5 Strategies for Working with Customers in Different Time Zones

Business, Language Service Provider (LSP)

One consequence of running a global business is working with people in different time zones. We are always mindful of time zone issues because we work with teams of translators around the world as well as clients in foreign markets. While this can be a great business and productivity advantage, the logistics can be a challenge.

Over the years, we have developed some guidelines that we share with translators and new clients so that everyone is on the same page when it comes to work hours. Along with making the necessary mindset adjustments, implementing the following strategies will make the workflow easier.

1. Establish Time Zone Ground Rules

It’s always important to discuss work boundaries with new clients, but if you’re in different time zones, it’s especially crucial to make your work hours clear. Having your client text you at 4 a.m. to ask if you’ve finished a translation project is stressful for you and frustrating for them. Fortunately, setting up some ground rules from the beginning will make the collaborative process easier.

We always encourage translators and project managers to be mindful of the client’s local time. Set this as standard for all conversations going forward to avoid confusion about phone or online meetings. Here’s a helpful website for making conversions. It can also be helpful to choose regular meeting times if at all possible, this way you avoid having to make the time zone conversion each time you set a meeting.

Additionally, establish a clear process for working together. Will you confirm receipt of their request before beginning work on a translation project? If so, what time (their local time) should they expect to receive your response? Or will you automatically begin work on a certain number of words from them each day?

2. Set the Tone By Being Time Considerate

We find that customers will often follow our lead when it comes to work hour etiquette. For example, if a client emails you outside of your regular business hours and you respond, that sets a precedent. Of course, it’s important to be responsive to your clients. However, if something can wait, we encourage customers and translators to be considerate of the local time.

For instance, if you have a client in Hong Kong, schedule meetings for after 8 p.m. EST, which is early morning on the following day for your client. On the other hand, if you have a client in California, you will want to be kind and schedule meetings for mid-late afternoon your time, unless the client prefers early morning meetings.

Also, be especially careful about texting. It’s all too easy to fire off a quick, unimportant text, which might actually wake someone up. For this reason, we prefer to keep work communication limited to email. It seems easier to turn off email notifications than text notifications generally speaking.

3. Be Consistent in Your Communications

As easy as it is to be effective without having face-to-face interactions with customers, let’s not forget about customer service. There’s a reason your translation customers choose to work with you, rather than a computer or a faceless piece of software: you’re human. At the end of the day, we’re still more comfortable interacting with human beings than computers and smartphones. 

So, you can put your customers’ minds at ease with consistent communications. This means sending check-in emails according to a regular schedule, e.g., weekly, bi-weekly, but it also means communicating via Skype, Facetime, Zoom, or another video-conferencing method. There’s no need to be available 24/7, but make your presence known by staying consistent in your communications.

4. Outsource Customer Service

If you’re running a small business that serves clients around the globe, it might be worth investing in outsourced customer service local to your customers. This can solve a number of challenges for your business and your customers.

Not only will customers have access to someone who can help them in their time zones, there are cultural advantages as well. Workers living in the same location as your clients will offer an improved customer service experience. Plus, you’ll be providing a job and steady income for others in an economy that benefits your business as well.

5. Make Sure Customers Know the Best Times to Contact You

Above all, communicate your working hours effectively. If your clients want fast turnarounds on translations, it’s crucial that they know when to contact you. Always give them a cutoff time (based on their time zone) for overnight translations. Also, make sure your clients know when they can contact you and expect to get a timely response.

Bottom Line

Keeping a customer-centric mindset will help to keep many of the challenges of working with customers in different time zones from interrupting your work. You may need to be a bit more flexible in your work hours, but this doesn’t mean you need to do away with boundaries entirely.

The above strategies should help you find a workflow that reduces your stress while easing your clients’ anxieties about working with someone so far away. When you’re professional, communicative, and actively seek feedback, the challenges will be minimal.