Whether planned, or organic, the move to Europe is a big undertaking for US scaling companies. Home to multiple cultures, languages and economies, knowing where to start can be daunting. Many questions that crop up include; Where to start? What to start with? What size team? How do I estimate the opportunity? Can I provide support from the US? Do I need to outsource, augment my team? Do I set up a new operation? Where?
Being new to a market it is a vulnerable phase for every brand. It is a time prone to errors but as you are chartering unknown territory errors are unavoidable. The trick is to offset as many mistakes as possible with great support. Then you can turn those mistakes into opportunities to connect with your community. Customer Support is a vital element of any commercial launch.
While each solution is different, and each company must find its own way, here are some of the tips we’ve gathered from working with US companies who’ve scaled their operations in Europe.
1. If you’re going to eat the elephant, make sure you have sufficient support.
We’ve seen in the past companies marketing to “Europe” as a single market preferring a bold, blanket approach. To do so, applies significant pressure on a new operational set up. ‘Going in big’, means having to have the support available to cope with any issues that arise. Not providing the right level of service at this early stage puts your brand at risk. It also thwarts the results of your campaign by distracting you with complaints about poor customer service without really understanding the how your product or service is being received. So if you go in big to Europe, go big with your support.
2. If you can, walk first, then run.
The most successful European expansions we have seen have minimized risk to their brand by having a strategic, step by step approach. Often the easiest launch pad is the English speaking countries first (UK & Ireland). Companies use these as test beds to establish a core team and to establish a good quality of service. Once established, a good quality of service can be adapted according to the new audience. Unforeseen issues will be worked out before taking on non – English speaking countries. Country by country the expansion continues. It is measured, supported and the service adapted according to the markets. This approach tends to lesson brand vulnerability and with a solid foundation for support in place, scaling quickly is less challenging.
3. Start with Quality, build in quantity
We have seen even the greatest companies underestimate the size of the opportunity in Europe. Though often thought of as a black art, there are ways to de-risk underestimating the opportunity by adopting a ‘start with quality approach’. This approach can flex to the reality of the opportunity as it unfolds. Building a solid & complete operation, they recruit a strong starter team and therefore have a greater capacity to scale and scale fast. If on the other hand, growth is slower, the quality is built into the solution so the rate of recruitment can reflect the slower rate of adoption. The level of service however remains constant regardless of the size of the opportunity or the rate of growth.
4. European Labour Force
Europe’s countries have diverse economies. Some were flattened by the recession, some are recovering and others (such as Germany) are thriving . The stronger the economy, the greater the recruitment challenge. For example, it can take up to 12 weeks to recruit a team of native German speakers. This simple but often overlooked issue can have a significant impact on your ability to respond to increasing demand in each country. It is best therefore to give yourself as much recruitment lead time as possible to fortify your support offering in your target countries. It is also worth noting the vast difference in employment laws between different countries. Labour laws can go from relaxed to rigid which again, constrains your level of flexibility and can add significant hidden costs from which it can be difficult to extract your business.. Labour laws are very different across Europe and really need to be understood before establishing a support centres.
5. Language & Culture
Europeans tend to have a strong preference for customer service delivered by native speakers in the language of their country. Not only is the language important, but the cultural connection is a vital component of a complete customer experience. Native speaking customer support staff will also provide a deep level of feedback for how your product is being received in each country. Multilingual tech support services are key to localising your product or service and while the changes required may be subtle, they may be the difference between success and failure.