". Items packaged in groups of four can symbolize bad luck for those people who believe in numerology. Notice, for instance, that if you buy a tea set it is usually packaged with five cups, not four, for this reason.

MYTH #3: "SOME PEOPLE FROM OUTSIDE THE U.S. ARE UNETHICAL BECAUSE THEY INSIST ON RENEGOTIATING A PURCHASE CONTRACT AFTER IT HAS BEEN SIGNED."

While it's true that people from other cultures often try to renegotiate a contract to make a major purchase after it has been signed it has nothing to do with ethics. In some countries it is understood that contracts only reflect the agreement between the parties at the beginning of a relationship which can change as they get to know each other. As a result, the parties are obligated to help each other "adjust" the contract to their needs until it is completed.

MYTH #4: "IT'S IMPOSSIBLE TO GET PERSONAL FINANCIAL INFORMATION FROM MULTICULTURAL PEOPLE BECAUSE THEY'RE SO SECRETIVE."

This is one of those myths that is actually true. Many people who are new to this country are extremely private about their finances. Remember that they are unfamiliar with the banking and legal system in America and do not know whom to trust.

In addition, merely asking a question as innocent as "How much do you have for a down payment" on a large purchase can actually endanger the lives of your clients. Why is that? Many new immigrants do not believe in banks and keep much of their money hidden as cash in their homes.

Have you ever heard of "home invasion robberies" where the occupants are threatened until they reveal the whereabouts of their valuables? These kinds of crimes are commonly committed against Asians or Hispanics, not because they have nicer furniture or stereos than everyone else, but because that's where the money is often hidden.

The easiest way to find out how much a new immigrant client has for a down payment is to give them a "menu" of choices. Show them the required investment and resulting monthly payments for ten percent down, twenty percent down, etc. Usually, the loan that the client expresses the most interest in is the one they have the down payment for.

MYTH #5: "PEOPLE FROM OUTSIDE THIS COUNTRY ARE UNREASONABLE WHEN IT COMES TO NEGOTIATING."

Remember, there are two types of countries in the world - negotiating and non-negotiating. The United States is a non-negotiating country where we generally pay the price asked by vendors. In most other countries around the world, people haggle on everything from groceries to clothing to homes. To expect someone from one of these places not to bargain is tantamount to asking them not to breathe.

MYTH #6: "PEOPLE FROM OTHER CULTURES ARE JUST TOO MUCH TROUBLE TO BOTHER WITH."

The author constantly hears this statement from retailers, service providers and their salespeople throughout the country. Too bad for them because if you know how to meet the special needs of multicultural customers they can be just as loyal and enjoyable to work with as anyone else. In addition, people from other cultures are very good about referring their friends and family if you serve them with sensitivity and patience.

An added bonus when working with people from outside the United States is the opportunity to learn about other cultures. Just think of it. You can take a round-the-world trip without getting seasick or losing one piece of luggage!

MYTH #7: "PEOPLE SHOULD DO AS AMERICANS DO WHEN THEY'RE IN THIS COUNTRY."

Did you ever wonder why we are called the "Ugly Americans" when we travel outside our borders? We will fly to Germany, France or China, and expect the people there to accommodate us in terms of providing the food and other amenities we are familiar with. We commonly expect to be served pizza in Asia and to speak English in France.

Just as it's difficult for us Americans to leave our 200-year-old culture at the gate when we travel abroad it's even harder for those coming here with cultures that are thousands of years old to do as we do here. While they do try to assimilate it is hard for them.

MYTH #8: "IT WOULD BE TOO MUCH TROUBLE TO CUSTOMIZE MY PRODUCT OR SERVICE TO PEOPLE FROM OTHER CULTURES."

Actually, making your business attractive to people from other cultures is quite easy. First, start with your brochures. Print them in the major languages of the customers who frequent your store or office. Be sure to get help with the translation because many concepts and words in English do not convert easily to other languages. Also be sure to print in the correct language. For example, while Chinese, Korean, and Japanese, may appear similar to the untrained eye they are very different.

You may want to consider hiring someone who speaks the language of your major group of multicultural customers or clients. However, if they find you sensitive and patient with people who have language problems they will usually find a friend or family member to interpret. Excellent customer service is a universal language as is friendliness and a willingness to learn about other people's culture.

MYTH #9: "WE SHOULD TREAT EVERYONE EQUALLY, REGARDLESS OF CULTURE."

Yes, it's true that we should treat every customer fairly but this does not necessarily mean equally. For instance, if a buyer who is blind comes into your store or office would you simply hand them a brochure to "read"? This is equal but is it fair? Hardly. Wouldn't you try to treat them equally?

Similarly, by taking into account the unique needs of every customer or client aren't we serving them better? This would be equally true for being culturally sensitive.

MYTH #10: "PEOPLE DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT THEIR CULTURE - THEY JUST WANT TO BE TREATED LIKE EVERYONE ELSE."

This is probably the biggest myth when dealing with people from other cultures. They know they are different and unless something about culture is mentioned early in your relationship with a multicultural client it will always stand as a barrier to building true rapport.

Once you take a sincere interest in your customers' cultural background they are usually more than happy to tell you about their language, food, and even beliefs. Get into the habit of asking every customer, "Where do your ancestors come from?" Notice, this can get the conversation started with someone from Ireland just as easily as Thailand.

If you want to be truly successful with people from other cultures you must make this agreement with each and every one of them. "I will teach you about American customs and practices as it relates to my business. In exchange, I want you to teach me about your cultural background." In this way, you develop a mutually-beneficial relationship which will hopefully last a lifetime.

About the Author:

Michael Soon Lee, MBA, is a cultural expert and author of several books on selling to multicultural customers. He was a Producer for the ABC Television Network and a Marketing Director for the State of California. His company, EthnoConnect™, provides keynote speeches, training and consulting on diversity and selling to the ethnic markets in America. Mr. Lee can be reached at http://www.EthnoConnect.com or by phone at: (800) 417-7325.


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