Myths About Multicultural Customers

By Michael Soon Lee

Over one-third of all Americans today are minorities plus there are over a million people from overseas immigrating every year. 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 2050. 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. Consider the following myths:

“People from other cultures only want to work with or buy from 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.

“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. When making a large purchase, many people who are new to this country can be extremely private about their finances. Remember that they may be 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 author personally knows of one Hispanic client who lost $75,000 in cash to a home robbery.

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. The client may also be interested in a “quick qualifier” or “no document” loan so be sure to explain the requirements for these as well. Usually, the loan that the client expresses the most interest in is the one they have the down payment for.

Also, don’t forget to remind your customer that they can also pay cash for their purchase. Many cultures believe it is a sin to owe others money and many not believe in borrowing, even for very large purchases. The author has had customers show-up with as much $750,000 in cash for a major purchase!

“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.

Experienced negotiators know that when they first make an offer on an item it is the lowest they will ever be able to go. They can only go in one direction from there - up. This is why they may start embarrassingly low with their initial offer even if they might be willing to pay full price.

Many retailers and service providers do not negotiate the price of their goods and services. In this case you can simply explain the situation this way, “We have sold all of our items (or services) to other buyers (or clients) for this price. To save face with them we must sell this one to you (or provide the same service) for the same price.”  People from other cultures can usually relate to the need to “save face” and will not ask another person to lose face with others.

Also, veteran hagglers are aware that they have the most bargaining power just before the transaction closes or the item is delivered. This is when they will usually ask for one extra concession to show their skill. Smart vendors will build an incentive into the deal so they can set something aside for this time otherwise it will likely come out of the their own pockets. For instance, if a new car dealer is willing to throw in the floor mats it’s best not to include it in the purchase regardless of the culture of the buyer. At delivery of the vehicle it can be thrown in to “sweeten the deal” as long as there is no more negotiating.

“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. Also, if we want a little piece of business from the fastest-growing segment of the retail market it is we who will have to adjust - a little. Take the time to learn about other cultures, languages, and foods. As a bonus you will become a much more interesting person to talk to in the process.

“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.

Read other articles and learn more about Michael Soon Lee.

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