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Al

Worked as a local hire for an IT provider in China for several years. Our main competitive advantage was that we could deliver our services to multinationals in English - for which we charged a premium price. What's interesting is that as more multinationals move out of their comfort zone, that also creates niche markets where you can pretty much monopolize the market if you speak to their culture. In turn, this filters into the local competitive market, and soon, the local companies are able to compete or conversely the multinational has localized to the extent that specific cultural fluency is no longer relevant - in theory I suppose.

I never saw a "true" joint-venture multinational that was able to really embrace the local culture. Usually they were just at loggerheads. This statement applies the same to German companies in China as to Japanese companies in the US incidentally.

What's interesting when working as a vendor to a joint venture customer is that your competitive advantage is the ability to talk to both sides, and to coordinate your efforts internally to negate/mitigate the fact that the two customer cultures have almost no real interaction and may be working at cross purposes.

That, incidentally, requires some special people. Usually the kind of people who have already moved to the host country for personal reasons, and can function as a bridge between the cultures - because of their natural inclinations. They're usually not the kind of people who get recruited in their home country.

So you not only need people in your company that can talk to the customer, but that can coordinate across cultural boundaries w/in your own organization...

Glenn

Jeffrey,

You write that the most valuable skill an employee can offer is, "The ability to understand a customer's problem and interact with that customer in a way that is personalized for that customer."

I'd like to respectfully amend it to read, "...in a way that consistently meets or exceeds the customers' expectations."

The bottom line is that the business owner, and the customer, want results.

Great post! I'll be reading....

Regards,

Glenn

Mike

I agree with you on the need for empathy. In fact I've listed as one of the key competencies I look for when hiring new IT employees.
http://mikeschaffner.typepad.com/
michael_schaffner/2006/12/critical_skills.html
[broken into 2 pieces to show in the comment - you'll have to cut and paste both them together]
Chistopher Koch at CIO magazine also has an interesing discussion on this. http://blogs.cio.com/node/607

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