Cultural differences, currency exchange rates, and multiple languages are just a few of the issues to consider when running an international engagement, recognition or incentive program. With an increasingly global economy, many program owners are struggling with these challenges and more.
We recently asked three industry experts – Brian Dunne, Co-Owner of SVM Global; Julien Rochard, Director of Business Development, Sales And Marketing of Edenred; and our own Brian Carr, Senior Director of Sales Operations – for their take on successful global program operations:
What are the top issues end user clients should consider when designing their first international program?
Brian Dunne: The more common the platform, the better. The more integrated and automated the better. Any program is only as strong as the weakest link in the chain, so it’s important to try to get an integrated, main line platform.
Julien Rochard: A lot of programs which started domestically expanded internationally as a “copy & paste” of the U.S. program. That’s probably the biggest mistake, as it doesn’t address two key elements to success: standard of living and respect of local culture.
Brian Carr: Our clients are looking for a seamless experience for their participants from country to country. Even if the rewards, currency, and language change, the brand and how it relates to employees must remain the same within the parameters of that culture.
JR: It is essential to consider how standard of living will affect your program. Not only issuing rewards in local currency but adjusting the value to be appropriate to local salaries, local bonuses… Earning in the US is very different from earning in India for example, for the same job and the rewards and points need to respect the difference in order to be fair.
BD: Be sure you understand the supply chain. Going through agent to agent to agent in many countries causes that weak link risk.
What are the most common errors program owners make or challenges they face?
JR: Culture is very important and varies between countries. Some are developed electronically and will prefer e solutions (Sweden), others are merchandise oriented (US). Each country has preferences. It’s a bad idea to impose favorite products from HQ to all countries in the program.
BD: Logistics are often the last consideration. If you come from the United States, you are used to its resources. Every state is served by one mailing organization: US Mail. Even in Europe we have a different mailing infrastructure in every country. This makes physical delivery very difficult and costly. Go for digital whenever you can. It is not always possible, but it’s ideal.
BC: It really takes specialized knowledge to understand what works from one country to another. It’s essential to select partners who have the local understanding to deliver a good experience for your people.
JR: Customer service is key and local structures will help tremendously for the best local experience considering time difference, language, availability, understanding culture.
BC: I agree. Delivering impeccable service to the people who have achieved your business objectives is our number one goal. We represent the face of the organization to its people.
Any other words of wisdom?
BD: Plan global, act local. Yes you want one global platform but you need the local knowledge. An example is currency, the electrical current in each county! Most European countries have different electrical currency and plugs. If you don’t know that you could be providing merchandise that would not work and could be dangerous, but that’s challenging when dealing with many countries.
JR: Whatever you do, don’t “copy & paste” your US program to be deployed internationally. It doesn’t always work to imposing similar rules everywhere regardless of local cultures. Talk to your people on the ground about local expectations.
BD: International is not for the faint-hearted. It is difficult and requires diligent study, planning, and meticulous supplier management which involves real resources visiting suppliers where they are. Fortunately, there are organizations specialized in international supply.
JR: International does not have to be complicated with the right partners. It doesn’t mean you have to learn several languages or travel all the time – although you might want to!
BC: With the right engagement partner and the right tools in place, you can successfully motivate your team and spread your brand message across the globe.