Customer Service Skills for
Culturally Diverse Communities
Jean Crossman-Miranda, MFT
An Infopeople Workshop
Spring-Fall 2007
This Workshop Is Brought to You By
the Infopeople Project
Infopeople is a federally-funded grant project
supported by the California State Library. It
provides a wide variety of training to
California libraries. Infopeople workshops are
offered around the state and are open
registration on a first-come, first-served basis.
For a complete list of workshops, and for
other information about the project, go to the
Infopeople website at
Workshop Overview
• Interpersonal skills necessary to satisfy – and
exceed – customer expectations
• Basics of effectively serving multicultural
• Cultural norms, needs, and expectations of
customers from diverse communities
• Handling unusual or difficult library customer
• Good translation resources
The Japanese refer to a customer
as “o-kyaku-san,” which is the
word used for a visitor in your
Our Customers Need to Feel...
• Welcome
• Understood
• Important, respected
• Comfortable and cared for
• ….that their problem(s) has been solved
Why Do Multicultural Customers
Come to the Library?
• What are they looking for?
• What are their expectations for:
– libraries?
– librarians?
• On the other hand… What do we want from
Role of Libraries in Other
• National libraries acquire and preserve items of
cultural heritage
• University and academic libraries
• Research libraries for technical, industrial, and
specialized occupations
• Many are not open or free to the public
• Many have no-lending policy
Characteristics of Superior
Customer Service
– Reliability
– Assurance
– Credibility
– Empathy
– Responsiveness
– Tangibles
Culture is Like an Iceberg
Food, Music, Dress,
Norms, Values, Expectations,
Assumptions, Habits, Dislikes, Attitudes,
Rules, Roles, Status, Tradition, Mores,
Behaviors, Family Structures,
Communication Patterns
The “Rules” Are Different
• Cultural blunders
– misunderstanding
– miscommunication
– conflict
Sources of Intercultural
• Language
• Nonverbal signals
• Cultural values
• Expectations of
• Expectations about the
• Lack of knowledge
about another culture
• Ethnocentrism
• Lack of sensitivity to
differences between
• Stereotyping,
• Prejudice, racism,
Cultural Disconnect: Slogans
• Chevy Nova
– “does not go”
• Ford Pinto
– “tiny male genitals”
• “Come alive with Pepsi” in Germany
– “come alive out of the grave”
• Coca Cola in China (“Ke-kou-ke-la”)
– “bite the wax tadpole”
The Big Picture
One culture cannot be judged by the
standards or values of another. The
assumptions we make about people
determine, in large part, how we interact
with them.
How Do Cultures Differ?
• How we view Time
• Our sense of Space
• Whether we value the Individual or the Group
• Whether we emphasize Tasks or Relationships
• The importance of Saving Face
Sense of Time
• Elastic or rigid?
• Important to be on time for an appointment?
• Other priorities more pressing than
commitments and schedules?
Sense of Space
• Personally and professionally
• Crowding
• Side-by-side or face-to-face?
• Psychological space
• Touching someone you don’t know
• What is considered polite? rude?
Individual or Group
• Cultures that value the Group
– self is viewed and decisions are made within
context of group and by assessing how the
action will affect others in the group
– benefit of the whole group is kept in mind
– person may be embarrassed to be singled out,
even for praise
Tasks or Relationship
• Task-oriented culture
– getting down to business right away
– don’t like idle small talk
• Relationship-oriented culture
– want to get to know you before getting down to
– rapport building comes first
Saving Face
• Preserving one’s dignity and respect
– takes precedence over everything else
• Rejection or perceptions of inadequacy
– matter of honor
– can cause shame
• Never point out customer’s mistakes
Other Behaviors to Notice
• Animation/emotion – neutral, restrained,
passionate – OK in public?
• Directness/indirectness - facing speaker, response
• Eye Contact – when speaking, listening
• Gestures – frequency, expressiveness
• Turn taking and pause time – urgency, status
• Vocal patterns – range of volume, pitch
Follow Your Customer’s Lead
• Be sensitive
• Be flexible
• Spend time
• Be patient
Flexibility Is Key
• Different cultures conduct business
• What is customary and acceptable in one
culture may be unacceptable in another
• Find out the customer’s expectations
regarding comfort, respect, and courtesy
Useful Phrases
• Try not to say “No.” This causes customers to lose
face, and they often find it rude.
– “I can help you better if you do this….”
– “That will be very difficult.”
– “I am not sure that can be arranged.”
– “I will see what I can do.”
– “Which do you prefer?”
Listening to Word Choice
• Be sure customers put their needs before
• Listen for statements like:
– “Whatever you think is best”
– “How do you feel about….”
• Customers may try to satisfy you, not
Overview of Effective
Multicultural Customer Service
• Greet your customers
• Establish rapport
• Determine, meet, and exceed customer
• Bridge language and accent barriers
– when speaking and listening
Useful Language Resources
• Cheat sheet with basic phrases in other language
• Where to find?
– in your collection: phrase books, maps,
bilingual materials, dictionaries
– websites/webliographies
• Phone interpretation services
• Connection with local resources: businesses,
cultural groups/centers, schools & universities
More Cultural Disconnection
• “I saw the Pope” – T-shirts printed in Miami
– I saw the potato
• “Finger-lickin’ Good” in China
– Eat your fingers off
• “It takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”
– It takes a hard man to make a chicken aroused (Mexico)
• “Turn it loose” - Coors beer in Latin America
– Suffer from diarrhea
Reading Body Language
• Culturally determined and learned
• Ambiguous and open to interpretation
• Just a few universals: smiles, laughter, sour
• Smiling and laughter can indicate confusion
• Listen for voice tone, inflection, pauses
“We respond to gestures with an
extreme alertness and…in accordance
with an elaborate and secret code that is
written nowhere, known by none, and
understood by all.”
Edward Sapir
Two Types of Gestures
• Illustrators
– hands illustrate speech
• Emblems
– have precise meanings
Development of Gestures:
by Decade
• New gestures are always being created
– 1940’s - thumbs up
– 1950’s – square
– 1960’s – peace sign
– 1970’s – whoopee (twirl finger)
– 1980’s – gag me
– 1990’s – stupid
General Cultural No-no’s
• Buddhist cultures, head is sacred – no touching
• Muslim cultures: the left hand is considered
unclean: no touch, pass, receive, or eat
• Pointing with index finger is rude in many cultures
• Pointing toward yourself insults the other person
• Open hand over closed fist in France
• Saying “tsk tsk” in Kenya
• Whistling in India
Idioms from the U.S.
• He tried to throw his weight around.
• He put his foot in his mouth.
• I gave her a piece of my mind.
• It’s raining cats and dogs.
• Break a leg.
• I’ll eat my hat.
• She kicked the bucket.
• They bit the dust.
Idioms from Japan
• He has a crooked belly button.
– the person is contrary or negative
• She has a higher nose.
– she is proud - a good thing
• It’s like pounding a nail into tofu.
– something that is futile or hopeless
• The nail that sticks up gets pounded down.
– being unique or different gets you punished
Idioms from Ireland
• Your dress is massive.
– your dress is very attractive.
• Jack left a black dog.
– Jack left an unpaid bill.
• He’s a pavi.
– he is tough and uncouth.
• That Mary’s septic.
– Mary is extremely vain and affected.
The Big Ones
• What are some of the most difficult
situations you have had to handle in
providing service to diverse customers?
• How did you handle them? What did you
• What was successful?
• What was unsuccessful?
Lost in Translation: Signage
• Thailand dry cleaner: “Drop your trousers here for
best results.”
• Paris Hotel Elevator: “Please leave your values at
the front desk.”
• Japanese Hotel: “You are invited to take advantage
of the chambermaid.”
• Paris Dress Shop: “Dresses for streetwalking”
Quickly Found Resources
• Your Collection
Local Resources
– phrasebooks
• Business community
– dictionaries
• Consulates, legal
– bilingual material
• Universities & schools
– maps
• Websites, other libraries
• Community centers
• Speakers bureaus
• Newspapers,
• Restaurants
• Health & medical
What Needs to Be Translated for
Multicultural Library Customers?
 Signage
 Library rules, policies, procedures, FAQ’s
 Schedules, flyers of events
 How-to’s (e.g., sign up for/use computer)
 Displays
 Publicity and outreach materials
Job Aids for Customers
• Laminated sheets in different languages
• Checklist of services for customer to check off
what s/he needs
• Use diagrams and pictures as much as possible
– map of layout of library
• Use calendars showing dates, times, events
Job Aids for Library Staff
• Laminated sheets in different languages:
– greetings
– questions
– directions and Instructions
– phrases
– customer service guidelines and/or checklist
• List of phone/online interpretation services
Local Translators and
Translation Services
• Create job aids, do presentations, volunteer, be on
call to answer questions, or speak to a customer
• Do walk-around evaluation of library layout and
materials placement
• Advise on collection, materials, “must-haves”
• Advise on intercultural communication and
appropriate customer service
Restaurant Mistranslations
• Dreaded veal cutlet (Vietnam)
• Pork with fresh garbage (China)
• Cold shredded children (China)
• French creeps (U.S.)
• Strawberry crap (Japan)
• Toes with butter and jam (Bali)
Malmö, Sweden
Library’s “Check Out a Person”

Customer Service Skills for Culturally Diverse Communities