Working with International Clients and Data

By George Webb, Harsh Patel

In today's globally integrated economy, we have the opportunity to participate in more markets, reach more clients, and process more data than ever before. While this offers immense business opportunity, it also raises questions around differing cultural and legal expectations from clients across the globe, as well as how to develop offerings that drive value in all these geographies.

When engaging with international clients and their data, it is vital to take the below considerations into account.

Ways of Working

This area encompasses such aspects as:

Meeting times. It’s obvious that working with people in other countries can create scheduling conflicts. An afternoon call for you is likely the middle of the night for someone across the globe.

It is important for employees and their leadership teams to be flexible with meeting times and overall work schedules to enable successful client interactions. For example, if you know a participant is responsible for taking kids to or from school, you might try to only schedule mid-day meetings with them. If that isn’t possible, consider adjusting the structure or agenda for longer team meetings to ensure they can be present for relevant topics to them if they regularly have to leave early. You might also shift to more written communications to reduce meeting frequency and give greater details in meeting summary emails they might have missed. This will prevent them from missing important information and enable them to respond at their convenience.

Work hours. It's well known that work hours and vacation time given to workers around the world differs dramatically. It isn't uncommon for companies in certain geographies to shut down for a week or longer around major holidays or to allow extended vacations of six to eight weeks during the summer for their employees. With this in mind, it is vital to get ahead of these extended breaks by mapping out the projects you are working on with your global colleagues and aligning on their direction and timelines before vacation season begins. You don’t want to realize you forgot to ask for a critical file or contact name from someone who has just started a six-week vacation.

Outside of formal vacation, there are other cultural expectations to consider regarding normal working hours. In an effort to enforce work-life balance, some countries and companies have legislation or business practices discouraging or even outlawing emails sent during weekends or outside of normal business hours. Having direct conversations about acceptable work hours and when it is OK to reach out to colleagues at the beginning of an engagement is vital to ensure we respect each other’s time and not infringe on work-life balance. This should also be discussed during any internal transition of resources so newer team members do not attempt to engage with clients outside of regular working hours.

Communication style. This can differ widely depending on working style and personal background. You may use a more friendly and conversational tone with your colleagues. In contrast, other work environments can be more direct — even what you might consider borderline confrontational in tone.

If you are preparing to start work with an existing client, you might consider reaching out to colleagues currently engaged with that client to ask about their communication styles. They may be able to provide previous email examples for your review or even let you sit in on a call, enabling you to see their tone before you begin leading conversations. When transition calls begin, pay attention to how formal or casual each participant seems comfortable being. Try not to read into early, potentially uncomfortable conversations with new clients. Over time, you and your clients will get to know how to best engage with one another and can potentially adjust your styles to fit each other's needs.

Data Considerations

This area encompasses such aspects as:

Data privacy. As the nature of business continues to globalize, data privacy and storage practices have changed drastically. In addition to changing legislation, it is essential to be aware of your client's data policies.

Data privacy and storage laws differ in strictness and enforceability across the globe. Despite this, some businesses have decided to take the stance that it is best to have consistent operating practices, following the strictest regulation that exists in any country they operate in on a global scale. While this can be cumbersome, it prevents them from needing disparate operating practices in each country and provides protection as countries with previously relaxed enforcement bolster regulations.

With data privacy practices rapidly changing, it is vital that proper and detailed terms are included in contract language and statements of work. While some more general contract language may not be updated regularly, sections around data privacy should be reevaluated for each client and updated frequently to ensure we are keeping up with laws and client expectations.

Data application. Many service offerings today drive value by combining client data with market intelligence (MI) and benchmarking. For these offerings to be easily scaled and delivered to clients worldwide, it is essential to consider the scope and quality of these additional data sources to ensure consistent output across a global client base.

When developing MI databases in-house or selecting third-party providers, consider the scope of information and geographies they will cover. For example, if looking for a database containing benchmark rates for contingent workforce labor, consider the clients you hope to serve with this data and their locations. You might find great MI sources with incredibly detailed and rich information, but if they will only cover part of your intended geographic footprint, you will struggle to provide your clients with consistent quality services. Therefore, it is vital to consider the scope of your client base and what clients will expect and derive value from when making strategic decisions about the data underpinning your services.

Data curation. Ensuring data accuracy and cleanliness is a top concern for any data scientist, particularly when collecting information on a global scale. Pulling together web-scrapped information and consolidating multiple third-party sources can build a complete data set, but work is needed afterwards to ensure successful analysis. Information will likely be in different languages, formats, units of measure and currencies. Therefore, pay close attention to how your data is being compiled and ensure proper data cleansing before any analysis.

Be sure to have consistency with your cleansing practices. If you are looking at a data set with more than 10 currencies, compare reliable, globally accepted conversion rates and their sources. Consider how frequently you might update these conversion rates and if you will do so retroactively for older data. Regarding language translation, there are plenty of tools to choose from such as free online translators to paid services. Consider which languages are most prevalent in your data and any specialties prospective tools have when choosing the right one for your business.

As we continue moving towards a more globally integrated economy, we must consider how we work together and develop solutions. A better understanding of our clients' work cultures and business expectations will lead to more effective communications, less legal ambiguity and greater delivered value overall.

(Photo credit: Getty Images/We Are)

About the Author

George Webb

About the Author

George Webb is a team member of IBM’s Procurement Analytics as a Service. The perspective and opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent those of IBM; they are reflective of the authors’ experiences at various companies and organizations.

About the Author

Harsh Patel

About the Author

Harsh Patel is a team member of IBM’s Procurement Analytics as a Service. The perspective and opinions represented are those of the author and do not represent those of IBM; they are reflective of the authors’ experiences at various companies and organizations.