Expanding internationally is extremely challenging. You may want to consider building out an international presence to help your business grow for many years to come, but it isn't always easy – you have to deal with different time zones, languages, and cultures.
So how can you successfully break down the barriers between you and your clients, customers, or your own staff? One way is with Google+ Hangouts.
An Overview of Google+ Hangouts
For those who are unfamiliar, Hangouts is a feature of Google+ that lets you video chat with other Google+ users. In other words, it is a VoIP service allowing you to talk through the Internet. If everyone has a camera or a webcam on their computer, then everyone involved in the chat will be able to see each other and interact virtual face to virtual face.
So why do you want to use Google+ hangouts as part of your international strategy?
Google+ Hangouts work wonderfully for businesses that work with international clients because you can chat with so many different people at once. It allows you all to collaborate, ask questions, have meetings, and even host educational webinars with those who can't make it to your country (let alone your office).
With Skype, chatting with more than one person at once requires a subscription, but you can chat with up to 10 people for free when you join a Google+ Hangout. It's as simple as that.
Many of us travel as part of the job. One time when I was overseas in Sydney, Australia, I was struggling with a revision. Rather than exchanging a long string of emails, a five-minute Hangout at 5 a.m. with my boss solved the issue and got the project back on track.
Plus, look no further than NASA, which held its first Google+ Hangout on February 22 with a few astronauts living on the International Space Station. If that doesn't prove how versatile, and frankly how cool Hangouts can be, then I don't know what does.
Tips to Using Google+ Hangouts to Improve Your international Relationships
Let's look at five typical hardships companies face with international clients and tips on how using Google+ Hangouts can help break down these barriers:
1. Eliminate a Geographic Barrier
This is the most obvious way that video chatting can be helpful. You can be in one place despite the fact that your customers/clients or partners are in another. This offers the same benefit that email can, but we all know that sometimes meetings are best when people can collaborate and all focus on one task at once.
Example: Let's say you're located in New York City, and your client is located in Sydney. In-person meetings just aren't feasible, and there's a slight time difference to deal with. Emails make it difficult to stay focused, whereas Hangouts allow you to have that in-person feel where you can stay on task. Essentially, you get to avoid the endless email threads that get off topic.
2. Break Through a Language Barrier
Language is one of the biggest barriers that companies have to face when dealing with international customers/clients. Google+ Hangouts allow you to involve a native translator into the Hangout no matter where he/she might be located.
This can be difficult on the phone or through email, and online translation services are not always reliable, so face-to-face interaction is incredibly important. You shouldn't have to sacrifice this simply because of geographic hurdles, and Google+ makes it possible.
Example: If you're doing business with Japan, you're going to want a translator to help you translate Japanese into English and vice versa. Let's say you're based in Tennessee and there just isn't a good Japanese translator in town. Instead of flying him/her in to help with a meeting you have with your Japanese clients, you can just invite them into your Google+ Hangout (after all, it should be your responsibility as the company to figure out communication, not the clients'). Then all three of you – you the English speakers, your clients the Japanese speakers, and the translator – can communicate easier without having to rely on the sub-par Internet translations.
3. Create an Interactive Demonstration
One of the biggest benefits when chatting with anyone online is the ability to record your demonstrations or conferences so that everyone has the ability to review.
Email also serves this purpose, but if you're showing someone how to do something then a little bit of interaction might be necessary. You could send an email with a video of you demonstrating something or having a conference, but that doesn't allow for any interjections.
If you're an advertising agency or you need to do a pitch of some sort to clients, you're going to want to have a presentation complete with examples. Your tone of voice and the way you present something is going to be important, so a Hangout is a must if traveling to the client is not an option. Now let's say that client has other meetings and presentations to hear. If this is the case, they may want to record your Hangout and revisit it later. This also works great if someone on your team or someone on his/her team couldn't make the meeting. The easy recording is convenient (this idea really applies to all meetings; not just international). Below is a screenshot of where you can find the “record" button:
You need to have a verified YouTube account to make this happen. If you're the one recording (which you likely will be), then it's you that needs the account, not your client. Once that's set, you can verify, and then you're ready to hit the big red “record" button that will show up on your Hangout.
4. Communicate Whenever, Wherever
This is another benefit that email can offer, but again, if you're looking for that interaction and face-to-face experience, Google+ Hangouts is your answer. It goes with you wherever you have the Internet and a computer, so you can host a Hangout at home or (unfortunately for some of us) when you're on vacation.
Example: If you're doing business with Japan, when it's 3 p.m. their time, it's only 1 a.m. your time. If you really want to talk with this client, and you're the only one who needs to be there (as opposed to your whole team), you might just want to wake up at that time if it's the only time that works for the client. Look nice and be awake, but don't feel like you have to be in the office.
5. Overcome Cultural Differences
You can be more observant about types of language, body language, and environment when you're seeing and hearing something (as opposed to just reading).
Example: Too many times I have spoken with someone of a different culture and thought they were being short with me through email. Seeing the way that someone speaks helps you to see that they are smiling and/or they are interested in what you have to say – they're just not interested in bothering with the “how are you doing, I'm doing well" waste-of-time American stuff.
Google+ Hangouts should be able to help you get a feel for the culture of whomever you're speaking with. Understanding cultural differences is going to be incredibly important when it comes time to sell your products and optimize your website (or even understand a potential new partner), so take Google+ Hangouts as an opportunity to be observant and see what you can discover aside from just what you read online.
There are many other features that work great for any business in general, and with international relationships you may consider using some of the following more often:
- Set up a conference.
- Host a webinar.
- Conduct an interview.
- Do question-and-answer sessions.
- Have an office meeting.
Along with Hangouts, you should make sure that you are changing other aspects of your company, such as your SEO, and utilizing other tools and tactics to be successful overseas. You can learn more about aspects of international SEO here.
Google+ Hangouts are easy to use and great when it comes time to communicate with international clients because it allows you to:
- Give them the same attention and process you would give someone local.
- Helps with geographic barriers.
- Helps with language barriers.
- Helps utilize culture differences to your advantage as opposed to just being a source of confusion.
Have you ever used Google+ Hangouts to aid your international efforts? Was there anything that you felt worked well or could have worked better? Let us know your story and your thoughts in the comments below.